Sometimes the animals we bring into our lives are not for us. However, there are some who take advantage of the pets we give away to a “good home”.
(Trigger warning: readers are advised this article addresses torture of vulnerable animals and various cases of animal cruelty. It may be too distressing for some to read. If you know of any animals at risk of violence, neglect or abuse, please refer to the RSPCA’s website.)
I’ve had both the privilege and misfortune of researching and writing about some egregious, institutionalised animal cruelty issues in my time. I’ve met with politicians, written letters, attended rallies and volunteered at sanctuaries. And mostly, I’ve done so knowing that my words would likely fall on deaf ears, given most politicians with the power to effect legislative change are unwilling to even entertain the notion. And just when you think some momentous victory is at hand, someone like Mike Baird does a backflip and extinguishes any remaining faith you may have had in the integrity of politicians.
But today I write not to politicians but to consumers – some of whom are being shamefully duped. A worrying trend has emerged both at home and abroad; I am referring to online platforms such as Gumtree and Craigslist facilitating the online exchange of live animals. Well-meaning people, compelled by unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, are turning to these platforms to rehome their beloved companion animals. They feel understandably aghast at the notion of shipping their companion animal off to a shelter. So in an act of unwitting naiveté, they often resort to offering up their companion online. Free. To. A. Good. Home. And while online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay thankfully abstain from participating in this exchange, sites like Gumtree and Craigslist are picking up the slack.
Unlike shelters, pounds or rescue organisations, no references are required and home visits are rarely conducted. There are simply no safeguards in place to protect these animals from the most unspeakable of horrors.
Unfortunately, while the “free” part might be true, “a good home” it often isn’t. There have been numerous reported cases of things going horribly awry. Many dogs have been procured from Craigslist to be used as bait animals for dog fighting. Others use these sites to acquire animals to feed to snakes, or to on-sell to labs for cruel research purposes. Still, others engage in “pet flipping”, which involves buying an animal on one platform and listing it on another at a higher price. And as sinister as these motives are, none are quite so grotesque as those who obtain animals for the sole purpose of torture and murder. It sounds like some macabre fiction, yet several offenders have been imprisoned for just such a thing.
A Nevada man was recently sentenced to up to 28 years in state prison after homemade recordings of him torturing, dismembering, skinning and beheading dogs sourced from Craigslist were found. This miscreant took special delight in torturing pugs, as they are “unable to bark” and instead, “yell like little kids”. A Virginia Beach man last year pleaded guilty to burning alive a dog he acquired from Craigslist, while a West Virginia man was apprehended after forcing his captive girlfriend to watch him torture, mutilate and kill more than two dozen puppies. A Kentucky man admitted to acquiring cats from Craigslist for the purpose of cutting off their tails.
In Australia, while there have certainly been far fewer reported incidents, my earlier mention of Mike Baird was not for nothing. Last year, two Queensland men were charged for allegedly acquiring kittens for live bait in the training of greyhounds. This kind of crime is facilitated by sites like Gumtree, which make it easier for offenders to secure animals no questions asked. And these reprobates will often turn up to the exchange with a woman and child in tow, giving off the illusion that the animal is going to a happy family.
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So why platforms like Craigslist and Gumtree? Unlike shelters, pounds or rescue organisations, no references are required and home visits are rarely conducted. There are simply no safeguards in place to protect these animals from the most unspeakable of horrors. If you happen to find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to re-home your companion animal, it is strongly recommended that you instead approach family and friends through your own social network. If that fails, contact local shelters and rescue groups, or discuss possible rehoming options with your vet.
This advice is especially pertinent this time of year. Christmas may be a time of celebration for many, but for others it’s the embodiment of consumerism gone mad. While I recoil when I think of the landfill we all scramble to buy each other, few things sadden me more than when Christmas gifts come with a heartbeat. Pet stores and breeders revel in this season of folly, profiteering from the impulsive gift-giving of kittens, puppies and the like. Well-intentioned, albeit short-sighted, folk marvel at their own ingenuity as they bestow such gifts upon loved ones ill-equipped to provide the requisite care. And when the holiday season hangover arrives in January, as it inevitably does, and the responsibility of caring for an animal sinks in, too often “free to a good home” becomes the only way out.