Elizabeth Arroyo never thought she would see her dog again after he ran away from her Greenwood, Ind., home late one June night. So the 22-year-old was shocked when she was forwarded a Craigslist ad days later saying her dog Raiden was not only found -- but for sale.
"I was initially furious," she said as the white wolf/malamute mix with yellow eyes jumped onto the couch beside her. "But I knew we were going to get him back."
Arroyo's story is one of several local cases widely considered pet flipping, a situation in which a dog or cat is either stolen or found and then put up for sale online by someone else.
"In both cases, the person, the criminal, is trying to resell the animal or trying to extort the owners," said Dan Shackle, the chief administrator at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.
Awareness of pet flippings is increasing in the Indianapolis area, said Danielle Beck, operator of website Indy Pet Lost.
Raiden's case was one of three she dealt with in one week.
Although Beck isn't certain the flippings are becoming more frequent, she thinks independently started websites and pages such as hers that highlight lost-and-found animals are starting to alert people to more cases.
"We're bringing more awareness to it," she said. "Most of the owners are pet people and are starting to know what to look for."
The local pet community was crucial to finding information about Raiden after Arroyo posted about her lost dog through Beck's website. She had already been alerted that her dog might have been for sale before getting confirmation through the Craigslist post.
"I couldn't imagine trying to sell a dog when people are out there looking for him," she said. "They know someone loves him."
After she saw the online ad, she reached out to the woman selling the year-old dog last week and posed as an interested buyer.
She and her father met with the seller and knew quickly that the dog was Raiden.
After Arroyo walked past the front door, it didn't take long for the usually jumpy Raiden to recognize her.
"He stopped for a second and then ran towards me and jumped up on me," she said. "He wouldn't lie down."
From there, the two quickly decided to move forward, negotiate a price and reach a tentative deal.
After Arroyo and her father talked down the woman's price to $900, they told her they would go to an ATM to get the cash to finish the deal.
They brought back police instead.
The sight of authorities outside her apartment did in the saleswoman, who quickly admitted to finding the dog and trying to sell him, even when she knew the owners were searching for him.
"She wouldn't even look us in the eyes," Arroyo said.
As knowledge about pet flipping and other forms of pet theft increase, police action also has increased, resulting in more arrests.
In March, IACC and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department collaborated in an investigation that led to the arrest of a man on felony theft and firearms charges. Police entered the home of Jonny Jones Jr. on a search warrant and recovered four dogs, including two purebred German shepherds.
Other, lower-profile cases with similar charges have been filed with the prosecutor's office, Shackle said.
Without the increased presence of independent pet watchers such as Beck's website, Shackle said public knowledge of the practice wouldn't be as widespread.
"They are integral in trying to help people who become victims," he said.
Now, the Arroyos are planning to do all they can to ensure they don't become involved in this type of situation again.
Arroyo said her dog will soon have a microchip placed in him, which several local and national pet officials say is the most effective way to establish ownership of a pet.
That can be the best way to prove to authorities that a pet for sale actually belongs to its owners. Criminal charges also can be filed more easily.
"If they have a microchip, it makes them much more difficult to move to another person," Shackle said. "If someone takes your dog, they can take a collar off without a problem."
However, microchips are not 100-percent effective in tracking down stolen pets, said KC Theisen, director of pet-care issues for the Humane Society of the United States.
"The trick of it is the owner needs to keep their microchipping registry info correct," she said. "If a shelter gets a dog, scans it and calls a disconnected number, it's still a lost pet."
Spaying and neutering animals also can be an effective way to prevent pet theft, especially in purebred situations, Beck said.
With profit as a chief motive, she said, these pets have an especially higher value to thieves.
"Sadly, some of the purebreds who aren't fixed show up in these garages and are breeding machines," she said.
Beck said the effects of those types of pet thefts can be challenging for owners.
"They're family members," she said. "They're not just people's pets. It's heartbreaking for them."
Brian Wilson, The Indianapolis Star
Gannett/The Indy Star