Is your dog in danger of being flipped?

Do you know where your dog is right now? If the answer is “outside” and not under your watchful eye don’t keep reading. Go get your dog. A disturbing crime called “dog flipping” is on the rise, and unattended animals are the prime targets.

“Flippers” prowl neighborhoods looking for animals they can obtain for free and then sell on sites like Craigslist. Friendly, roaming dogs and cats are flippers’ favorite victims. Some animals have even been abducted right out of their guardians’ yards.

In December, a Texas family’s 11-year-old dog, Sushi, went missing after escaping through a hole in their backyard fence. Weeks later, her family spotted an ad on Craigslist featuring a dog who looked exactly like her. But after they inquired about the dog the ad was removed.

Last month, another Craigslist ad appeared with a dog who resembled Sushi. This time, Sushi’s guardian arranged a meeting with the seller to buy the dog. The dog’s fur was a different color – it had been dyed – but a microchip scan revealed that it was indeed Sushi. Sushi was lucky – many victims of dog flipping never see their families again.

Being torn away from the people they love and sold to strangers is just one of many perils that animals face when they are left outdoors alone. Bunchers – people who abduct animals to sell to laboratories – also cruise neighborhoods, as do dogfighters looking for animals to use as “bait.” Unsupervised dogs and cats also make easy targets for abusers.

Earlier this year in Colorado, a home security camera showed a man entering a backyard and spraying three small dogs with pepper spray. The man returned later and violently swung at one of the dogs with a golf club, chased her inside and emerged carrying a garbage bag. The dog was never seen again.

In Washington, a dog named Butterfinger died after a neighbor shot him with a pellet gun, piercing his liver and stomach and causing hemorrhaging. According to Butterfinger’s guardians, the neighbor was upset that the dog kept going onto his property.

Poison, traffic, extreme weather and other hazards claim the lives of animals that are left outdoors every year. It’s crucial to protect our animal companions from dangers outside by keeping them indoors and letting them out only on a leash and harness or in a fenced area under close supervision.

Spaying or neutering our animals can make them less attractive to flippers, who often hope to breed them. Having them microchipped and fitted with collars and identification tags can also help bring them back if they ever go missing.

Dogs and cats are as vulnerable as toddlers in the great outdoors. No parents in their right mind would turn their 2-year-old child loose to wander the streets alone. Letting our animal companions do so is just as risky.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.