As shelters decrease the number of homeless animals (a very good thing), and animal welfare activists have succeeded in gaining almost a third of the market share for sources for new pets, second hand dogs are harder to come by. It may not feel this way for overworked and underfunded shelter employees but most are young and don't have experience from the way it was 30 years ago for comparison. An unforeseen effect of this scarcity, is a concerning animal crime called dog flipping.
Since most people can acquire a neutered, vaccinated and behavior assessed dog for a relatively small fee (under $100.00) in many counties, the possibility exists to make a profit in short order by acquiring such a dog and reselling her. Dogs that are house trained, good with kids neutered and vaccinated easily go for $200.00 on Craig's list or in newspaper ads. Rescues have had to raise their adoption fees to reduce the profit margin. As long as rescues are charging $250 - $400.00 for an altered, vaccinated dog, this scheme of offering dogs for $200.00 will pay off.
It's been reported that dog flippers will even contact people who have found a dog and pose as the dog's owner. This way they can claim the dog for no fee, make the finder feel great about reuniting a lost dog with her family and then make an even greater profit from reselling the dog. In these cases, the history of the dog is unknown but the scammer simply lies about the dog's reproductive status and health care.
What can you do? if you find a dog, please, have your vet or animal shelter scan the dog for a microchip, too. This is a helpful way to find owners of lost pets. Always, notify animal control and veterinary clinics in your area in case the owner is looking. Describe the dog rather than post pictures so that the owner's description will serve as a test of ownership. If you must share pictures, hide the collar so that the owner can identify that. Ask anyone who claims to own a dog for a picture of the dog. Owners will almost always have vet records, too. If they claim to have only recently acquired the dog, ask them for a vet reference or if you can call the person who gave them the dog to verify their claim. Chances are these questions will deter a dishonest person from continuing to press for the dog. If not, ask the police or animal control if you can have them broker the return.
If you lose a dog, posting pictures is fine. Anyone who sees a similar dog may be motivated to let you know where and when because of the picture. Be sure the picture includes information on how to reach you day or night. Anyone who offers to return your dog for a fee is almost always lying. Look on Craig's list for dogs for sale and by all means check your shelter (and nearby rescue websites) in person as often as possible. Your Cocker Chow mix may look like a Springer Spitz mix to another person. Take a picture of your dog now and make sure your dog is wearing ID all the time. Microchips are a good back up in case a collar is lost or removed. No need to mention the microchip in lost posters. A responsible finder will check and anyone trying to conceal the identity of the dog can be exposed by using the microchip as proof of ownership when you find your dog.
Naive dog finders often feel that a dirty or hungry dog they find has been mistreated. Be understanding. If your dog has been missing overnight or for a few days, be sure to say so. This explains a dog's appearance and reassures the finder that you do love your dog. Even rescue groups can fall into this category. There have been some instances of rescue groups refusing to return dogs to their rightful owners because they believe they have found a "better"home for the dog. If you do not have medical records or a picture of your dog in good condition, you may find yourself needing legal assistance to reclaim your pet. You'll need proof you tried to find your dog to make a claim because in many states a shelter or rescue that has tried to find an owner for several days, is legally entitled to consider the dog abandoned and do as they wish with the dog, as long as their decision is legally humane.
If you are considering buying or adopting a second hand dog ask for medical records. Even better, ask if you can have them in advance for your veterinarian to look over. You can call any doctors listed in the history and ask about the dog. Even if the dog checks out, medical staff can tell you if the dog is well behaved during visits which may impact your decision to bring the dog into your home. Certainly there are cases in which a dog is legitimately offered to a new home when records are hard to come by. It's not a deal breaker but as this practice of dog flipping develops it's best to protect your family and lost dogs from heart break. Any new dog that comes into your home should be examined by a veterinarian right away including SCANNING for a microchip.
It is a positive outcome for shelters and dogs to have the demand for friendly healthy dogs to exceed the number of such dogs available in shelters and rescues. But it does create buyer beware conditions that might be increasing.