"It was just awful," said Leisa Waggoner, whose 5-and-a-half- year-old Miniature Schnauzer escaped from her family's yard and ended up being held for ransom by a woman accused of posing as the dog's owner.
"We thought we would never see her again," she said.
Hours after someone found her dog and posted a photo online, police said a woman posed as the owner and collected the dog so she could then cash in on it.
It's a tactic known as ‘dog flipping' as people try to profit from pets they can obtain for free on the Internet. Police said it becomes illegal when someone poses as a pet's owner in order to retrieve an animal.
"This is happening regularly," said Danielle Beck, founder of a web page called IndyLostPetAlert.com .
Her site, and its Facebook page , take credit for reuniting more than 2,000 lost pets with their owners, but she said desperate pet owners are being caught off guard by ransom demands in growing numbers.
"A lot of people are taking these pets….and relisting them on Craigslist," Beck said.
In this week's case, Waggoner's family spotted their missing dog for sale on Craigslist and then contacted the seller.
Police wrote in a search warrant that the seller threatened to take the dog out of state, in an apparent effort to get a higher price.
"At first she said $50 and I'll get the dog back to you, and then it turned into $250 and I'll get the dog back to you," Beck said, who quickly contacted police. "The money was going up, the level of money for the ransom for this dog was going up."
"All she really wanted was some money. I don't understand people like that. I really don't," Waggoner said.
As the price kept going up, police took the phone number listed in the ad and traced it to a woman off South Meridian Street. In their search warrant, officers wrote that they found 36-year-old Jennifer Dodd standing with Waggoner's dog.
At first, officers said she made up a story about the dog being hers, but police quickly realized her story was falling apart and she was booked on felony theft charges.
"We're very relieved to have her home," said Waggoner, who added that her teenage children were in tears when officers returned the dog.
Beck, the lost pet advocate, said the arrest has her urging people to be on the lookout for dog flippers if they find a lost pet and post photos online.
"Leave off the major details," Beck said, adding that people should "make sure that person that claims the pet has pictures or vet records, that they're not just saying that's my pet and giving it a name."
She also urged pet owners to have microchips implanted, since it can firmly establish ownership or help lead to the pet's owner.
Her group was also involved in another recent case of a missing cat being held for ransom. Beck said the pet owner ended up paying $250 to the scammer, and the criminal had no idea that the cat owner had actually been offering a $500 reward prior to their meeting.
If you have a lost pet in Cuyahoga County, you can post information on the Cuyahoga County Lost and Found Pet Alert page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cuyahoga-County-Lost-and-Found-Pet-Alert/350587478310729).
There is also a list of local missing pets on Craigslist .