PLATTSBURGH — When Jennifer Liberty suspected her 13-month-old son might be allergic to dogs, she decided it was time to find their golden Labrador retriever a new home.
So when the Dannemora woman saw a posting on the online classifieds forum Craigslist indicating that a local person was looking for a free dog, Jennifer reached out to her.
Later that day, she and Bella met with the author of the Craigslist post, who went by the name Shawnee and, Jennifer said, Shawnee told her that her own dog had recently died.
“She tugged on my heartstrings,” Jennifer said.
Under the impression that Bella was going to a loving home with a big backyard, Jennifer placed the dog with Shawnee.
The very next day, a golden Lab named Bella was for sale in the Plattsburgh area on Craigslist for $50. The post instructed interested parties to contact a person named Shawnee.
Desperate to get the dog back from a person whom she no longer trusted, Jennifer and her sister-in-law, Jessica Liberty, immediately contacted the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, but were told nothing could be done since Jennifer had voluntarily given up the dog.
And, Jennifer said, when she confronted Shawnee about the posting via text message, Shawnee denied that she was trying to sell Bella.
But then, worried that Shawnee had not told the truth, Jessica responded to the Craigslist ad. Without disclosing her relationship to Jennifer, she expressed a desire to buy the pup.
Jessica said Shawnee was willing and accepted $25 for Bella.
The dog hadn’t received the best care, Jessica said, which furthered their dismay.
“Bella’s leash had been chewed through and retied, and she was nuts-acting, she was panting like crazy, and I just grabbed Bella ... and I headed back to the Jeep.”
Bella is now back in Jennifer’s care, but it appears Shawnee is not the only person who has used the website to acquire free dogs and then turn around and sell them.
Though it is not illegal to sell canines on Craigslist, according to Town of Plattsburgh Dog Control Officer David Duquette, state law prohibits individuals without a breeder’s license from selling more than nine dogs in one year.
And, Jennifer said, for someone to sell a dog that was entrusted to his or her care is morally wrong.
“It’s not like they are saying to these people, ‘Oh well, since you want to give your dog away for free, we’re going to take it and resell it,’” she said.
“They’re telling these sob stories and making people believe that these are going to be (the dogs’) new homes.”
Duquette recently investigated a situation in which Lisa Wood, 20, of Plattsburgh appeared to be using Craigslist to sell dogs that were given to her for free.
Craigslist’s forum reveals that on June 2, Wood created a post indicating that she was looking for a small dog or puppy for free. She included a phone number where she could be reached.
Just two days later, another post appeared on the site advertising a small, 1-year-old dog that needed a home. The anonymous author of the post requested a $100 re-homing fee and instructed interested parties to contact the same phone number given in Lisa Wood’s June 2 post.
On June 6, Wood again created a post, which read, “Looking for a free small dog,” and again the same phone number was given.
Wood confirmed to the Press-Republican that she had created several postings on Craigslist both looking for free dogs and trying to get rid of them in exchange for re-homing fees.
She said she had hoped to find a companion for her St. Bernard-boxer mix, but each time she would get a free dog, her dog would attack it, so she would use Craigslist again, to try to find the canine a new home.
“I wanted a dog that would get along with my dog, but that just didn’t happen.
“I’d rather see the dog go than get torn up,” she said.
Wood said she requested re-homing fees for the animals as a way of ensuring they would go to a good home.
“It’s not like I just kept doing it for the money,” she said.
COULD DO LITTLE
Wood told the Press-Republican she thought she had sold five dogs on the site, some on behalf of friends.
Duquette, who visited Wood’s home recently as part of his investigation, said he found three dogs at the residence, all of which appeared to be in good health, though not licensed.
One dog belonged to Wood, he said, and the other two to other members of the household.
Duquette issued citations for the unlicensed canines but, he said, without proof that Wood had sold more than nine dogs, there was little he could do.
“There’s no way we can prove how many they’ve sold.
“I’m going to monitor the situation,” Duquette said, adding that he planned to advise the state Department of Agriculture and Markets of his investigation.
Wood told the Press-Republican she has given up on her search for a companion for her current dog and is no longer selling canines.
She also said that her father told her to make the following statement to the Press-Republican: “I think Craigslist should be shut down because on the pets page, a lot of people use it to get pets, but a lot of people use it to harass people and write really nasty comments.”
She added that people have been posting messages on Craigslist accusing her of abusing dogs.
Those accusations, she said, are false.
‘AVOID CLASSIFIED SITES’
Duquette advises against using classifieds sites like Craigslist to adopt or place a dog.
Instead, he recommends going to an animal shelter, such as (Adirondack) Humane Society in Plattsburgh or Elmore SPCA in Peru, which also handles cats.
In addition to being no-kill facilities, the shelters often have the medical records of animals being adopted out and know the pets’ social histories, he said. They also conduct background checks of people looking to adopt an animal.
“You know what you’re getting.”
Jennifer suggests visiting the home where a pet might be placed and even getting references from the veterinarian the person has used in the past.
She has decided to keep Bella for now, but said if the dog continues to make her son sick, she may have to look for a new home for her. She’d do so with caution, she said.
“I’m not going to give her to just anybody. It’d have to be a family member or something like that.”
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