Finding Fluffy: The rise of pet detectives

The way I see it, having a companion animal – I’m not fond of the word pet – is one of the most deeply human experiences you can have, which is why, when an animal dies or goes missing, it’s akin to losing a family member.

The pandemic lockdowns ushered in the best – and worst – of times for our companion animals. The best, because they were prized like never before and shelters were no longer overflowing; the worst because the demand was accompanied by a big uptick in stolen pets and puppy scams.

Some buyers didn’t do their research or didn’t care about where their new pet was coming from, as long as they got one, observes Anne-Marie, founder of , one of a growing number of services for missing animals across the country.

Anne-Marie, who never uses her surname publicly (We’ve had to retrieve pets from some unsavoury people, she says), uses social media, tracking dogs, drones, a robotic device she calls Mars Rover Jnr for searching small spaces such as pipes and, lastly, old-fashioned shoe-leather to find animals. Her business, which she set up in 2017, is named after her beady-eyed dachshund Arthur, whom she trained to be a tracking dog.

Business is still brisk. Among recent success stories is that of Lucy, a Pomeranian cross, snatched from her front garden in Sydney’s western suburbs by two couriers. With the help of the neighbour’s CCTV footage, some door-knocking and the police, Lucy was returned to her owners. There was also the case of Volcom, a gun-metal grey, hyper-affectionate staffie cross, missing for more than four years, who was returned to his original owners after being claimed by a couple of locals only blocks away. Then there was Panda, a one-year-old American staffie, who escaped his yard, got hit by a car and was seized by a passer-by. He was returned to his owner and had his injuries seen to by a vet.

Anne-Marie has stringers in most cities, some former police officers. We first go through the basics by phone, she says.  ‘Is your animal microchipped? Collared? What’s your pet like? ’ This helps us form a picture.

Use Facebook and Instagram furball-finding groups wisely, says Anne-Marie, pointing to cases where thieves have claimed animals from vets and well-intentioned finders after seeing social-media posts. You have to know what information to release and what not to release, she warns.

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