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What Is Pet Flipping, and Why Is It Important?

Pets have been a hobby and interest throughout my lifetime, and I want to share with you some of what I've learned.

Purebred dogs, like this Rottweiler, are primary targets of pet flippers.

Purebred dogs, like this Rottweiler, are primary targets of pet flippers.

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 it. "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 outside 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.

Pet flipping is a sort of limbo-world when it comes to whether or not it's legal. While pet flipping is (obviously) theft, you'll be hard pressed to get attention from the police if it happens to you.

Pet flipping is a sort of limbo-world when it comes to whether or not it's legal. While pet flipping is (obviously) theft, you'll be hard pressed to get attention from the police if it happens to you.

This is a very difficult question to answer.

Obviously, it's illegal to steal another person's property, and a pet is recognized as property. However, not all flipped pets are stolen from their yards. In many cases, the animal victims of pet flipping were lost, and while their owners were looking for them far and wide, they were taken in by a flipper and "turned" for a quick buck, often on 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. But 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.

Cats can be the victims of pet flipping as well.

Cats can be the victims of pet flipping as well.

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 you let your pet 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 of 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 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.

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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!

This Poll is 100% Anonymous, so Answer Truthfully, Please

Dogs are more flipped more often than cats, which are usually kept indoors.

Dogs are more flipped more often than cats, which are usually kept indoors.

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 it has been flipped or stolen. Keep this in mind if you suspect that your pet has been flipped.

  1. Search the area. 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.
  2. Put up posters. 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.
  3. Search the internet. 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 Lost or 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 ideal 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!
You have ways of preventing your pet from being stolen and flipped.

You have ways of preventing your pet from being stolen and flipped.

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 playtime 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).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Becki Rizzuti

Questions or Comments?

Kelly Quigley on August 06, 2020:

I have proof by her own admittance that some one is dog flipping and am in the process of ruining her. She is doing it by fostering and then selling the dogs, pockets the money than tells the rescue its a rescue to rescue transfer

Toni on May 02, 2017:

I know of a female who took my pet, she took him to a pet shelter in another state, then he was adopted out. Couldn't get chip changed so they changed his name and even the breed. He is now chipped thru 24 Pet Watch. No record of me ever being his owner. To me this is Pet flipping. The family who has him knows I am looking for him and so does the Pet shelter n female who took him. Home Again still had me as owner. I hope the people who adopted him out chock on the money they got. Wish I knew name of pet shelter n Northland in MO, adopted out to someone n KS

Brendan Spaar from Alpharetta, GA on November 18, 2014:

Pet flipping isn't just for stolen dogs. There are many people that search places like Craigslist for free pets. They then relist them with a fee for "rehoming". It's a quick way to make easy cash & the pets are the ones that usually lose. If you have a pet, please microchip it. Then if there's ever a problem you have positive id that proves it's yours. There are several good nationwide missing pet sites that are free. The Yahoo group K9FelineCanine AmberAlert is one. Also is a good one to post missing dogs.

Suzie from Carson City on August 05, 2014:

Very enlightening! Of course I'm aware that pets get stolen all the time....whether quite deliberately or by simply being found, lost & wandering. I have never heard of this "pet-flipping." Is anything safe from scams?

An effort should always be made to find a pet's rightful owner. If this fails, I think you've got yourself a dog or cat! At that point, I feel it is humane to do whatever you can to check out the pet's health, clean it up, make sure it is well-fed and cared for until a new home is found....if you won't be keeping it yourself.

Your hub is very educational. Thanks for the info...Up+++

Chav Chambers on August 01, 2014:

wow thanks for this article, I have learned something new today. I did not know that that was the terminology that was used. I am thinking of getting a pet in the future.

Sami from Kansas on July 28, 2014:

I have never heard of "pet flipping" before. I thought this article was about big dogs having their stomachs flipped if they eat and then exercise too much, since that's something my dog can be prone to; however, that is a horrible thing to do to someone! I mean I can understand finding a dog who has run away from its home without a collar, but the dog should be taken to the nearest shelter while it awaits its owners showing up. But trying to profit off of lost or stolen pets is horrible! Thank you for sharing this--- I had no idea.

Pam Tighe on March 26, 2014:


Can you call me? I am a producer with WCBS-TV working on a story about pet flipping...

I can be reached at 212 975-7953..


Pam Tighe

Jennifer Kessner from Pennsylvania on March 14, 2014:

My heart goes out to anyone who's had a pet run away or stolen! This article is a wonderful source of encouragement and ideas to practice.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 14, 2014:

Wow, people actually sink this low to get a quick buck. That's just nasty. This hub will definitely make more people aware.

Sara Jean from Northern Illinois on March 13, 2014:

I had no idea this was going on, but I'm not completely surprised. It's a really scary thought! Thanks for sharing.. I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on my pup.

dontaytte from Palos Hills on March 13, 2014:

Great hub. I am from Chicago and this is a big problem here.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 13, 2014:

Congratulations on HOTD!

This is very important information, and a must-read for all pet owners. Even indoor-only pets can sometimes sneak out and escape, despite all precautions, so the tips you've provided are truly vital.

Thankfully, this has never happened to us, nor to anyone we know, but it pays to remain vigilant.

Craigs List should just prohibit the exchange of animals by any means, no matter whether they call it a 'sale' or an 'adoption fee.' That would help get rid of these horrid crooks by eliminating a main venue on which they can operate.

Voted up, interesting, useful, and shared.

Ashley from United States on March 13, 2014:

I remember when this happened to me. I had a neighbor who I would occasionally run into at the pet store and she loved to talk.

She would always tell me about these pets that she "rescued" from abusive owners. I would see her with new pets all the time, and I never saw the same twice.

Anyway, I just figured she was a foster parent for the animals until one day out of nowhere my brindle boxer went missing.

I have a privacy fence around the pool area where I let her outside because she loved laying on the steps.

After that, she pretty much avoided me and I never saw her. I'm 99% positive she stole her from me. :-(

It's so sad..

Shaddie from Washington state on March 13, 2014:

People do this with reptiles a lot. Any reptile that's ever been stolen is most likely doomed to be "flipped" for profit. Some reptiles can go for hundreds or thousands, and are easier and safer to steal than dogs. It's a sad, sad world out there :(

P.S. I really hope you microchipped your dog after that incident. All dogs should be microchipped, especially those that are little stinkers.

Becki Rizzuti (author) from Indianapolis, Indiana on March 13, 2014:

Thank you all so very much! I'm glad that I was able to inform some people about what this crime is and how it works. I'm trying to help bring home a dog in central Indiana. If you didn't check out Rocket's hub on one of my other accounts, please do!

David Livermore from Bakersfield, California, United States on March 13, 2014:

This is why I have purely indoor pets. I don't own a dog, but I do own cats. You can't trust anyone now a days.

Shasta Matova from USA on March 13, 2014:

Becki, congratulations on HOTD. I hadn't heard of pet flipping before, so you've done a great public service informing me. That's awful that people would do something like that.

Becki Rizzuti (author) from Indianapolis, Indiana on March 13, 2014:

Padlocking the gates is definitely helpful. Make sure that nobody can get in if you have to leave your pet unsupervised, even if you're in the house, is helpful.

Cats seem to go missing more often than dogs and are significantly harder to find because of their resources and their body size. I've lost cats when they darted outdoors as well, and my cats never leave the house if I can help it.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on March 13, 2014:

This is a GREAT hub and well deserved HOTD, congrats! I don't think people realize how serious and common this issue is. Voted up!

Graham on March 13, 2014:

@jtrader This is actually quite common with dogs - they get unsettled by a change in location, they stop eating. I moved house just down the street from my old house, and my JRT wouldn't eat for the first few weeks without me stroking her near the food bowl. Gentle encouragement that everything is OK.

Lisa VanVorst from New Jersey on March 13, 2014:

Thank you for writing this story. I love animals and this practice needs to stop. I am glad you mentioned Craig's list as one of the sites this occurs on. I don't trust that site even to look for a job. I live in an area where so many dogs get lose out of my neighbors yard. Sometimes the same dog. Lucky for my neighbor they find their dog, but what if someone stole their pet like you mentioned. Pet owners must check their yards to make sure there are no holes, broken fences or other ways their dogs can escape. Great hub and very informative.

ologsinquito from USA on March 13, 2014:

I know someone who had a beautiful purebred dog stolen from him. This is really good information, both to protect your pet and also how to potentially retrieve a stolen pet. Voted up.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 13, 2014:

Heartbreaking to know this occurs. I have a cat who disappeared 12 years ago before Craigslist and all this garbage. I do not suspect he was flipped; I hate the thought of someone doing this with ill intent. I looked everywhere for him to no avail and his memory still haunts me. He was my child. What an important hub. Voted up and shared.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on March 13, 2014:

I might add: it is very important to update the information on your pet's microchip. Owners sometimes move and don't update the info. I have a large fenced in yard and I let my little dog outside while I'm home, but she comes in when I leave the house. I have padlocks on the gates, too!

Becki Rizzuti (author) from Indianapolis, Indiana on March 13, 2014:

We haven't had an issue in nearly a year now. During that time we've stopped allowing our dogs to spend time unsupervised outdoors. Thanks for the comments everybody!

SandCastles on March 13, 2014:

Good article. And people should remember not to leave their dog tethered. It is cruel and the pet is suspectible to all kinds of threats, including flipper thieves. Do not tie up your dog and leave him. It is lazy and cruel. If you don't have a fenced yard, get one. Take your dog for walks. Let your dog stay in the house; don't leave it outside. When a person has a pet, there is going to be pet fur and a bit of damage. That's what having a pet means but it also means having this adorable creature to share your life with. An animal isn't like a car you can park in the garage. It's part of the family.

Jeanne Grunert on March 13, 2014:

I'd never heard of this before, but I'm grateful I logged into HubPages today and saw this! How horrible for the poor pet and his or her owner. Thank you for an informative article. Voted up and useful.

Audrey Howitt from California on March 13, 2014:

Wow--I had not heard about this before--seems important to spread the word

Brittany Rowland from Woodstock, GA on March 13, 2014:

Thanks for sharing this information. I'd not heard of pet flipping before.

Kari on March 13, 2014:

I can't believe people would do this. It takes a special kind of morally-deprived idiot to do this stuff.

You said, "This is the third dog to go missing from our yard in Indianapolis, and we'd about given up hope on finding him." Maybe you need to take action on making your yard more secure.

Your advice, "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," is good. But it sounds like you need to take your own advice so that your corgi or future pets do not go missing too.

jtrader on March 13, 2014:

This is a terrible practice. I guess people will steal anything of value. Our dog was stolen once. Fortunately, we managed to find him. He had lost weight too because he refused to eat anything that the thieves provided.

Voted up and useful!

darkprinceofjazz on March 13, 2014:

I didn't realize this was a widespread issue, but I can't say I am surprised. Seems like human decency decreases by the day now.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on March 13, 2014:

Gosh after reading your hub I really feel that there should be legal consequences for these thief's, if only for the grief they have caused for the owners. Thanks for this information and congratulations! Voted interesting

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on March 13, 2014:

What a rotten thing to do. And I imagine that it is difficult to prove that the animal was stolen and not merely found. Good to hear that you got your dog back.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 13, 2014:

I truly hope they do make it a law to scan for a chip before a dog can be sold. Great Hub full of good info for pet owners.

Amy from Darlington, England on March 13, 2014:

This happened to a friend of mine years ago. She got her dog back years later. It was found miles away from where it was stolen.

Pratik Mevada from Ahmedabad on March 13, 2014:

Really informative.

theBAT on March 13, 2014:

A very informative hub. Pet Flipping? This is a serious crime that should be dealt with and must not be taken lightly. We have to discourage this activity for the benefit of all pet owners. Thanks.

Becki Rizzuti (author) from Indianapolis, Indiana on February 25, 2014:

Pet flipping is an absolutely astonishing crime and it could be reduced if more people avoided purchasing from unreputatble sources. Craigslist is great for exotics, IMO, but not at all good for dogs and cats unless they are papered and the seller has proof of ownership.

Mary Wickison from USA on February 25, 2014:

I have never heard of this before. I guess criminals will always find something to steal and make money from.

Prevention through micro chipping is a great idea.

Interesting hub.

Power Ball Pythons from Mobile, AL on February 25, 2014:

I have a friend's whose house got broken into. Her two expensive parrots were stolen and she found them on Craigslist. It's a shame that a few creeps ruin it for everyone. I work with rescue groups and a lot of purebred dogs (even rare ones, the latest was a Catahoula leopard dog) are abandoned and so are legitimately put up for adoption. If you're looking to go that route, you may want to adopt from a non-profit group, not an individual. Also, there are a lot of rodent/snake/fish/coral breeders out there who raise these animals themselves and use Craigslist for convenient local advertising to other hobbyists. I find it a great way to place used animal equipment. If you can't verify the seller's reputation with animals, I would avoid buying from a person on Craigslist. After all, there are plenty of places to adopt dogs and cats, and there are a few exotic rescues around as well. You might be surprised by the amount of rats, chickens, parrots, turtles, etc. available for adoption.

Even though I breed ball pythons, I've even adopted a snake from someone who had bought the snake on an impulse and wasn't taking care of it. Breeders are not the ones creating the pet issue (I don't produce large numbers, and I screen people who want to buy my animals.), it's the irresponsible pet owners and then the criminals who try to profit.

One other thing, vets often have days where they will go to a pet store and run discounts on various services like micro-chipping, neutering, spays, rabies shots, etc., if that is a concern financially.

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