Help me save this sweetie
December 28, 2015 4:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm talking to someone on craigslist about a really sketchy dog adoption. What's the ethical thing to do to ensure the best outcome for me and for the dog?

I've spent a while setting my life up to be ready to be a responsible dog owner. I'm more or less at the ready-to-adopt stage, but I haven't quite started submitting applications to reputable rescue organizations yet.

I was passively looking at the dogs listed on craigslist, which is probably considered dumb, but sometimes I take a peek. One picture caught my eye, and I emailed, not expecting anything to come of it - but the owner responded very quickly with "she's yours".

I'm pretty sure I'm biased on this because my childhood dog came to us in an extremely similar way. The family didn't care about him at all or even seem to know much about him, didn't even have a leash or a collar, and he had horrible skin irritation from an awful case of fleas, but after he adjusted to our house, he was a truly wonderful dog and an integral part of our family. That said, to this day my family talks about how big a risk that was and how lucky we were. I don't want to make the mistake of expecting lighting to strike twice, but I think I hold out hope that this dog could be similarly sweet.

The owner clearly does not give two shits about who I am or about where the dog goes. There was very little information in the listing and I've asked as many follow up questions as I can but the main thing I'm learning is just how little this person cares. I asked about the dog's skin irritation in the photo ("dry skin"), the dog's age (7), why they're giving it up ("too much and moving"), what the dog is eating ("Caesar"), and whether they even have supplies for the dog (nope). She's also been really pushy about offering to bring the dog to me ASAP.

Believe me, I know how red-flag-y all of that is, and I realllly don't want to make an unwise decision, but I similarly don't want this dog to stay in what's clearly an awful situation. I know that the dog could be sick, neurotic, or bite people regularly, but I also know for sure that this dog needs a better home. Sure, anyone else who adopted her would probably also be an improvement, but with this vetting process, who knows...

They're also asking a re-homing fee of $150. Though the money's not a problem, I don't want to pay it for several reasons - for one, I worry that I could be supporting some sort of shitty operation; for two, I don't think they've done anything to deserve it (they don't even have proof of shots, though they say she's had them); and for three, I just don't want to give money to someone who disgusts me in their disregard for their dog. If it were a more responsible rehomer, I'd offer to donate that money to a rescue organization or something in lieu of a fee, but I doubt these people would be open to that - what's the ethical thing to do here? Again, I really don't want to leave this dog with these people and I'm worried that's what'll happen if I try to negotiate on it.

What could I do? Could I try to meet in a vet's office where I have an appointment scheduled immediately (and how would I even explain that to a vet)? Is there something I could ask that I'm not thinking of?

I'm also aware of the possibility of a scam. I'm still grappling with the idea of a rehoming fee for the reasons listed above, but if I did pay one, it would only be in person with a dog in hand.

From the pictures, which admittedly tell me little, and the short description, this dog seems like a total sweetie and I know I'm ready to be a loving and responsible home. But I also know I can't try to save an animal if it puts me at risk. What the hell do I do?
posted by R a c h e l to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"They're also asking a re-homing fee of $150."

Nope... given everything else...walk away...

You can't save every dog, don't take a chance that you're supporting something that's just.plain.wrong.

Take a trip to the local shelter tomorrow....
posted by HuronBob at 4:45 PM on December 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

Bring a pushy friend. Meet the dog at a park or similar. Pass if you and the dog don't "click." Depend on your pushy friend to tell the owners "no" if you can not.

You should also insist on a vet check-up prior to adoption. This dog might have very expensive problems. You want to know this going in.

A pet like this might destroy all of your furniture. Can you afford that?
posted by jbenben at 4:48 PM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

These people are selling a dog - either their own or a stolen one - for $150. If you do this, they will likely do it again. If you don't buy it, someone else will or they will eventually probably just dump the dog somewhere to fend for itself.

I would recommend meeting in a police station parking lot for your safety, though a vet's office would be a decent second choice, and you would tell the vet you're getting a dog from someone on Craigslist and want to have them examined (and scanned for a chip) straight away. You may lose $150 getting a dog back to its real owners.

It's up to you. It's a shitty situation pretty much any way you slice it, the best outcome is that a dog gets a safe happy home, but you don't know what implications that will have for other dogs and other homes.

Ideally nobody would ever do this and all people would get dogs from shelters and legitimate rescue groups (versus hobbyist animal hoarders, which is no different than paying some rando $150 for some random dog, ethically) but I know it's hard to walk away.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:50 PM on December 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I say all this as a long-term volunteer and eventual paid staff at an animal shelter. There are some people who practice "dog flipping" wherein they take what looks like an easily adoptable dog for free/cheap from others promising a forever home and then instead turn around and list the dog on Craigslist with a high re-homing fee. For that reason alone, I would not personally feel comfortable paying more than a very nominal $20 or less fee to an individual (as opposed to a shelter).

Some have heard, however, that offering dogs for free on Craigslist can lead to this very problem, though, so if someone's asking for money and you think it could be for this reason, you can offer to meet at a shelter and have them watch you pay a donation in the adopted dog's honor. Otherwise I think you should just adopt from a shelter; let people realize that they can't get money back out from a dog in their lives - it's a good lesson.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:55 PM on December 28, 2015 [12 favorites]

I wouldn't pay a rehoming fee to a rando on Craigslist. Nope, nope, nope.

This smells six kinds of rotten.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe something like, "That seems high; would it be acceptable to you if I instead donated $100 directly to a vet near you for a checkup and initial care, or even if I donated in your name to a rescue organization near you, like [name of one you found]."
posted by amtho at 5:07 PM on December 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

$150 re-homing fee? And the other details? Willing to bring the dog right away? The dog is either a stray or stolen and you're being hustled for meth money. Or something similar.

Walk. The. Hell. Away.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 PM on December 28, 2015 [15 favorites]

No, in this case, it's free or nothing, and even free would give me pause. This is super sketchy. I feel bad for the dog, but you don't want to contribute to a possible flip.

I scoured petfinder for months, and eventually drove 100 miles to find my pup, who was a breeder abandoned when she got too old. $250 which included shots and spay. Some of the best money I ever spent.
posted by Ruki at 5:17 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would do it this way. Tell them you want to meet at a vet's office to have the dog checked out. And that you will discuss the fee there with them after she's been checked out. Tell them if the vet finds any health issues and you still decide to keep the dog, you will apply the expected cost towards the $150.

Then, at the vet's and even if there are no health issues, get a cost quoted to bring her up to date on all her meds and use that to negotiate with current owners. "Her shots and checkups will cost $100 (or X), so I'm only willing to pay you $25." If they resist, stand firm and say "I just can't afford that."

I bet you leave that vet's office with your sweet new dog without paying that ridiculous "rehoming fee."
posted by raisingsand at 5:39 PM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: The current owner asked specifically about where I was able and willing to pay the $150, so I emailed using a combination of raisingsand and amtho's scripts - because of course y'all are right, as much as I want to get her out, paying that much for a dog of questionable origins is only going to cause harmful behavior. Will update if/when the owner responds, but thanks so much for the reality check.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:44 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

They seemed way to quick to offer you the dog which strikes me as a they are just in it for the money thing but having said that, standard advice if you are trying to get rid of your dog on Craigslist is to actually have a high fee to put off people that want to "flip" the dog or use it for bait in dogfighting. But people that are actually concerned enough about the dog to be fearful of flippers etc would not be pushing you to just take the dog & would not be deciding sight unseen that you could have the dog so I'd take that as a hundred warning bells.

For the same money or not much more you can save a dog from a reputable group. The dog will have had all it's shots, been vet checked & neutered etc so you'd probably even save money.

Remember while you might be saving this dog, all you are going to do is encourage this person to keep on stealing/flipping dogs & many more dogs will suffer.
posted by wwax at 6:12 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Somewhat surprisingly, the owner was receptive to meeting at a vet appointment and subtracting the cost of that bill from the fee. I realize that if this all works out, she's still getting some money (I assume it'll probably be $75 or less), but at least the dog will be safe and cared for. I'm making a vet appointment for tomorrow since she's clearly desperate to do this.

Fun twist: she told me she's desperate to get it done tomorrow because she needs the money for a plane ticket to the DR on Thursday. I'm inclined to believe her because why would you make that up but is there some other alarm bell there that I'm not picking up on?

I know I'm probably supporting something I shouldn't, but I just can't bring myself to drop out completely. Hive, do you think I'm making a massive mistake? How am I supposed to grapple with the nebulous risk of future flipped dogs versus this real dog that I have a picture and a name for right now?
posted by R a c h e l at 6:27 PM on December 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I know nothing of dog flipping, but the fact that the owner is willing to meet at a vet appointment and subtract that cost from the fee is encouraging. If she needs to return to the DR and can't bring the dog, her eagerness to re-home the dog makes sense. For your own peace of mind, meeting at the vet's to assess the situation seems like a good way to go. You know that you've done your due diligence, regardless of whether the dog stays with you or not. I don't think that's making a massive mistake. I think that's doing your best to do right by all given the situation. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:47 PM on December 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yes, I left out the step where you ask her if the dog is chipped and then ask the vet to check for one. You probably should call the vet ahead of time to explain the entire situation and your expectations and to make sure they scan for the chip. This will rule out the "flipped dog" issue.
posted by raisingsand at 7:05 PM on December 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You know, right now I have a rescue horse in the back pen that was advertised for $800 and I got him for $150. The old rule on Craigslist is ask for what you want, and get what they give you.

People aren't usually evil, they're most likely ignorant. Sounds like so many others that have waited too long to take care of a pet they should have found a home for months ago, and now they're up against the line--either time, money, life change, animal's behavior, whatever.

The fact they want to meet you at the vet sounds promising. Go with your gut, but just be willing to say NO loud and long if it doesn't work. Get the vet to help you with that.

Give it a chance. It may work out. If not, the dog is just looking for the right home, and you're going to facilitate that. I've been the interim home for a couple pooches and more than a few horses. You cant save 'em all, but sometimes it can go well for both of you in the long run.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:19 PM on December 28, 2015 [12 favorites]

Ask them who the vet is who gave the dog its shots and call them to confirm.
posted by bendy at 8:30 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get the dog out. Do it. She's an unspayed bitch and is at terrible risk. Get her insured immediately.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:00 PM on December 28, 2015

Best answer: You can also choose to assess the situation after you take the dog and "foster" her for a few weeks (connect with a foster group ASAP) if she ends up not being the right dog for you.
posted by samthemander at 11:25 PM on December 28, 2015

Best answer: In my dog crowd, it's seen as way sketchier to offer a dog on craigslist for free. It's encouraged to ask for at least $100, to weed out people looking for bait dogs for pitts. So imho, her asking for $150 for the dog and be willing to meet at a vet's office is a really good sign. I'd meet at a vet, get the dog evaluated and if she doesn't have horrible health problems, plan on giving the lady the balance of the money and taking her home.

(I reach out to anyone offering free dogs on craigslist and urge them to remove their posting, free pets are animals in real danger.)
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 8:18 AM on December 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: So we have a vet appointment for this afternoon and the owner says she will be driving down soon. I'm trying to locate a friend to join me for the appointment just in case and to help me say no if need be, but haven't found anyone available yet - if any NYC mefites are free and interested, please memail.

You can also choose to assess the situation after you take the dog and "foster" her for a few weeks (connect with a foster group ASAP) if she ends up not being the right dog for you.
This seems like a possibly-ideal situation if the dog isn't a good fit. How do I approach a rescue group about this? I worry that I will be marked as a dog abandoner (by a group that I may potentially be interested in adopting a different dog from) rather than a responsible rescuer.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:27 AM on December 29, 2015

Rescue groups are sometimes picky about what dogs they sponsor, but it's worth asking. You might consider whether you're willing to sponsor the dog financially, too.

I'd try to call one or two rescue groups _before_ your vet appointment if possible. That will help a lot.
posted by amtho at 8:36 AM on December 29, 2015

You might also end up becoming a volunteer for the group, which is a whole other kettle of fish. Just call and ask.
posted by amtho at 8:37 AM on December 29, 2015

How did it go?
posted by quince at 6:22 PM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, here's the update I never thought I'd have to make. It went both much better than expected and much, much worse - I've been sick all night over it.

As far as the original question, about the intent of the owner - you know what, when I met her, it was quickly clear that she was concerned with the dog's well-being and wanted somewhere better but was also completely clueless and not able to care for her well. She came with her two year old, and all three were struggling and in poor health but nothing she said about the dog's backstory or experiences were suspicious. I asked the vet and vet tech to keep an eye out for the same and they agreed.

The dog had a number of infections and completely treatable health problems that were causing her a great deal of discomfort - two ear infections, at least one skin infection, and poor grooming, among others. By my lord, she is so sweet. Just a remarkably calm, kind dog - even when the two year old was poking at her skin lesions. The vet and vet tech both expressed the opinion that she would probably thrive in a more attentive and supportive environment.

After all testing and treatment necessary, the vet bill was way (way) over $150, so while I could pay the owner nothing under the terms of our agreement, I ended up offering her $40 to at least cover gas money (she drove an hour and a half with the two year old to come to the appointment). She did not pressure me for more, although I'm sure it was a hardship. From the whole experience, I am so glad I went and met was truly a best-case scenario.

But then...and this is the bad part: I walked with her toward the pet store to get her some supplies, including a safer harness to replace her collar. Less than a block away from the store, she suddenly tried to pull back and slipped out of her collar. She successfully managed to escape probably hundreds of people on a busy sidewalk as I ran and yelled behind her. I've spent all night looking and will continue to do so today, but so far the last spotting I was able to track down was only a few blocks away form where she started running. It's such a sick, horrible feeling, and I know that if I'm this stressed, I can't imagine how she must feel. I realize that's outside the scope of the original question, but, well, that's the full update.

Aside from the fact that there's a voice in my head saying "if you got a dog out of a fairly bad situation but she was hit by a car 15 minutes into your care, than you absolutely did the wrong thing", I have to put it out there for future askers, I know I was lucky but I'm so glad I maintained enough faith in this woman and this dog to meet her. Once I was there and able to ask her more questions, it did not feel at all exploitative, just sad.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:00 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lost dog action plan (pdf)

Later there will be time to consider whether it was a good or bad thing to get this dog. Now is the time to act, while she still is in the vicinity. Canvas the neighborhood with flyers. Call all vets, rescues, animal controls and police departments in the area. Get your contact info out so that if anyone sees her, they can call you. Find out if you can borrow a humane trap from an animal control or rescue. DON'T CHASE HER. That will only make her go into hiding, or worse, flee across busy roads.

Something to possibly cheer you up: My little Corgi mix (who is currently snoring away at my feet), spent literally 8 minutes at my house as a "temporary foster" before escaping the yard on possibly the hottest day of the year. We tracked him for several miles hither and yon, before having to give up for the night. The next morning, he was at the foot of the driveway, after finding his way back to us.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:19 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jesus, I'm so sorry. I have also had new fosters (and my own idiot hounds) slip away and I've never lost one permanently yet, but it is a terrifying experience. I'm hoping your next update is happy news.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I won't use this thread for further updates, since it's outside the scope of the question, but please know that I am doing all of those things non-stop since she ran. I've filed reports and left my name with vets, and I've been and will keep flyering, monitoring websites, social media-ing, etc.

If you'd like to talk about it further, please feel free to memail - especially if you're local; I can use all the help I can get. I feel physically ill about it, and I also just can't believe it - it happened so fast.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:43 AM on December 30, 2015

You did the very best you knew to do, and a lot better than most people would. It's a terrible situation, and it's completely understandable that you would feel bad, but you are still a good person. You're a great person, and you went above and beyond in meeting this dog and getting her looked at (at great expense), and even if there were something else you wish you could do differently to avoid this horrible situation, you did the best, the absolute best you could at the time.

This is going to be a challenge all the way around. Good luck, my thoughts are with you.
posted by amtho at 6:50 PM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update, for anyone following: last week, in response to a lost dog poster, I got a call that led me to learn that a local vendor took the dog home with her. It's unclear whether she meant to take the dog permanently, or is taking care of the dog and would be ready to return her, but either way I hope she is safe for the time being while we track down the vendor (we know where she regularly sells, so fingers crossed she shows up there in the next few days - the holiday weekend made it difficult to track her down).

It's been a pretty miserable week, but ask mefi and all your memails have as always been an amazing source of kind and sane advice. It's interesting - the reactions I've gotten elsewhere are a mix of "damn, I definitely wouldn't do that much for a dog I barely knew" and "have you tried driving a hundred mile radius and stopping at every house?" - and for that, I appreciate this community that much more.

I have no more help to ask for for now, except that if you have any experience with found dog situations gone sour (say, if we find the vendor and she is very possessive or has given away the dog), especially in New York, please do reach out. I'm still weighing how much legal action I'd want to pursue, but I'd be interested to hear any stories.
posted by R a c h e l at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

The dog is safe, and you know that the dog is safe -- that's huge. I'm so relieved for you.

I don't have experience with this, but I'd think it likely that the vendor will be happy to know that you have a loving home for the dog, especially if you tell her the whole story (and tell her about the new/better harness, and whatever plan you have for socializing the dog).

I know this isn't a huge comfort... she's just another person. I'm hoping for the best.

I'll look back in case you post another followup. Thanks for the news.
posted by amtho at 11:19 AM on January 5, 2016

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