Animals have been given away without proper safeguards on a website meant to help Chesterfield residents reduce waste levels.
The Chesterfield Freecycle website gives away unwanted items for free but has become a give-away site for animals.
Critics claim the animals could become victims of cruelty, including bait for dog fights and puppy trafficking.
The Chesterfield Freecycle is one of 4,866 local non-profit groups that are trying to keep “good stuff out of landfills.”
But among the television sets, telephones and artificial Christmas trees on offer, browsers will also find kittens, cats, dogs and even the occasional snake up for grabs.
The group does not have a ‘no animal’ policy and local Freecycle groups are not subject to an arbitrary policy on sale of animals.
The decision was taken based on the discretion of local moderators. When they received objections from people in the past, they left the decision open to the users of the group.
In three polls since 2007, a majority has voted to allow animals to be found new homes via the website.
Chesterfield Freecycle moderators said in an open letter to protestors that their ‘policies are not likely to change in the foreseeable future.’
Chesterfield resident Shonagh Staten, 33, has been using the website for two years, mostly to look for household items. “It’s a sound idea but it’s quite common to put animals up on offer as well.”
She has taken in cats advertised on the website and re-homed them after properly vetting the would-be owners. She said: “I was afraid they would end up as bait for illegal dog fights.”
The RSPCA received 358 complaints about animal fights in 2007, a 1392% increase since 2004 (only 24 complaints).
The RSPCA in Chesterfield said it was aware that animals were being sold online without proper vetting procedures.
Spokeswoman Sophie Wilkinson said: “People doing this might be inadvertently supporting puppy trafficking trade.”
It was important to get pets from a reputable breeding or rescue centre, she said.
The RSPCA has not heard of animal fights in the area but said such information is hard to regulate.
Ms Wilkinson urged people who know of any such activities to report the matter to concerned officials immediately.