The dream is that the pet you've placed went to a good home. The reality can be entirely different.
That fact was brought into sharp focus last week, when three Southern California residents were sentenced to prison for selling fraudulently acquired pets to research laboratories.
Their source of animals? "Free-to-a-good-home" ads.
According to news reports, the trio had acquired more than 140 animals by the time they were discovered. Close to 80 had been sold for research, and 11 had died in laboratories.
If you have to place an animal, you must be careful. But a proper home can be found for almost any pet, if you work at it and are patient.
Joleene Ladyman can vouch for it. Part of a San Francisco Bay area network of animal-loving volunteers, she and her husband, Jim, are involved in about 100 pet placements a year. They deal with Dobermans, although not exclusively.
Breed-rescue volunteers work to relieve the load on municipal and non-profit shelters by focusing efforts on a particular breed or groups of breeds.
Some rescuers, like Ms. Ladyman, are fans of a particular breed. Others are top show breeders who work in rescue not only because they love the breed, but also because they want to offset their contributions to the pet overpopulation tragedy.
Good breeders have always taken back their own dogs if problems develop, but this outreach to others of the breed -- dogs not from their own litters -- is a relatively new development. With a popular dog like the Doberman, the need for breed rescue is constant and often overwhelming.
Last week, a typical one, Ms. Ladyman and the other volunteers she works with were trying to find proper homes for Dobermans ranging from 4 months to 9 years in age. She was also working to place a dog she's fostering, a sweet-natured 11-month-old golden retriever who's going blind.
"Blind dogs make fine pets," Ms. Ladyman said, "but there's no doubt it'll take a little longer to find the right home for Rusty."
She says taking plenty of time to make the match is one of the most important aspects of proper pet placement. From Ms. Ladyman and others, here are a few additional tips:
*Do everything you can to make the animal more adoptable.
"It helps if the pet has current shots, is housebroken and altered," said Ms. Ladyman. "It helps if it's socialized. . . . It's very important that the animal can stay inside without being destructive."
*Ask a price. People show more respect for something they've paid for, and a price tag dampens the interest of profiteers.
"If a buncher [a person collecting animals for sale to research] is getting a couple hundred dollars a dog, he's not going to bother with an animal he has to pay for," said Ms. Ladyman.
"We charge between $100 and $150, which usually covers our costs. For that, you get a pet with shots, heartworm test and altering.
"Remember, if you find a home you feel good about, you can always drop the fee," she said.
*Don't lie about the pet's problems, or why it's being placed.
Although it takes longer to find a new home for a pet with health or behavior problems, it can be done. But the person who gets such a pet without warning is likely to bring it back or place it without your knowledge, maybe into a horrible situation.
*Ask lots of questions and verify that the answers are true.
Ask for a telephone number and call back to check it. Ask to see a driver's license. Check out the home in person, and bring along a friend.
Make sure you're dealing with people who realize that a pet is a long-term commitment.
*If, despite all your precautions, if you have a bad feeling, don't go through with the placement.
"The animal's future depends on your efforts," said Ms. Ladyman. "If you don't like what you find, you have to say no."
Breed rescue groups operate in most communities; your local kennel club or animal shelter may be able to provide a referral.
There's also a nationwide directory of breed-rescue contacts. The Project BREED (Breed Rescue Efforts and EDucation) Directory, with more than 1,500 contacts for dozens of breeds, is available for $15.95 from the non-profit Network for Ani-Males and Females, 18707 Curry Powder Lane, Germantown, Md. 20874. The Network will provide breed-rescue referrals over the phone: (301) 428-3675.