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Central Florida is teeming with pets looking for their forever homes. For students at UCF, finding a furry friend for life could be as simple as clicking a mouse.

Recently, many students have been trying to give away and adopt pets through Facebook groups. Students will post pictures of dogs, cats and even small animals like guinea pigs often for free to try to match up with a potential new owner.

Rachel Hammaker, a freshman majoring in event management, stumbled across one such post of a kitten up for adoption last September. She said it ended up being the best way for her to have found her new pet, despite not intentionally searching for one.

“Facebook allowed me to avoid large fees in order to adopt a kitten,” Hammaker said. “It also made me feel better knowing that I was preventing a kitten from being put in a shelter or going to a bad home.”

Rehoming a pet instead of turning it over to a shelter has some advantages, such as reducing competition for the limited space and resources often found in shelters, according to the Humane Society of the United States’ website.

But rehoming pets puts a lot of responsibility on the owner to make his or her pet as attractive as possible to potential adopters. Owners should make sure their pets are up-to-date on all vaccinations and spayed or neutered. The Human Society also recommends that owners should be as transparent as possible about the animal, including disclosing any behavioral problems.

Hammaker said she was worried at first about getting her cat, Eva, from a complete stranger, but took precautions to ensure that the process was safe.

“I was a little concerned about the honesty of the previous owner, but Facebook gives you the opportunity to look through someone’s profile to check in on them, and the owner appeared to be trustworthy,” she said. “This is much different than places like Craigslist, where you never know who’s really behind the screen.”

Like Hammaker, Francisco Svec, a junior majoring in industrial engineering, also adopted his dog Cooper through a Facebook post. He agreed that students should use caution when looking for pets online.

“It’s definitely risky, since you can’t know for sure how healthy the animal is until you see them in person,” Svec said.

In Svec’s case, the previous owner was open and willing to talk about the dog before arranging a meeting, which Svec said made the process seem more reliable. Now, a year and a half since he adopted Cooper, Svec said both he and his family are happy they didn’t go through a shelter or pet store.

“My mom doesn’t like to buy dogs,” he said. “She’s had about 10 dogs through her life and they have all been adopted, so this was a great opportunity.”

Not every match goes as smoothly. Emily Nakis, a junior psychology major, said that she used Facebook in the hopes of knowing where her kitten ended up, but couldn’t find anyone she felt comfortable giving her pet to.

“We actually had some people offer to take a kitten we found, but we didn’t feel that they were a good fit, and brought him to a no-kill shelter,” Nakis said. “I only started posting on Facebook in the hopes of seeing where the kitten went, but after a month, we couldn't keep him any longer.”

Nakis said that as a college student with two other cats and a hedgehog, she just couldn’t afford to take care of another animal.

“I just wanted the kitten to go to a loving home where he’d have a lot of attention,” she said. “Although we only housed the kitten for a month, it broke my heart to see him go.”

There are a lot of limitations, including finances, college students have to consider before adopting pets.

Kathy Burns, the senior manager of shelter operations at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, said that many students don’t consider challenges such as going to class, social outings and landlord restrictions before adopting an animal.

“It’s comfort, perhaps, for a student to have an animal, because they miss the pet they have at home,” Burns said. “But it really is best they think through what the animal’s needs are and what they can provide realistically.”

She said even animals like cats, which many people perceive as being easy pets to own, still need a lot of care and create a lot of cost, which for a college student just might not be plausible. When that animal becomes too much of a burden, the student has to give it away, whether on Facebook or through other methods, and the cycle continues.

“It doesn’t benefit an animal to be in a temporary situation,” Burns said. “Ideally, pets are a lifetime commitment.”

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Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. You can follower her on Twitter at @deannaferrante or email her at DeannaF@centralfloridafuture.com.

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