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Lifestyle Pets Unleashed

Owners beware: Pet theft is on the rise

Here's the scenario: a dog, cat or other pet is let outside in a fenced-in yard while the owner goes in. When the owner returns, the pet is gone. Some days or weeks later, the animal turns up on Craigslist or another site for sale, leaving the unwitting owner heartbroken and the thief with $50 or several hundred dollars in his or her pocket.

Sound farfetched? Sadly, it's a practice that's becoming more and more common, and the American Society for the Prevention for Cruelty for Animals (ASPCA) says this "pet flipping" is a trend owners should be aware of.

The stolen animals are most commonly dogs, and the ASPCA says purebred pets are most at-risk, although mixes and mutts aren't immune. Many of the animals are kept in overcrowded cages and pens -- much like puppy mills -- until they can be flipped. While some owners have been lucky enough to find their animals listed for-sale in time to bring them home, many more haven't, and never see their pets again.

What can a pet owner do to keep their beloved friend safe? ASPCA officials say pets should never be left outside unattended, even in fenced areas. Even letting them out for a bathroom break is risky. Be sure your pet has an up-to-date ID tag or collar with your contact information on it, and microchip your pet in case he or she ends up in a reputable shelter or with a rescue. Be sure your information is kept accurate with the microchip company, too.

Finally, they say, make sure you have recent photos of your pet, and distribute them around your community if your animal is lost. Keep an eye on online for-sale listings, and follow up with police if you suspect your pet is posted for sale.

The best way to combat this? Don't buy an animal from a pet store or someone claiming to be an owner. Always turn to reputable rescues and breeders (if you must) when adding to your family.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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