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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Chances are if you have a pet they're like family. But imagine your backyard where you think your pet is safe, is invaded by a thief. It's a growing trend. Stealing pets and then selling them online on sites like Craigslist, Facebook or eBay.

Like a pro, 3-year-old Jayce Morgan loves to prance around with his pony, Rio. They enter competitions together and have even qualified for the state championship, in Georgia. Jayce is thrilled to have his Rio back. Just a few weeks ago he went missing.

"Witnesses did see a woman load that pony into a truck and horse trailer," said Carla Morgan.

She says it was heartbreaking not knowing what to say to Jayce, when he asked when his pony would return home. She believes Rio was stolen.

"Some of these craigslist adds are just crazy," said Theresa Redmon an Indianapolis Officer.

She works full time on pet flipping cases and was recently able to bring little Stewart the Chihuahua home to his family. Redmon says he was flipped twice in nine days.

"They will take em' right out of your front yard," said Redmon.

While selling your pet online is not illegal, stealing an animal and pretending to be its owner to gain a profit is. Redmon says she's seen it happen time and time again.

Closer to home at the City of Jacksonville Animal Shelter, manager Nikki Harris says pet flipping cases are difficult to prove, but not so hard to prevent.

"Our recommendation is to make sure your pet is supervised at all times," said Harris. "Don't leave pets outside when you're not home. And make sure your pet is microchipped."

Harris says it doesn't take long for someone to figure out your patterns and know when your pet in unattended, she says that's when they can step in, and scoop up your loved one.

"Especially purebred animals," said Harris. "In pet stores people spend a considerable amount of money adopting certain breeds. Especially the designer breads."

Horses and ponies could go for thousands of dollars. Morgan, who lives in Woodbine, Ga., says when Rio went missing she put up flyers and posted photos on Facebook.

The following day she got a call from the Camden County Animal control saying Rio was spotted trotting about, along a dirt road in the neighboring town of Kingsland. According to police reports, there wasn't enough evidence to prove someone attempted to steal him. Morgan says she's learned a valuable lesson.

She plans to take the advise of her local animal control officer and get Rio microchipped.

First For You, Harris says if your pet is stolen it's up to you to prove ownership. She recommends holding on to recent photos of your pet. If you chose to microchip your pet make sure information, such as your address and phone number are up to date. And be sure to license your pet with your local animal control agency.

If you believe you're the victim of pet flipping contact the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500.

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