‘Pet Flipping’ Is Now a Thing

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The term sounds absurd, along the lines of “cat juggling,” the fake underground gag used for laughs in the old Steve Martin film The Jerk. But apparently, pet flipping is a real scam — and it’s on the rise.

In a typical pet-flipping situation, a criminal will get hold of a pet — either by stealing it or seeing the animal in a “Pet found” poster or ad on Craigslist and claiming to be the owner — and then turn around and sell it for a quick profit. It’s a cause for concern for pet owners, obviously, but also for anyone looking to buy a dog or cat. The scam is an extension of dognapping, a trend that the American Kennel Club reported spiking in recent years.

Police say that pet flipping has reportedly been on the rise in places such as Kansas City, St. Louis and Indianapolis. Indy Lost Pet Alert claims to have helped to reunite 2,670 pets with their owners in the Indianapolis area since the service launched in March 2012.

An Indianapolis Star article rehashed the story of one attempted pet flip that occurred not long ago. A few days after Elizabeth Arroyo’s dog Raiden disappeared in June, Arroyo was forwarded a message showing what appeared to be the dog on Craigslist — not reported as found, but for sale. Arroyo and her father met with the seller, realized quickly that indeed it was Raiden, and then settled on a sale price of $900. Instead of going to an ATM for cash, however, they went to the police.

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It’s unclear how organized and strategic pet thieves and dog flippers are, but in some cases it appears as if criminals target their prey very carefully. Often, the dogs that disappear are very valuable and used for breeding. That was the case with five pit bulls stolen in Montgomery, Ala., not long ago, during a week when a total of eight dogs in the neighborhood were reported stolen — the others including dachshunds that owners used for breeding.

Earlier this year, police in Indianapolis arrested a man named Johnny Jones Jr. and seized four dogs at the end of a three-month “dog-flipping” investigation. According to Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, Jones had been acquiring purebred German shepherds, rottweilers and pit bulls for years, some allegedly via illegal means, and he resold many of them.

“Sadly, some of the purebreds who aren’t fixed show up in these garages and are breeding machines,” Danielle Beck, who runs Indy Lost Pet Alert, told the Indianapolis Star.

A volunteer in Kansas City named Jennifer O’Neil agreed that purebreds are more likely to be victims of pet flips. “They’ll see a purebred Boxer at a certain location, then they’ll call and say, Oh, my God! You’ve found my dog. Thank you so much,” O’Neil explained to a local TV station. “They pick it up and flip it under the pets ad. Sell it for a profit.”

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Pet advocates suggest that owners get pets spayed or neutered so they can’t be used by criminals for breeding. It’s also recommended that pets have a microchip implanted, so that they can be identified even if an identifying collar is removed.