- You can quote me
Wrong. Huge wrong.
Offering any animal for free is no longer an even remotely safe thing to do (if it ever was). The only exception would be the reasonable one of giving a pet to someone you already know well, such as a friend, neighbor, co-worker, relative, or church member who you *know* will love the animal, knows how to care for it properly, and will care for it well.
Animals offered for free very often end up in horrible circumstances. Small animals such as guinea pigs are regularly used as feed by reptile owners (especially baby pigs). They can be sold to labs for experimentation (still marginally legal in the US). They can be used as bait to train fighting dogs. They can be given casually as a throwaway toy to a howling 3-year-old to be thrown against a wall. They can be used in meat breeding programs or eaten themselves (yes, people eat guinea pigs), and they most certainly will not be humanely killed first.
Many people, especially those looking for snake food or to make money in some fashion, can appear -- in person, over the phone, over email or Facebook or via any channel -- as an upright, trustworthy, moral, ethical and caring person. Some of them are real pros at this when in reality, they are anything but what they appear to be. Even the most people-savvy of us can be fooled, especially by the pros.
For good or ill, people value what they pay for. If you are seeking to rehome a pet (any pet, but particularly a small animal) on Craigslist, in a classified ad, by posting an ad at a vet's office or through any social media, please charge a reasonable fee for him or her. A "reasonable fee" generally means a bit less than a pet store would charge for the same animal.
This doesn't ensure safety, but it goes a long way toward weeding out the worst of the worst that's out there. Reptile owners, resellers and those using animals for inhumane purposes and in inhumane ways normally want to get them as cheaply as possible. They generally won't pay close to what a petstore or shelter would charge. Impulse buyers will stop and think, if even for only an instant, before paying a reasonable fee. And DON'T EVER put ANY live animal on Freecycle or similar.
Don't worry if people think you're trying to make money. You are not; that's not the purpose and that's not the point. Keeping a living being safe matters much more than what somebody might think, anyway.
If you see ads offering pets "free to a good home" locally and are so inclined, don't hesitate to email, call or text them and let them know that what they are doing may truly endanger the animal at best, and ensure a possibly gruesome, painful death at worst. Below is an email I send if I see this in my own area:
My name is <your name here>. My husband <or wife if applicable> and I live in <your town here, to show you are local> and we love guinea pigs. We have several of our own and would take yours if we could, but unfortunately we cannot do so at this time.
I'm writing to strongly encourage you to charge something for <pig's name here, if they give a name>, rather than offering her (or him) for free. "Free to a good home" invites reptile owners looking for food for their pets, people looking for animals to resell to labs for experimentation, people seeking bait to train fighting dogs, and people looking for animals for meat breeding programs. These are just some of those who troll ads looking for animals for free. Many of these people are real pros at appearing to be a "good home" when they are anything but.
For good or ill, people value what they pay for and a reasonable fee can discourage your pet becoming an impulse throwaway toy for a child too young to know how to treat him (or her). Please charge a reasonable rehoming or adoption fee for <insert name here again if they have given one>; just a bit less than pet stores charge for the same animal is a good rule of thumb. This will help discourage the worst of the worst that's out there. And always go with your gut -- if you get a bad feeling about a person when you meet them face to face, don't let them have your animal.
I'm very sorry you have <lost your job, have illness in the family, or whatever they've said if they've given such a reason for rehoming their pet>. I've been <something honest and empathetic if you've been in the same situation> myself. I wish you the best in <finding a new job, recovering from surgery or whatever if they've mentioned anything like that> and in finding a good home for your pig(s) <or name again if they've given one>.
Your name here
Anyone is welcome to use all or any part of this language in their own emails if they wish.
You will get the occasional "eff off and mind your own business" reply, but I've received a surprising number of sincerely grateful responses saying "Thank you so much, we had no idea." Know you may be saving a life if you take a minute to write. And please, NEVER offer any animal for free.
Your letter, while seeming a form letter, is what many of us here feel from the heart. It is not a form letter but a way to try to address in a respectful, sympathetic, and informative way the realities that lie in the real world.
I know it will help us communicate the dangers to owners trying to find loving homes for their pets.
I stopped going on craigslist because it's depressing, but maybe I will to send this note to "free to a good home" ads. I have no problem with being told to eff off. I've been told worse on online forums for stupider reasons lol.
- You can quote me
A couple of things that people may (or may not) choose to do themselves: one, I usually put my full name in and the town I live in (no more than that, though). They will have my email address if they want to be butts about it, though (so far, anyway) I've not had anyone to do that. I'm not going to hide behind a partial or screen name; if they want to google the name and find the house on street view, that's up to them.
The "local" part makes it clear that the writer is not some random activist patrolling Craigslist and being preachy and self-righteous. Unfortunately, that's the way many people who care about animals are seen. Though many (probably most) do not fall into that category, I try to err on the side of not giving any of that impression.
Thanks for the compliments. I hope this thread helps some pigs, and helps those that care about them.
I have responded to ads on Craigslist with a letter similar to yours, giving a heads-up on the sad possibilities and offering places where people might post safely or offer a hand with finding a new home. Many had no idea of the risks with posting and were rightfully shocked.
I hope your post here is a good reminder for folks to keep eyes open and to lend a hand as needed.
Capy came to us, originally thinking we would foster and be sure he would find a permanent loving home. Well, as you know, that second part never happened. The day I picked him up I had a feeling he would be staying with us for awhile :)
PS You are right about folks eating these little ones. While searching online last night on a matter my husband told me about while visiting NYC yesterday, had come upon an article discussing a 911 call re man roasting a guinea pig in the park. My fear is that in order for there to have been a call, the poor baby must have been identifiable initially.
It can be really weird out there. We were placed here to be the ambassadors for those who are at the mercy of others who don't have the innate sense for respecting life that they should have.
But even having found a new companion for my pig, I still look at Craig's List, several times a day, looking for "free guinea pigs", with the specific purpose of explaining the dangers of "free".
Having found this thread a few days ago, I also include a link to it in my email.
I don't know if it always works but there have been occasions when I've emailed someone and then saw that a rehoming fee had been added to the Craig's List page.
So, although I don't know how often it works, and surely sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it does.
A good hint I saw on CL was to trust your instincts when placing a pig. Unless you know or know of the person be wary of the person who offers to pick up the pet--you may want to bring the pet over yourself so you can see where the pet is going. Also, vet's offices might be a good place to advertise--that way you and your vet might get a better idea whom the pets are going to. Just my two cents.