Pet Detectives

Searching for Missing Dogs

As some of you may know, my father and I own a Florida-based Private Investigative firm called Sheer Investigations. On one occasion we were engaged to help locate a missing dog in San Francisco. I am happy to report we were successful.

There are lots of specialties in the private investigative world, and believe it or not, “Pet Detective” is one of them. (We don’t mean like Ace Ventura!)

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Courtesy

My dad, Tom Sheer is the former Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and founder of Sheer Investigations. He says when people are searching for lost dogs, very often a low tech approach can be the most effective: putting up posters, offering rewards, checking the local shelters and pounds, and embarking on a word-of-mouth campaign can work. In fact, that is exactly what we did in San Francisco. You can find a more comprehensive article about the steps you can take here.

But one thing I’ve noticed reading news stories about lost dogs, make sure you come up with the most thorough list of places to check. For example I read a story where a family checked the shelters and pounds closest to them in Staten Island, only to discover their dog was actually taken to a facility in Brooklyn.

Tom also says using tracking dogs can sometimes work. Again, he cautions that you must really do your homework and hire experienced canine handlers. Licensed Private Investigator Karin TarQwyn  — who’s been featured on many TV news shows and in other media — uses canine handlers on her team.

Tom says if you do want to use the services of a pet detective make sure you spend time researching their credentials. All but four states require that PIs have some kind of license.  But, as he notes, not all specialties within the field are regulated. That means any licensed PI can say that he’s a pet detective. It’s important to get references for investigators who say they have a specialty.

I asked some of our colleagues — all former investigators with Federal agencies — if they’d ever acted as pet detectives before. I got responses from Margaret Finegan, Barbara Madden, and Richard Hahner. They all told me  their pet detective adventures and offered advice similar to Tom’s.

Margaret Finegan: I’m a dog lover, I’ve helped raise money for the dog park in Mobile, I’m a big proponent of animal rights, etc. I’ve looked for lots of lost dogs before (neighbors’ dogs that got out of their fenced in area, etc.). I went door to door to see if anyone had seen the dog or may have taken them in and returned the dog to the owner if found. I’ve also contacted vets (listed on dog’s rabies shot tag) to see who a dog belonged to in order to find a lost dog’s owner (lost dogs that wandered into our neighborhood). Also, if a dog has a microchip, a vet can usually identify who the owner is (if the owner has the correct information recorded with the microchip company) by scanning the microchip in the dog. As a Board member of the Property Owners Association in my neighborhood, I use group email to notify everyone in the neighborhood when someone’s dog or cat is missing so everyone can be on the lookout for them. You can also contact the local Police Dept. and the various animal shelters in your city to see if they have received the lost dog for which you are searching.

Barbara Madden: I once (unofficially) worked to find a lost dog for a friend. She is a nurse and was at work at Tampa General Hospital when she somehow realized one of her dogs had escaped from her house. She called me because I live in the same neighborhood so I got on my bike and went riding around looking for this little beagle. After talking to neighbors, I found out that someone had taken him in. I tracked down the neighbor who had him and brought the beagle back to my house for the rest of the day. My reward: a very grateful friend and a couple bottles of wine.

Richard Hahner: I live in a quiet neighborhood, families, lots of senior military and Law Enforcement Officers. For many years the stillness of the night was shatter with a cat on our property triggering our Chessie, Cletus to bark, claw at  the doors. A neighbor came to me asking if I had seen their cat and what should they do if it was lost. I made up a quick check list of things for them to do. Not certain if the  midnight culprit was that cat, I set a live trap and a can of high end cat food in the bushes near the front door. The traps are meant to harmlessly capture whatever. Just before dawn, I heard the snap and clang of the trap, Cletus was barking. Flashlight in hand, saw a big furry ball sitting in the cage, relaxed. Went back to bed, gave Cletus a treat. At first light I retrieved the cage to fine the neighbor’s feline asleep and the cat food eaten to the last morsel. I took the cat to my back yard, a hole in the fence, put the open cage to the fence and the cat slowly went to its own yard. Patched the hole and waited for a call. Within an hour  my neighbor called to tell me the cat’s back and they didn’t need to do anything on my suggestion list!

Here’s Dick’s Suggestion List:

 1.     Check the house, garage, and yard

2.     Make sure the neighbors are watching for the lost one

3.     Call all children and grandchildren to ensure they did not borrow pet

4.     Call the animal shelters, including County, City, and Humane Societies

5.     If pet is thought to be kidnapped, call the Sheriff’s Office or Police Department – have photos, vet records, and time of loss ready before you call Law Enforcement Officers.

6.     Let your landlord, homeowners association etc., know and ask for online notice – again have records and clear photo ready to give them and a clearly typed or written point of contact.

7.     Decide to offer a reward or not

8.     Look online in want ads for pets for sale… or FOUND: Lost Pet

9.     Place an ad, make it as generic as possible, provide a cell only or a non-business, non-child email address. No address, just a general area of loss. NO LAST NAMES.

10.  Prepare a readable lost poster or notice to pin to public utility poles. Use the same cautions as above. Weatherproof it in a sealed plastic sleeve (not a large Ziploc.)

11.  Date and time call received, best if on a answering machine recording or voice mail. Be prepared for the “fringe elements” who may call or offer new pet purchase or other unwanted options.

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