INDIANAPOLIS (KSDK) - Criminals are finding a new way to make money on other people's pets. They're flipping pets. It's happening across the country and in Missouri and Illinois.
Flipping is stealing a pet and reselling it on places like Craigslist, Facebook, Ebay and other websites. Victims across Missouri and Illinois said they tried to file police reports to report their pets stolen but many couldn't. Law enforcements agencies wouldn't take the report.
NewsChannel 5 couldn't find anybody actively working on pet flipping cases in the St. Louis and southern Illinois area, but it was a different story four hours away in Indianapolis. A full time officer is hunting down the flippers and charging them.
Officer Theresa Redmon was able to get an older dog named Stewart back to his owners. He disappeared on his mother's wedding night from his home.
"I hit the street, I was out looking for him," said Jenelle Carr. She and her 5-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son and husband spent nine heartbreaking days looking for him. "I couldn't sleep. He's a Chihuahua. He's, deformed, he has no nails, no teeth."
Carr knew somebody snatched Stewart. She switched from searching the streets to surfing the web. She landed on a website called Indy Lost Pet Alert.
"Each post gets 6,000 views in the first 10 minutes" said Indy Lost Pet Alert founder Danielle Beck. She and her team of five volunteers look for lost pets on Craigslist, Ebay, and Facebook.
"They're trying to compare not only to other lost and found alerts we have, but they're going through and scouring lost and found websites," she said.
Beck says people are stealing, selling and buying lost pets online. Carr got a break in her search for Stewart after she put his picture on Indy Lost Pet Alert.
"I got a phone call saying they think they'd found Stewart, and he was being flipped," said Carr. Beck and her team have found thousands of lost pets and the people who flipped them. They turn them over to Indianapolis police Officer Theresa Redmon.
"I'm the one with the gun and the badge and I go knocking on doors," said Officer Redmon.
She followed a lead from Beck to find Stewart. A woman answered.
"I explained to her who I was and that this dog belonged to somebody," said Officer Redmon.
Redmon said the woman gave Stewart up because she didn't want the officer looking into the other animals she had in her home. Redmon said her number showed up on Craigslist numerous times. She may be a serial flipper.
Stewart was flipped twice in nine days before Officer Redmon brought him back to Carr and her family. Redmon works full time on animal flipping cases in Indianapolis.
"We're aware of it, so we're more focused on it," she said. She has so many cases, she could use three to four more officers helping her. The problem is, pet flipping is not a crime. But Redmon has found a way to charge the flippers.
"These animals are being stolen, those are crimes," she said. Misrepresenting yourself as the pet's owners is a crime too, she said.
She said, most police departments don't see pet flipping as crime like she does because they consider pets property. Every police department considers an animal property .
"If you found my kid, my child, my daughter, would you put her on Craigslist tomorrow? It's the same thing" she said. Pets are a part of their owner's family," she said.
She may be the only officer in the country going after flippers.
"It's happening in St. Louis, I can guarantee you, it's happening in St. Louis," she said.
It happened to Tara Baietto.
"I do believe she was taken," said Baietto.
Baietto's Chihuahua, Tiki, disappeared from Baietto's backyard in South City in May.
"I would be the pet flippers greatest customer, I would pay anything to have her back," said Baietto.
She's put 100 signs all around St. Louis, she made posters and card. She started a Facebook page to bring Tiki home. Nothing has worked so far. Baietto knows somebody stole her dog. Her efforts lead her to other possibly flipped dogs.
"Snoopy is missing from Webster Groves, Penny is missing from Bethany, missing Myles from Belleville. These are just a few I pulled to show right here we have a problem," said Baietto. Her home feels empty, she feels like someone took a piece of me. Her heart won't stop hurting. She'll never stop looking for her dog.
Here's how you can stop your pet from falling into the hands of a flipper:
- Don't leave your pet along even inside a fenced yard
- Microchip your pet
- If your pet goes missing, try to file a police report and look at the pet section of Craiglist/. Flippers will often use words like "re-homing" to sell pets. Ask for vet and vaccination records.
Officer Redmon says don't ever buy a pet from Craigslist.