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Craigslist can be a fine place to find your next pet

Save for the personal ads, the pets section is easily the most depressing thing Craigslist has to offer. Every day, around 150 ads for dogs and cats, ferrets and rabbits are posted on Atlanta's Craigslist (atlanta.craigslist.org/pet) along with pleas for a good and loving home. If you're an animal lover, the sob stories and snapshots of sad-eyed critters make it pretty easy to get sucked into adopting every soon-to-be-homeless animal on the site. But, can a service that also advertises dinette sets and random sexual encounters really be as good a place to find your next animal friend as the local pet rescue? With a little common sense and a nose for B.S., sure.

Whether they're in the market for a sideboard or a Siberian Husky, affordability tends to be the average Joe's reason for shopping on Craigslist. While outright sales of household pets are banned, it is legal to ask for a small re-homing fee and most of the people who post ads take advantage of that. The typical fee in Atlanta for a dog is around $150 — although puppies and purebreds are usually more — and cats tend to be around $30. On average, fees on Craigslist are cheaper than fees at a rescue, but don't let bargain basement prices dissuade you from requesting an animal's vet records. Like a junker car that needs an expensive tune-up or new tires before you can even drive it, you may end up spending more on a "free" dog once you factor in the cost of shots, sterilization and other veterinary necessities.

Local rescues tend to have a leg up on Craigslist when it comes to accessibility. Most rescues nowadays have many of their animals posted online with images and detailed profiles, so viewing a rescue site versus trolling on Craigslist isn't that different, and possibly even better. And just because you find a pet on Atlanta's Craigslist site, there's no guarantee the animal is actually in Atlanta; plenty of ads are posted from cities that are several hours away. There's also no guarantee that the person posting the ad isn't a complete weirdo or worse. The folks down at the local rescue are markedly less likely to be a gang of murderers or rapists luring you into their lairs with pictures of puppies — and they're usually much closer than that Pomeranian in Paulding.

Like the other sections of Craigslist, the quality of the postings varies. Ads with pictures, written by obviously concerned owners make up a respectable percentage. It's easy to see that many of these animals are loved and the people advertising them are genuinely saddened at losing them. Sprinkled liberally among those are ads for dogs with downplayed behavioral problems, outrageously expensive pit bull puppies and terse, error-ridden ads with blurry pictures cats (or at least things that look cat-like). Common sense is required to sniff out the good postings, and if you haven't honed that sense, Craigslist animals are not for you. A rule of thumb: if you see more than three typos, move on.

Craigslist for dogs (or cats, or ferrets) is like Craigslist for everything else: If you don't mind trolling the site for a while, you're likely to find a quality animal cheaper than elsewhere. It will require sifting through a lot of dumb postings, and it may also require spending additional money on a rabies shot, some professional training, or a drive to the suburbs or beyond. In fact, I'll be making an hour-and-a-half to pick up my Craigslist dog tomorrow.