Prank caller targets people with missing pets

Daniel MacEachern
Published on March 20, 2012
A man phoned Jessica Rendell late Sunday night to tell her he found her missing cat, and beat it to death. Rendell found out from police other people have received similar phone calls. — Submitted photos

When Jessica Rendell answered her phone late Sunday night, she was suspicious of the caller’s claims that he’d found her missing cat, Callie.

“I was a little guarded, because it was 10 o’clock at night, and it was a long-distance number,” she said. “However, as I started to talk to him, it did start to sound believable. He said he picked her up in the west end, and that’s where she’d gone missing.”

Rendell is the executive director of Heavenly Creatures in St. John’s, an animal charity with a website where people can post pictures of lost and found pets. She directed the caller to the website to see the picture of her cat, Callie, and he said it was definitely her. But when she asked for his address so she could come collect her pet, the man changed his story.

“He said, cruelly, that he had beaten her to death, stomped her to death, and began to laugh. I was so horrified that I hung up,” she said.

Rendell called the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who told her they’d had several other similar complaints.

Laura Murphy, whose shih tzu Barney has been missing since March 14, received a similar call Sunday night.

“He phoned me last night and said, ‘I found that little shih tzu you’re looking for,’” said Murphy. He became evasive when she asked where he was.

“My little girl’s here, so I don’t know if I should say it, but he said, ‘I just beat him to d-e-a-t-h.’ I don’t want to say it, because my little girl’s here. But he repeated it several times.”

Murphy told the man she was calling the police, and hung up on him. The RNC sent an officer over, who told her there wasn’t much they could do, she said.

“I didn’t have the phone number of the person. I don’t have call display on my cellphone, and it was probably blocked anyway.”

Attempts by both Murphy and the officer to get her service provider to divulge the number were unsuccessful, she said, because it wasn’t a life-threatening matter.

“But I feel a dog’s life is still a life.”

Murphy’s confident the man didn’t actually have her missing pet, because he called the phone number posted in a missing-pet Facebook group, rather than the phone number printed on the dog’s tag itself.

“I’m hoping it’s not true. I’m hoping it’s some sick, disgusting prank. I don’t know who would find that funny, but apparently somebody must,” she said.

Rendell said she hopes alerting people to the cruel prank will make the caller stop it, if he knows people are on to him and the police are aware of it.

“This is the first I’ve ever heard of anything like this. I suspected it was a prank, but when you don’t know for sure, and you’ve just gotten your hopes up because you think your missing pet has been found, and then you’re presented with the image of your animal being harmed in such a terrible manner — it definitely rattled my cage,” she said.

As for pet owners with missing animals, Rendell said unless a body has been found, there’s still a chance the pet is out there.

“We’ve had many cases of animals, especially cats, being found after six months or two years,” she said, adding that Heavenly Creatures finds that passing out flyers is an effective way to track down a missing pet, as well as using any of a number of lost pet websites or social media groups, such as NL Pet Finders on Facebook.

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