What is Pet Flipping, and Why is it Important?
What is Pet Flipping?
Pet flipping is the practice of stealing a pet (usually a cat or a dog) from its owner and then selling it via a service such as Craigslist. Flippers make a profit by taking something they obtained for free -- through theft -- and then selling the animal. "Adoption fees" on flipped animals are usually very reasonable, leading the buyer to believe that he or she is getting a "bargain" for a purebred animal.
This practice appears to be particularly common in the Midwestern United States and residents of these states should be aware that their pets are at risk any time they are allowed to be in the yard unsupervised for any length of time. Any pet may be stolen and flipped, though the practice is generally limited to purebred animals that are easy to transport. For example, you aren't likely to find that your pet horse has been flipped, as they are harder to move than a cat or a dog.
Is Pet Flipping Legal?
This is a very difficult question to answer.
Obviously it's illegal to steal another person's property, and a pet is property. However, not all pets are stolen from their yards. In many cases, the animal victims of pet flipping have become lost and while their owners look for them far and wide, they have been taken in by a flipper and have been "turned" for a quick buck, often using a website such as Craigslist.
In some states, it's illegal to sell a dog you found until you've done an adequate search for the owner (checking for a microchip or putting up "found dog" posters) and waited a specified amount of time for the dog to be claimed. After a certain point, the dog belongs to you and you can sell it.
Pet flippers who find a dog or cat and wish to "flip" the animal for profit generally don't follow these measures and haven't done a thorough search for the owners of the pet.
I know this from experience. My corgi disappeared from my yard several months ago, and no search was done for his owners. Instead, he appeared "for sale" on Craigslist. We made the necessary phone calls and he was returned to us free of charge, as we had "caught" the flipper.
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My Personal Experience with Pet Flipping in Central Indiana
Do you think that pet flipping could never happen to you? Maybe you're careful about how often your pet is outside, and you're sure that the ten minutes that you let your dog out without your attention is too little time for her to get out of the yard or to be stolen. If this is your mindset, you're wrong.
Back in July, my family's corgi went missing. We were meant to be going out of town a week after he turned up missing (not for the first time, as he's a little stinker who would get out of the yard and then wind up terrified and cowering until we found him), and we were in a tremendous hurry to find him. I placed notices around town that we were looking for him, but nothing was turning up, and I was feeling pretty desperate, since he is not microchipped. This is the third dog to go missing from our yard in Indianapolis, and we'd about given up hope on finding him.
We went out of town as scheduled, since our cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses were provided on all search literature. By the time we got back, we hadn't heard anything, and I was distressed. I'd been checking Craigslist "pets" and "lost and found" during the trip (over my birthday week) and nobody had contacted us.
The day after we arrived at home, we found the Craigslist ad, selling a red-colored Pembroke Welsh Corgi for $75. The ad clearly stated that he'd been "found" and that the finder had taken him to the vet for care and was looking to recoup the losses. She was also selling collar, leash, bowls and crate with the dog.
We contacted her immediately and discovered that this was, in fact, our dog. The dog had been "found" on the same day that our corgi had gone missing and that he matched the description perfectly. Fortunately the flipper decided to return our dog to us free of charge, or we would have contacted the police to take care of this issue for us.
During this process, however, we were told that the flipper wanted to sell him to another family she believed would be better suited for him as they "lived on a lot of land." While it's true that corgis need exercise, pet flippers don't get to make this decision for the rightful owners!
Use Google or Bing to help find sites that will handle your lost pet alert. Most of these are local services dedicated to a particular area or state.
What Should I Do if I Believe My Pet was Flipped?
First of all, remember that your pet may still be out there. A missing pet doesn't necessarily mean that your pet has been flipped or that it has been stolen. Keep this in mind if you suspect that your pet has been flipped.
Your first step needs to be to canvass the area where your pet went missing. Visually scan the area for your pet, but also go door-to-door and ask your neighbors if they've seen your pet recently or if they noticed anything suspicious that might help you to recover your pet.
If this doesn't turn your pet up, your next step should be to put posters up in the area where your pet went missing. Remember that the pet could easily be five to ten miles from your home within the first few hours of being gone. Place posters in at least a five mile radius, but consider going further than that. Particularly if your pet has been taken by a flipper, the animal could be further from your home. What you're looking for is exposure, so that potential buyers will see the pet and recognize that it is being flipped.
Once you've gotten your posters and fliers posted, hit the Internet. You want to put an ad on Craigslist which states that your pet is missing, and you should also check out local lost pet alert systems that are designed to help alert other pet owners in your area that there's a missing pet so that they can help you to find your pet. Notify the local Animal Care and Control that you have a missing animal as well, and let them know the description of your lost pet -- you never know where they will show up!
Using Facebook for Pets Missing in the Long Term
When your pet has been gone for a particularly long time, you may begin to feel hopeless and wonder if you're ever going to be able to find her. If you've already done everything else (including listing your pet with animal control and with pet alerts in your area), your next step may be to use Facebook and create a page for your pet. Plenty of pictures make this an easier task than if you have very few, but Facebook has been instrumental in helping some pet owners be reunited with their pets.
One such page is Finding Rocket. Rocket has been missing for nearly a year and yet his family continues looking for him. This is also a good example of how having many photos of your pet is helpful in your search. If you think you may have any information about Rocket, please contact his owners!
If Your Pet is Stolen, Keep an Eye on Craigslist
As the video to the right suggests, many pets which have been stolen will be sold via the Internet. Craigslist is an idea place for flippers to sell the pets that they have stolen to unsuspecting or willfully ignorant buyers. If your pet has been lost or stolen, keep an eye on Craigslist. Not only is it possible that your pet will appear as a found pet, but you could also potentially find the pet being sold.
Be aware that most flippers won't want to return your pet to you unless you pay them the "adoption fee" that they are requesting for the pet.
In many cases, flippers won't give the pet back to the owner. Their fear is obvious and genuine: If they are discovered to have stolen the animal and to be selling it, they may face legal consequences of their actions. If you follow Rocket's case at all, you will note that when the alleged flipper was discovered, they quickly moved the dog in question to another location in order to avoid being "caught" by law enforcement.
The flipper will try to cover their own hide. Their interests are personal gain, and they have no interest in returning your animal to you.
- Microchipping your pet will help you to recover the animal if it becomes lost and is scanned for a chip.
- Taking many photos of your pet will provide proof of identification. Photograph any identifying marks your pet may have, including scars or unusual markings. Then save these photos!
How Can You Prevent Your Pet from Being Stolen and Flipped?
There's really only one way of preventing your pet from being stolen: Supervise all outdoor doggy play time and don't let your cats go outdoors. If your pets are always attended, they won't be stolen. Nobody is going to be foolish enough to steal your dog or chat when you're standing with them. This is an important way that you can keep your pet safe from flippers. It will also prevent your dog from escaping from your yard or any pet from getting struck by a car if you're in their presence to protect them. This is your job as a pet owner!
You can, however, improve your chances of having your pet returned to you if it is taken by a flipper by doing the things which are listed to the right. Please note that these things will help you to find your pet whether the pet is stolen or runs away from the yard.
Your best line of defense against flippers is to supervise your pet when outdoors or to keep it indoors at all times!
How to Discourage Pet Flippers
As with any business the practices of which you disagree with, you should boycott pet flipping by not purchasing a pet on Craigslist. Though the service forbids the selling of pets, adoption fees are permitted, and flippers call their charge an "adoption fee" in order to get around this particular issue. If everyone avoided purchasing pets from pet flippers, they'd be put out of business and the practice would dwindle.
Be aware that when a purebred pet is being sold, the original owner should have some kind of proof of ownership, including the pet's papers. This isn't always the case, as sometimes the papers are misplaced or are never sent to the new owner when a puppy or kitten is purchased, but this is a helpful tool for you to determine whether or not you are purchasing a pet from its original owner or from a third party (such as a pet flipper).
© 2014 Becki Rizzuti