Con Artists Stealing Family Pets in 'Dog Flipping' Scams

SHERWOOD, Ark.- - (via KARK) -- Imagine your family pet goes missing... only to find out they were snatched from your yard and wound up on an online yard sale site.

 It's what some in central Arkansas have coined "dog-flipping," and one Sherwood woman says she fell victim to the scam. 

 At 16-years-old and no bigger than a beanie baby, Dawn Baty's dog "Misty" doesn't cover a lot of ground.

 "She doesn't ever run off because she's so little and old," Dawn said.

 So Dawn never had a problem letting the pint-sized pup out front. Until one day...

 "I went inside I think to just put my purse down, I mean just a matter of seconds I came back outside and she was nowhere to be found," Dawn said.

 Dawn searched every corner of her Sherwood neighborhood, but saw no sign of Misty.

 She put in a call to animal control. No luck there, either.

 So she turned to social media, posting a "missing" ad on the Arkansas Lost and Found Pet Network Facebook page.

 "Someone from there sent me a message and said 'Is this your dog?'" Dawn said. "And they actually sent me a picture of where she was posted on a yard sale site in a totally different town."

 Sure enough, there was a dog that looked unmistakably like Misty, listed "For Sale" on a Watson Chapel Yard Sale site.

 "I knew without a doubt it was my dog because she this little tongue that hangs out to the side," Dawn said.

 Meanwhile, Brittany Hodges knew without a doubt that this -- was a dog-flipping scam.

 "That's sort of my specialty," Brittany said.

 "She called me one day out of the blue," Dawn said.

 As an admin with the Lost And Found Pet Network, Brittany comes across a few cases like this every month.

So, she does whatever she can, often relying on her and her husband's law enforcement backgrounds to try and get people's pets back.

"I don't really do any actual -- well, sometimes I do detective work," Brittany said.

She says desperation often drives owners to try and buy their pets back. And that's exactly what Dawn tried to do -- offering the alleged scammer $300. But as soon as they set a time and place to meet, the seller appeared to get cold feet, telling Dawn her dog had "run away."

"Once the person with the pet finds out that's the owner, they become scared because they're in possession of someone else's dog and trying to sell it. That's actually a crime. So usually, at that point, they'll try to dump or sell the dog real fast so it's no longer in their possession," Brittany said.

Once your dog falls into the hands of a flipper, Brittany says you've got about 50/50 odds of getting it back. And, unfortunately, there's not much the police can do about it. Because dogs are usually stolen in one place and re-sold in another, that creates jurisdictional issues.

"A police agency is going to need a definition for proof of pet ownership in order to be able to charge someone with a crime," Brittany said.

Brittany feels state law also doesn't clearly define pet ownership or how to prove it. That ambiguity gives some dog-flippers a loophole to hide behind. 

"I am sure that it is happening much more than we know about," Brittany said.

Luckily for Dawn and Brittany, after nearly two weeks of hounding the people they think took Misty, somebody wound up dumping her at a shelter. 

"Even though it wasn't my pet, I feel relieved," Brittany said.

"It was very traumatic for us. There were times when we thought we might never get her back," Dawn said.

While Dawn's dog-flipping scare came with a happy ending, she's not taking any chances. Both Misty and her other dog have since been microchipped. 

So even though this tiny dog can't move very fast or very far, from here on out her owners will be keeping her on a very tight leash. 

Despite the anecdotal evidence, and complaints made to law enforcement, KARK couldn't find a case of anyone prosecuted for a dog-flipping scam. 

If anything like that were to happen to your dog, a microchip is your best shot of proving ownership. Things like photos, vet records, or registry papers usually won't cut it. 

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