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Two growing scams bilk people of their pets—and even their money

By LORRIE SHAW AnnArbor.com Community Contributor

Scams of all kinds are all too common and it seems that those behind them become more crafty and heartless as the days go by.
Those involving pets for financial gain—two in particular—are a growing problem. One that you may have heard of by way of the media in recent months, dog flipping, is harrowing not only for the humans who own the dogs, but the animals themselves.

No acrobatics involved
Dog flipping—essentially when one person finds a lost pet, or worse, steals them—and sells them for a profit (or at least attempts to). The practice can also affect unsuspecting people who has unknowingly acquired a dog who has been flipped. With avenues like Craigslist, it’s quite easy for flippers to move the dogs quickly.

Ads posted on sites like this by the dog’s “owner” (the flipper) often cite that they can no longer afford to keep the pet, or that they’re moving, or any other heartfelt plea that might elicit a lot of interest. The ad usually indicates that there is a fee to “adopt” the animal because in doing so, the “owner” can be sure of a loving and stable home.

Of course, these strategies often work: who wouldn’t want to help a pet in need because their has fallen on hard times and can’t financially provide for their beloved dog, or are being evicted?

    Being consumed by the emotion surrounding an issue like this – this scenario that really isn’t all that common because of the economy over the past couple of years—one feels like they have little time to think and ask questions and only to act. Dog flippers count on that.

It’s likely that there are many legitimate situations like I’ve used as examples on sites like Craigslist, but the important thing is to do your homework when getting a new-to-you pet, should you pursue that avenue.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing
More and more people these days are hiring the services of a dog trainer, and this is not only in the case of when a problem arises, but encouragingly, before a puppy or rehomed dog arrives in the household. Families often want to be proactive about getting off on the right foot when it comes to training themselves so that they can better communicate with their four-legged friend. The problem, in case you’re not aware, there is no oversight when it comes to the field of dog training. Sure, there are certifications, but anyone, can call themselves a trainer.

You might be wondering what dog training has to do with an unscrupulous activity like dog flipping. Unfortunately, there are those who will, while under the guise of being a dog professional, take your money—and your dog—and much like in the case of a dog flipper, it can be hard to get your dog back.

So how do they do it?

There are some dog trainers who will offer “board and train” options for clients at their own facilities. (I prefer professionals who offer private consultations or group training classes. After all, it’s all about training the humans.) Those posing as trainers to get your money—and quite possibly flip your dog—use this premise to achieve both of those goals. A recent article in The Bark chronicled one family’s experience with a thief posing as a dog professional offering board and train services. The man took the dog, the family’s money—and disappeared.

How to protect pets from flipping or those posing as dog trainers:

  • Don’t leave your dog unattended (in public or in your yard). Dog flippers have been known to brazenly snatch a pet in broad daylight. Pure bred dogs and those who are still intact are very desirable to thieves.
  • Have current pictures of your pets on hand. With the ease of smartphones today, it’s a cinch. I take photos of my own pets and my charges often, just in case they become lost.
  • Whether they are a homebody or not, every dog should be wearing a collar with identification tags. The tags should bear your last name, the dog’s name, your telephone number (a cell phone number makes most sense) and address. I recommend to all of my clients that they have a tag made up with my contact info should something happen while under my care. Click here for more tips.
  • Should your pet end up missing, time is of the essence. Quickly make up at least a few fliers to take immediately to highly trafficked areas like local veterinary clinics, pet stores and groomers and ask if you can put them up there. Staff in these businesses see and hear a lot of things!
  • Utilize the power of the Internet and social media to get the word out. Facebook pages like Michigan-based For the Love of Louie are useful, and you can contact your local humane society or animal shelter to report your pet as missing. The Humane Society of Huron Valley has a resource to do this online.
  • If your pet is recovered, be prepared to prove ownership. In addition to photos, make sure that your pet’s vet records are accessible along with any other verifiable documentation.
  • Microchip your pet. It’s a fast, easy and inexpensive procedure that can positively identify your pet – even if their collar slips off or is removed. The key to a microchip’s success is to be sure that you’ve registered the chip once it’s implanted, and to update your information with the company that the chip is registered with as necessary. Click here to see how a microchipping procedure is performed.
  • Answering a classified ad about a pet that needs rehoming, online or otherwise? Ask lots of leading questions beforehand, and don’t be afraid to ask for proof of ownership. This includes verifiable veterinary records and things of that nature.
  • Considering the services of a dog trainer or other pet professional that would have access to your pet in your absence (yes, even a pet sitter!)? Do your homework. Researching most any pet professional online is simple, as is getting referrals from people that you know and trust. Don’t be shy about requesting a few references that you can verify after you’ve had a meeting with them, and ask lots of questions. Keep in mind that transparency is key: a reputable pet professional has nothing to hide and will be happy to dialogue openly about what they do in plain English.
  • Click here for more on things to consider when hiring the services of a dog trainer.

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