Legal Resource

Craigslist Pet Ads: What You’ll See, How to Reply, and What to Expect in Response

Tips for helping protect animals being traded on the platform.

Concerned about animal abuse facilitated by Craigslist posts, an Animal Legal Defense Fund supporter began responding to “pet” ads in September 2020. After responding to more than 400 ads, the supporter shares their experiences and tips for helping protect animals being traded on the platform.

For the past decade, animal protection organizations, The Dodo, HuffPost, and many other outlets have warned people not to post unwanted pets on Craigslist because they’re vulnerable to winding up tortured and killed, sold to laboratories to be for use in often painful experiments, fed to snakes, and used as “bait” animals by dogfighters. In September 2020, something nudged me to start replying to Cleveland Craigslist pet ads. In 60 days, I replied to 413, an average of seven per day. If you decide to help animals in your city by doing the same, the following is what you’ll see, how you should reply, and what emails you can expect in response.

After two months of replying, an ad with the headline “Willing to take all unwanted animals” appeared at the top of Cleveland Craigslist’s pet section. It read, “willing to take peoples [sic] animals that they don’t want or can’t take care of.” The map showed an area where federal agents have raided dogfights and garbage collectors have found dead dogs in trash bags the past two years.

After spending two hours re-replying to every ad beneath it to warn people not to reply to the ad and to be on guard in case the person who posted it replied to theirs, I contacted numerous animal protection organizations who didn’t respond. Getting nowhere, I emailed a couple of investigative reporters at news stations, thinking they would jump at an animal cruelty story during the holiday season. They didn’t. Eventually, the co-founder and executive director of Animal Help Now, David Crawford, suggested I contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

When I emailed the Animal Legal Defense Fund, I had no idea that it had already launched a campaign to end animal posts on Craigslist. As I read their response to me, my eyes welled up. I’d felt that nudge September 12 for a reason: I could provide ammunition against Craigslist and help shut this section down after a decade of animals dying in painful, horrible ways.

What I’ve Seen in Cleveland Craigslist’s Pet and “Free Stuff” Sections

If you decide to start replying to Craigslist pet ads, be sure to check your city’s “free stuff” section as well because some people can’t find “pets,” which is located in the “community” tab rather than “items for sale.” Not surprisingly, both sections are heartbreaking and scary. In addition to an astounding number of people posting black cats and kittens on Craigslist days before Halloween, I’ve encountered:

  • A Chihuahua with “a messed-up shoulder from its previous owner” in the “free stuff” section
  • A black 4-month-old pit bull terrier puppy in the “free stuff” section
  • “Aggressive” pit bull terriers who “aren’t good with children or other pets”
  • Ads seeking pit bull terriers
  • Pit bull terrier breeders even though nearly 3,000 pitbulls are euthanized per day in this country.
  • Free litters of kittens
  • A 15-year-old cat being bounced from their home of two years “due to allergies and fur”
  • A rabbit with pink eye who was posted for a penny because Craigslist required the user to post a price
  • A guy trying to trade his snake for guns and then, after his ad was flagged, trying to trade the animal for “hunting and personal safety items”
  • Scorpions that are “some of the most venomous pet’s [sic]”

I shouldn’t have to Google “Are _____ legal in Ohio?” but since Craigslist founder Craig Newmark relies on users to be his “watchdogs,”, I do.

How to Reply to Craigslist Pet Ads

You can help shut down Craigslist’s pet section, too, by replying to ads and taking screencaps of anything that doesn’t look right. Replying to ads is a simple matter of copying and pasting information that won’t trigger spam detectors into the body of an email. Because most people only read the subject line, I send the attention-grabbing headlines like below:

  • Dogfighters Patrol Craigslist’s Pet Section for Bait
  • Dogfighting Is More Common in Cleveland Than You Think
  • Man Who Beheaded 4 Dogs Gets up to 28 Years in Prison
  • Virginia Beach Man Who Burned Dog Alive Gets Maximum Sentence
  • Man Kept Getting Free Cats from Craigslist — and Kept Killing Them, Missouri Cops Say
  • A “Rehoming Fee” Won’t Protect an Unwanted Pet from Danger on Craigslist

I highlight each headline in yellow, and I paste a sentence from the article or write my own beneath each headline. For example:

A “Rehoming Fee” Won’t Protect an Unwanted Pet from Danger on Craigslist
Ronald Fraser Golden proved that in 2013 when he bought 22 kittens from Craigslist, named them, and then killed them by throwing them on the floor and stomping on them or strangling them. –

We live in the era of “fake news,” so I always include links to the articles so people can read them in their entirety. I also send multiple links. Beneath the headline about the Missouri man who was killing free cats he obtained from Craigslist, for example, I link to a Washington Post version and a Fox News version to cover all bases.

The Importance of Sending Rehoming Tips in Your Reply to Craigslist Pet Ads

Two days after I started replying to Craigslist ads with links to articles about animals being tortured and killed after they were obtained from the site, I received constructive feedback: “a better email to send would be educating owners on how to screen for potential threats etc.” So now I send the following rehoming tips people have sent me as well:

  • Only transfer the animal to someone who already has a pet and brings vet records. Contact the vet to verify the information.
  • Ask for a PREPAID vet receipt showing the animal will at least be going for a checkup, but preferably a spay/neuter appointment, since 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States every year. Some people take the animal to a vet and have the buyer pick the animal up there.
  • Ask if you can friend the person who wants your pet on social media. As the woman who suggested this said, “If I don’t like you, then you should not have my kitten.” You can only rely on this to screen the person, however. Don’t expect the person to remain friends with you after they take your animal. The person can block you before they even leave your driveway.
  • The woman who sent this tip also said: “I always require a home visit. No one picks up from me. If they aren’t willing to let me in their home, they don’t need the kitten.”
  • If you don’t want to go to the person’s home, do the animal/cash exchange in your local police station parking lot.
  • Most importantly, because this keeps dogfighters and abusers from going to shelters, have the person sign and date an adoption contract and take a picture of the person’s driver’s license. (Shelters require people to sign adoption contracts).
  • Charge money and don’t negotiate.

What to Expect in Response to Your Reply

Responses to your reply will fall into one of four categories:

  1. Unreasonably hostile replies: I’ve been called multiple expletives, to mind my own business, to get a life, and worse.
  2. Know-it-all replies, such as, “I have never had an issue with this as all the people that I have rehomed animals to have kept in contact with me and sent me pictures so I know they aren’t going anywhere where they are being harmed. So please mind your own business and stop harassing me.”
  3. Replies from people who just don’t get it: “Please don’t send me articles. There’s a lot of BAD in the world but there’s also a lot of good!”
  4. Thank you notes that will help you sleep a little better at night.

I’d sleep better if you would help me by replying to Craigslist pet ads in your city until we’re able shut down all animal transfers on the platform. Thank you for caring about animals.

Tell Craigslist to Ban All Animal Ads

While Craigslist officially bans companion animal sales, they continue on the site under the guise of “rehoming.” Meanwhile, sales of animals not typically classified as companions — like pigs and chickens — are permitted, putting these animals in danger.


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