This is Felony. Felly for short. Ask Felly's mom about her, and watch her face light up as she recounts story after story of sheer cuteness. Felly has a great life – she gets long daily walks in the park, her choice of soft beds and fun toys, visits from a petsitter whom she adores, the best veterinary care and all kinds of pampering.
It might surprise you, then, to learn that Felly came to live with her terrific, loving mom via the same pathway that poor little Kiya, aka Puppy Doe, came to her tragic situation. Felly's mom got her off craigslist.
There's been significant public outcry about the horrors suffered by Kiya. People are demanding justice in the form of stiff sentencing for her abuser, and while that won't help Kiya, it is reassuring to see so many people speaking out about animal cruelty. Maybe heightened awareness and concern will be a little something good that comes out of that horrible tragedy.
But one related effort is an online petition to end selling animals for a small fee or giving them away on craigslist (the site currently prohibits pet sales, but notes that "re-homing with small adoption fee ok"). I'm not so sure about this strategy, though I completely relate to the desire to want to do something about this situation. I don't know that craigslist is the problem, and I don't know that banning animals from being rehomed via craigslist will actually provide the blanket protections from cruelty that we'd all like to see. In fact, when I saw that 50,000,000 people shop on craigslist, a part of me wondered if we shouldn't all start posting animals for adoption in front of those 50 million potential homes.
Our situation is complex. We are still unable to find homes for an estimated 3 million cats and dogs in our shelters annually. We're busy trying to find ways – in addition to spay/neuter – to stem the tide of animals coming into shelters. We want people to make life-long commitments to their pets, but we recognize that there are circumstances in which that's simply not possible—and when it isn't, we'd prefer that pet owners take the initiative to find a good family for their pets rather than surrendering them to shelters.
I've heard people refer to animals posted on craigslist as "throwaway." But Felly's previous mom didn't throw her away. She was living in a third-floor apartment with a newborn, a big dog, and no one to help her. She loved Felly and hated to part with her, but she had to face the limits of what she could do for her family, so she found Felly a great new mom who couldn't imagine life without this silly dog. She found that new mom through craigslist. And there's a bit of irony in this situation: Felly's current adoring, doting mom was denied when she tried to adopt from a rescue (because she works too many hours).
I think the problems of animal cruelty and homelessness are not going to be as easily solved as closing off rehoming animals through craigslist. I wonder if instead we should put our energies into helping people like Felly's past and current moms with some guidelines and resources for safe and responsible use of craigslist and other online channels. And we might also want to lobby the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Agency, to update their Internet Crime Prevention Tips to include a section on safeguards where animals are concerned.
Fifty million people is a big audience. Let's figure out how to mitigate risks and capture the power of online tools for keeping animals out of shelters and, when need be, getting them safely to new families who are ready and able to give them good homes.
P.S. If you've already developed some risk-mitigating strategies, post them in the comments. We'll compile them into a resource to share with the field. Thanks!
Bert Troughton, MSW
ASPCA Senior Vice President, Animal Health Services
Bert Troughton joined the ASPCA in 2003 after 9 years as CEO of Monadnock Humane Society in New Hampshire and 10 years as a clinical social worker in community mental health. Past president of both the New Hampshire and New England Federations of Humane Societies, Troughton is a guest blogger on human dynamics in animal welfare and the author of the chapter on working with adopters in Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.
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