The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Diane Jessup

Companion Animal: Pets, Craigslist, and cruelty


November 20, 2019

The online sales community Craig’s List (CL) has had an undeniable and significant negative impact on the welfare of companion animals in the United States, in particular dogs and cats, since it went nationwide in its present form in the mid-2000s. What started as lonely, new-to-town techie Craig Newmark’s email newsletter to a few friends in the San Francisco area in the mid-1990s has grown into a quiet yet at time malevolent giant. According to “Craiglists Statistics,” by 2016 the site was getting 20 billion (with a B) hits per month, making it the 11th most popular site in the USA. All this with less than 50 employees.

Founder Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster summed up their business model to Forbes magazine by stating that they have very little interest in maximizing profit, and “preferred to help users find cars, apartments, jobs and dates.” This folksy, good-hearted attitude has not always rung true considering the amount of darkness behind the deceptively simple website and idea.

Example: in 2016 The Washington Post ran a story when CL broke the one hundred mark in the number of murder cases directly linked to the website. “Traditionally, the majority of murders were committed by killers who knew their victims,” said Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist. “Thanks to the internet generally, and Craigslist in particular, stranger homicides have been on the increase.” The number of CL related murders is nearing 130 according to Craigslist Killings, a blog that keeps track of the statistics.

This same anonymity and lack of accountability which made human murders possible had its counterpart in the pet section, where CL management forbid the sale of animals from reputable breeders or owners but encouraged the giving away for free or a “low fee” animals to total strangers—something, by the way, no national humane organization or ethical breeder would ever support.

The cases are difficult to read and far too common: disturbed young men (primarily) who use the CL pet section to shop for innocent victims of their pathology. Jeff Nally obtained 29 free dogs from CL and then performed heinous acts of cruelty on them in front of his kidnapped girlfriend. The list of twisted terror on animals is far too long.

CL’s anonymity and lack of accountability leads to not only extreme cases of abuse but facilitates hoarding and “flipping.” Flipping is the practice of picking up free or cheap dogs and then marketing them on CL for resale as a rescue for a couple hundred bucks.

Humane organizations, reputable breed rescues, and ethical breeders for years have pleaded with CL to change their policies, but to no avail. This is not surprising when one considers it took an actual act of Congress to get them to shut down their notorious “Adult Services” category. Moved by an ABC expose entitled “Craigslist: Site For Sex Slaves,” attorneys general from several states put pressure on CL to take down the infamous category. It took the United States Congress passing HR 1865, which imposed penalties that include fines and a prison term of up to 10 years or both for a person who “owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service that facilitate the prostitution of another person.” CL response was to post “Censored” where the category heading had been and to note “…we are regretfully taking Craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

“Craigslist has had a very laissez-faire attitude” toward people misusing the site, says Prashant Malviya, marketing and consumer affairs professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, pointing out that CL has no consequence for misuse. And it was just this lack of accountability that made CL pet section a magnet for the unethical selling companion animals.

The first wave of abuse came about in the mid-2000s and predictably was for a San Francisco-based outfit. San Francisco was a hotbed of what came to be known as “retail rescue,” which brought with it “anti-breeder” sentiment for ethical breeders posed competition to those who found it easier to upmarket unwanted dogs than to breed their own. Pet ownership is given to trends, and at the time of CL rise, “rescuing” an animal from the dog pound was tres chique. The 2000s saw movie stars, TV personalities, and yuppies all vying to be seen with their “rescued, abused, neglected, unwanted” fur-baby. The more emotionally or physically unsound the dog the better; it was “damaged” and only the hero owner could save the darling.

With Hurricane Katrina, the dog du jour became not only a “rescue” but an animal trucked or flown in from the most recent natural disaster, and later, when supplies ran low, from third-world countries. CL stood ready and willing to help anyone become a “rescue”; no need for a facility, no need for web presence—all that was needed was a CL ad and a parking lot to meet in and exchange money for pet.

The perfect storm of circumstances now removed the normal outlets for reputable breeders (local classifieds and dog magazines) and replaced it with a service which forbid the sale of carefully bred, health tested purebred animals in favor of only “rehoming” unwanted pets for a “small fee”. Within ten years of CL going national, newspaper classified sales plummeted by 77 percent, according to Business Insider. This would prove to have a huge impact on the sale of puppies and kittens by legitimate breeders, as American Kennel Club statistics showed.

Legitimate breeders turned to the AKC marketplace and their own websites to advertise their litters. The only people who needed to post (illegally) on CL were those backyard breeders who did not have ready sales for litters they produced. Ethical folks did not abuse the terms of use forbidding animal sales, but there were plenty of people willing to do it, and CL let them run riot. Suddenly low rehoming fees were prices upwards of $4,000 for some fad breeds like “Labradoodles” and “American bullies.”

The only regulation possible was flagging by the public disgusted with the blatant misuse of the service. Flagging a post will, when a secret number of flags is reached, make the post disappear. But it takes a great deal of time, and very few CL readers care enough about the abuses to take the time to flag the growing number of illegal ads.

The result of CL pet classified policy is now a showcase of the very worst of exploiters offering poor quality animals without regulation. On Nov. 3, 2019, a look at the first page (120 ads) of the Los Angeles CL pet section, where the terms of use prohibits the sale of animals and only allows the “rehoming” of pets for a “small rehoming fee,” contained 76 purebred litters of dogs and a few exotic cat breeds. That is 63 percent of the ads representing animals bred for resale by people who deliberately ignore CL rules. Two of the ads were for stud service for dogs that did not have registration papers. Not one of the ads listed any of the hallmarks of reputable breeders such as health testing or what requirements were necessary for purchase. Most of the ads were for current “ad breeds such as French bulldogs, and a great number advertised animals which were poorly bred according to AKC standards of perfection.

Despite repeated pleas from legitimate breed rescue groups, national humane associations, and concerned reputable breeders, CL management continues to turn a blind eye to what they have wrought. By banning legitimate (and ethical) persons from offering well-bred and health tested animals for sale alongside the very worst of the puppy mills and backyard breeders, today’s public has little opportunity to compare the difference. Today’s puppy buyer’s internet search will drive them toward a bewildering selection of “services” to help them locate a breeder, but CL remains the fastest, simplest way for John Q Public to locate a puppy in his/her area. The unintended consequence of CL management’s policy of allowing only those people willing to break the rules and post against the terms of use has strongly biased the public access to the very worst breeders in America.

Today Craigslist retains one of the strongest and most negative impacts on dog and cat welfare in America by prohibiting those who advocate proper breeding, care and screening of buyers and turning a blind eye to those who abuse the system to sell their mass produced and backyard bred victims. Repeated appeals to put a disclaimer at the head of the pet section has met with silence. It can only be assumed that CL management simply doesn’t care.

Professor Malviya of Georgetown University concludes that “the problem with Craigslist is that it’s just gotten too successful. People are exploiting it for reasons and purposes that go against the spirit in which it was created.” Which leads to the question, why would anyone want to buy a puppy or kitten from someone who is openly advertising themselves as deceitful?


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