FREE TO GOOD HOME?
By Michelle Crean, Animal Aid of SW MI
Animal Aid has frequently been criticized for charging an adoption fee. "If you're so anxious to find homes for these pets," we're told, "you should just give them away."
This attitude makes us shudder. In the first place, these small fees in no way begin to cover the cost incurred for medical treatment and upkeep of the pets we adopt out. Yes, we're anxious to find homes for our animals--GOOD homes. And some people who take free pets do provide wonderful homes. However, frequently--much too frequently!--Animal Aid is called in to rescue former "free to good home" animals.
Did you know:
1) People value what they pay for. Pets obtained for free are are less likely to be spayed or neutered by their new owners (why bother with vet bills?), and more likely to be abused and/or discarded, because "there are plenty more where that came from!" A recent study at one animal shelter yielded the startling statistic that 51% of all owner-surrendered dogs had been purchsed for less than $100; 41% of all owner-surrendered dogs had been obtained "Free to good home."
This handsome, well-fed-looking fellow is Brutus, and he is an Animal Aid rescue. Brutus was the pampered friend of "Mark." Brutus and Mark played ball together and walked on the beach together, and, in general, enjoyed each other's company. Then, Mark's company transferred him to a different state. Mark didn't know how to take Brutus with him, or considered it unfair to submit his friend to the trauma of moving, or just plain didn't know that most states DO allow big, good-natured dogs to move in with their masters.
Whatever the reason, Mark placed an ad in his local newspaper: "Free to good home, friendly, lovable black lab." Someone saw the ad, called Mark, and said, "That's just the dog I've been looking for. Can I come over and see him?" The new person was very nice to Brutus, talked to him, rubbed his ears just the way Brutus liked to have his ears rubbed, and convinced Mark that he and Brutus were just made for each other.
This is Brutus's new owner's idea of a good home--at the end of a two-foot chain tied to a rope collar, in a garbage-filled backyard, no water dish or food bowl anywhere in sight. This sweet, loving dog was now 20 pounds underweight, suffering from dehydration, malnutrition, fleas, intestinal worms, mange, fly-chewed ears, heartworm, and, worst of all, neglect.
Luckily for him, neighbors called an Animal Aid volunteer, who arrived accompanied by a policeman. The new owner was arrested, charged, and convicted with cruelty to animals. He paid a fine which probably equalled less than Brutus's medical bills.
Brutus went to the vet for all kinds of medicine, then home with the volunteer for lunch. Several years later, he's been adopted by the volunteer, and still eating! He's well and happy and a bit overweight; greets everyone with a tail wag and a wet kiss. But he still wants you to remember this story and this photo every time you see an ad that says, "Free to good home."
2) So-called "Bunchers" gather free pets until they have enough for a trip to a Class B Dealer who is licensed by the USDA to sell to sell animals from "random sources" for research. The Buncher may only get $25 a head for former pets, while a dealer can between $100 - $450 per pet. The Class B dealer probably already has a contract with certain facilities, and will transport them to other areas within a state, even out of state.
While, unfortunately, there are legitimate medical reasons to use some animals in experimentation, the majority of reputable medical labs use animals bred for the specific purpose. However, there are many, many different types of animal "research," and many types of facilities that use dogs. Almost every cosmetic, household, and chemical product is tested on animals, including former pets obtained from shelters and Class B Dealers. Veterinary schools and medical schools, and even some engineering schools use dogs and cats in classrooms and "research." Textile manufacturers who make products for medical use test and demonstrate on dogs, frequently retired racing greyhounds.
Research facilities that use live animals in testing are supposed to be registered with the USDA (though not all are); the USDA list of such facilities on their website cites 34 in the state of Michigan, mostly colleges and universities, as well as Borgess Medical Center, Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, Pharmacia & Upjohn, etc. (Please note that not all of these use dogs or cats.)
3) Free animals are taken to "blood" pit-bulls--to train fighting dogs how to kill, and to enjoy it. This can be dogs and cats, of any size--in fact, rescuers suspect that a recently rescued cat was used in this manner. Often, a larger dog's muzzle will be duct-taped shut so that he can't bite back, and the fighting dog will gain confidence in killing a dog larger than he is.
4) One "adoptor" in this area took free kittens to his "good home"--as dinner for a pet snake.
5) Unspayed or unneutered pure-bred dogs may end up as "breeding stock" in a puppy mill. One woman was certain that if she didn't give away her Dalmatians' AKC registration papers along with the dogs, she could keep them safe from millers. Wrong. Unscrupulous breeders, who use puppies as cash crops like other farmers raise cattle, pigs, or chickens, aren't above forging registration papers, or using those from deceased dogs. Rescuers have learned the hard to way to make sure that all pets they place have been spayed or neutered before going to new homes.
6) So-called "collectors" watch the newspapers for Free to Good Home animals. These collectors truly believe they are "rescuing" the animals. Animal Aid had dealings with one such collector, right here in Southwestern Michigan.
When the two Animal Aid volunteers and the policeman walked up the steps of an ordinary-looking house in Galien, MI, they had no idea they were walking into a living hell.
Neighbors had complained about foul smells coming from the house; the owner, they said, kept dozens of cats in there, but they hadn't seen her in a couple of weeks.
The place smelled, all right; a strong odor assaulted their noses the minute they got out of the car. Still, nothing in their experiences could have prepared them for what stunned their senses as they opened that front door: the unimaginable sights and silence and stomach-churning stench of mass death. Light was dim, and they saw trash all around--trash, and bodies. The owner of the house had simply locked the doors and windows and left dozens of cats behind with no food or water, to die. The only thing that kept the volunteers from collapsing in despair were faint rustles, scratches, mews, coming from just out of sight around the corner. There were still live cats in this house of horrors.
Estimates range from 40 - 60 as the number of cats this lady had abandoned; it was impossible to tell for sure. Over the next few days, volunteers from Animal Aid and the Humane Society trapped and removed all of the live animals they could find. There were 18, in a wide range of ages, and of these, two later died.
All of them were starving, dehydrated, and totally unsociable. They had survived the only way they could, by preying on the small, the weak, the sick, and the dead. Rescued kittens lived in fear of adult cats; adult cats lived in fear of each other--and of human contact.
Phoenix and Zorro went to an Animal Aid volunteer for fostering; they have since been adopted. The other 14 went out to the Humane Society of SW MI, where all but three have also been adopted--most locally, but two are now thriving under the care of a lady in Kansas City, MO! Phoenix and Zorro still mistrust humans, and to quote one of the rescuers about the three who will probably live out their days at the Humane Society, "They need to go to a home that doesn't expect anything from them but just to live there."
Meanwhile, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the house's owner, and the entire area was outraged to learn that this was her THIRD offense! The THIRD time she had "collected" a house full of cats, and then abandoned them, the SECOND time in this very same house!
How could this happen? It's not as unusual as you might believe--or hope. Such people are called "collectors;" they take in orphaned dogs or cats, watch the "free to good home" ads, either don't believe in spaying and neutering or run out of funds for the vet bills. These collectors actually think they are "rescuing" the animals! More and more free pets come to them--they're very convincing; and they truly do love pets--and the ones they have keep reproducing, until the collectors are overwhelmed. In the best circumstances, animal rescue organizations are called. In the worst--the collector simply walks away.
This particular collector was located in another state, and brought back for trial. She will serve jail time, pay a fine, do community service, but there is no guarantee that when her sentence is served, she won't simply move to another house in another community in another state, and start answering "Free to good home" ads again.
As for the police, the neighbors, and especially the volunteers involved in the rescue of the Galien kitties--more than a year later, they're still having nightmares.
|WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Some folks answering the "Free to Good Home" ads really are loving, responsible pet owners. Many--perhaps even most--are not. There are steps YOU can take to help end abuse:
Author's Note: Brutus, our "Free To Good Home?" poster dog, went to the Rainbow Bridge on 27 February 2002. We estimate his age at 13 years; he lived the last 6 of them in the lap of luxury with his rescuers. Brutus was a favorite visitor at area schools, and touched the hearts of everyone who met him. We will all miss him.
Reprinted with permission. Please visit their website at http://www.animalaidsw.org/index.html
This page copyright © 1999 by Animal Aid and Michelle Crean. All rights reserved.