"Dog Flipping": Runaway Pets Are Found, Then Sold by Unscrupulous People on Craigslist

Angie Fernandez got Linda, a mini schnauzer puppy, when she was 12 years old. Fifteen years later, Fernandez is now a second-grade teacher, and the dog still barks whenever anyone walks through the door as though she is protecting the members of her family.

Last Wednesday, though, a handyman left a door open in Fernandez’s West Kendall home, and Linda escaped. Two days ago, Fernandez's neighbor found an ad on Craigslist selling a dog that looks exactly like Linda – for $140.

It looked like a case of "dog flipping," in which unscrupulous people try to sell dogs they've found – or stolen. Around the country, victims have been reporting lost dogs appearing for sale on Craigslist. Some, especially purebreds, have been stolen from backyards. 

The ad said that the dog was being sold because its owner had moved away. Fernandez was relieved. She thought it was a misunderstanding. She reached out to the seller and said it looked like her dog. She sent photos and noted that Linda has tumors on her legs. (A vet diagnosed her with cancer a year ago.)

The seller responded and told Fernandez that she had Linda but that the dog escaped again. Fernandez asked to speak to the seller on the phone. The person stopped responding to Fernandez’s emails. Then the ad was taken down.

Fernandez was suspicious. “My gut instinct is that I know my dog and she has never run away in 15 years, and then to run away twice in one week is bizarre,” Fernandez says. “Everyone on Facebook thinks the lady from Craigslist still has her.”

Pets are considered property under Florida law, so theoretically, petnapping should be treated as theft. Fernandez says she has gone to police, posted signs, and driven around the West Kendall area. “It feels so hopeless,” Fernandez says. “Police can’t do anything unless I found the person who has my dog and won’t give her back. But they’ll help you when you lose a car. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Now, Fernandez has enlisted the help of the entire South Florida community to help find Linda. On social media, there are groups and Facebook pages dedicated to finding lost pets. “Everyone online has been so supportive,” Fernandez says. “They understand that a dog is like a member of the family, like a child.”

Jamie Katz is a private investigator who works solely on finding lost pets and returning them to their owners. She says it’s common for people to either find a dog or even steal a dog and then try to sell it on Craigslist.

Katz has found that a vigorous sign campaign can help get the community looking for a lost pet. But if someone has the dog in his possession and won’t give it back, Katz recommends posting a high-dollar reward.

“You cannot make someone give you your dog back,” she says, “but you can make someone want to give your dog back.”

Katz has found that her clients go to her because police can do only so much. “Police have murderers and rapists and people who are missing. They don’t respond the same way to a lost dog.”

In the meantime, Fernandez and her family are posting signs everywhere. On Saturday, they’ll stand in a Kendall intersection with posters hoping someone has seen her dog.

“I just want the person on Craigslist to give her back so she can live out her last days at her home in peace,” Fernandez says. 

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson