I try avoid absolute statements. You know “always,” and “never” and all that. But I will say the following about purchasing an animal from a Craigslist ad: Don’t. Please don’t.

Every week, I see owners who have bought pets (mostly puppies) from Craigslist. For the most part, these creatures are underage, underweight, and poorly bred. It’s gotten to the point that when I examine one that is physically normal, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Last week, I saw a Craigslist puppy that was supposedly 8 weeks old. He was 5 weeks at best, and that was probably rather generous. This poor dog is already behind life’s eight-ball. He was not allowed to remain with his mother for an appropriate amount of time, which means he didn’t get to nurse and receive maternal antibodies for nearly long enough. He also missed out on the important socialization that occurs when a litter stays together until at least 8 weeks of age. These owners will have to be extra cautious about protecting their puppy from contagious disease, but they also need to do some work on training and socialization, which involves exposing the puppy to other dogs. See the problem here?

This week, it was a 7-month-old German Shepherd puppy with the worst case of congenital hip dysplasia I have ever seen. When I asked the very surprised owner whether she could go to the breeder and find out more about the parents and their hips, or whether she was sold with a health guarantee, I got a blank stare. Then a weak, “Well, I found the ad on Craigslist and met the guy in a parking lot.” She thought it was odd that the seller told her, unbidden, “The parents are really healthy. No hip problems.” Uhhhhh . . . okayyyyyyy . . .

Of course, any prospective pet parent should do their due diligence when adopting or purchasing a pet, no matter where it comes from. If you’re going to a breeder–and there are some excellent ones out there–check them out. Do they have a website? References? Can you visit the premises and see their facility and the breeding dogs? If adopting from a shelter or private rescue group, the same basic rules apply. How accessible are the representatives of the organization? Do they answer your questions completely and in a timely fashion? Is the area clean? Are good health records and history provided? Putting all this information together should give you a good idea of what kind of pet you are getting and what kinds of problems, if any, you may encounter down the road.

Listen, I know better than anyone how easy it is to fall in immediate, thunderstruck, heart-wrenching love with an adorable puppy photo on the internet. (I’m especially susceptible if it has a sad medical story to go with it, but that’s my own pathology and another post altogether . . . ) Just make sure you take a little bit of time to gather as much information as you can before you make a life-long decision. And maybe just avoid Craigslist altogether.