The Twisted Tale of a Dog-Flipper and the Sheriff's Office's So-Called Investigation
Hopefully, most pet owners will never know the sinking feeling of coming home to find out their furry friend has gone missing. And hopefully most of those folks won't know the weird feeling of finding some d-bag selling your missing dog on Craigslist.
But that's what happened to Cypress resident Kara Lowe. And despite the fact that someone was selling her 11-year-old Yorkie on Craigslist, in an ad that included the seller's name and phone number, Harris County Sheriff's investigators were unable to do squat. It wasn't until someone else posted an ad for her dog on Craigslist seven months later that Lowe was able to buy her own dog back. Thanks to this unusual — and happy — ending, the story went worldwide. But we think it's worth a closer look to see just how easy it can be to get away with dog-flipping in Houston.
On December 5, 2014, Lowe's husband received a call while he was at work, asking if he was missing a Yorkie. Unbeknownst to him, the dog, Sushi, had ran away through a hole in the fenced backyard. Sushi had tags with phone numbers for Lowe and her husband, as well as a microchip with contact information.
The person — it sounded like a young man — quickly got off the phone. When Lowe's husband called again later, the person said he had seen Sushi, but that he didn't have her.
Two weeks went by with no word from Sushi, and that's when Lowe saw an ad on Craigslist, posted by someone using the name Mason Staggs, selling a Yorkie that looked suspiciously like Sushi, for $250. Lowe says she was afraid to call the number, so she called the Harris County Sheriff's Office to file a report. Staggs looked like a teenager.
She says a deputy came to her house, took her information, and called the number on the ad. She says the deputy left a voicemail explaining that a woman believed the dog in the ad was hers, and that Staggs needed to call back so they could straighten things out. She says the deputy explained that stealing a dog is a misdemeanor.
"Yeah, that kid's really going to call you back," Lowe thought to herself.
The deputy left, and it wasn't until later that day that Lowe thought to check her husband's cell phone call log to compare the number in the Craigslist ad to the number of the person who called two weeks earlier asking if he was missing a dog. The numbers matched. (Lowe showed us a copy of the log). Lowe says a friend, on a hunch, typed the number into Facebook's search bar and Staggs' profile popped up.
Lowe was able to find Staggs' address — his family only lived a few streets away — but she says she was too afraid to confront the family directly.
According to Lowe, an officer reported back to her with bad news: "Two cops went to his house like at midnight," she says. "The mom let the cops search the house...no Sushi."
It didn't surprise Lowe — either the kid already sold the dog, or he found someone to hold onto her temporarily. So she waited, hoping that, since there seemed to be enough evidence, authorities would eventually be able to return Sushi. She waited some more. And more.
Then, in June, she saw another Craigslist ad posted by a new person selling a dog that looked like Sushi. Lowe and several friends contacted the man and set up a time to buy the dog. Not knowing what else to think, they assumed the man was somehow involved in the scheme.
But when The Houston Press got in touch with the man, we soon he learned he innocently purchased the dog from Staggs, not knowing the whole story. The man, Antonio (we're not using his last name because he's an innocent party) identified Staggs from a photo we sent, and he also shared screenshots of text conversations between him and the kid.
"U think u can do 200?" read one of the screenshots, from the phone number that was included in the December Craigslist ad.
Antonio told us that he had bought the dog in December for his daughter, but later received a note from his landlord that the dog would not be allowed. But for that, Lowe probably never would have seen Sushi again.
Since we had an eyewitness identification of Mason Staggs, a Craigslist ad featuring the name "Mason Staggs," number in a subsequent screenshot regarding the sale of the dog, we thought it would be a good idea to contact Staggs and/or his mother, Jessica Trafton.
When we called the number from the Craigslist ad, the person who answered said they never heard of Staggs. So we messaged Staggs on Facebook — and we also messaged Staggs at an alternate profile he set up under the name Bradley Chase. We haven't heard back.
And when we called Trafton, we got this response: "I will tell you that the police were at my house...and Mason has nothing to do with this, so I would appreciate if you would not contact me, my son is a minor, and you are harassing me and I will file charges if you call again."
We asked Trafton if she ever asked her son about Antonio. She didn't answer.
We later emailed her a screenshot of the text correspondence between the number attributed to "Mason Staggs" in the Craigslist ad and Antonio, seeking her explanation.
"Please take this as a formal request to not contact me for any reason be it by phone or e-mail at my place of employment," was Trafton's response. "Failure to comply with this request will be addressed by the HR Department of my employer as this is grounds for termination."
Well, there you go.
We're glad Lowe was reunited with Sushi — it came very close to not happening. But we're mystified as to the Harris County Sheriff's Office response to this case. It appears that if your dog goes missing and is later being sold on Craigslist, you are on your own.
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