12 Apr Stolen. Missing. Found. Uncover the joys, sorrows, and successes of a Pet Detective.
If you were ever wondering if pet detectives are real, we can confirm that yes, they are. The role of a pet detective involves assisting owners to find, recover, retrieve or negotiate the return of their missing and/or stolen pets. We talk with the real-life Ace Ventura, Anne-Marie Curry, the founder, and owner of Arthur & Co Pet Concierge. Anne Marie is a Sydney based pet detective who founded Arthur & Co in 2017.
Lovely to talk with you, Anne Marie. Now tell me, are Arthur and Co just Sydney based, or do you get sent around for work depending on the case?
We work across Australia, and I’ve travelled around for jobs quite a bit. I also have staff and contractors in most states and territories, so we’ve got our boots on the ground pretty much everywhere year-round.
What are the types of pets that you work with?
Most of our cases are for common domestic pets like cats and dogs. That being said, though, we have worked on several horse cases, as well as a goat and a pig. We have done a couple of birds, although we’ve decided to not take them on as paid cases anymore – we do still happily give people advice. Birds and fish are very, very difficult to find, and we just don’t feel that our model is suitable for that type of search because we’re very methodical, we’re very strategic, we follow the evidence, we profile the case, and you sort of can’t do any of those things with a bird unless it’s been stolen and there’s a suspect. If it’s a bird that’s just flown off, it’s very hard to track because they can fly far and fast. That being said, we have had some success with some of the birds that we’ve worked on.
That’s good to hear. What made you want to get into pet detective work?
There are a few reasons. When I was a little girl, I had experienced my beloved family dog and best friend going missing and then being picked up and kept by another family. This was before the days of microchips and technology like digital trackers, etcetera, so it was impossible to prove that the dog in that person’s yard was my dog. There were just no unique identifiers like a microchip or breeding DNA. That was a pretty critical or founding experience for me. I’ve also always loved animals and have always grown up with them. I’ve always preferred animals to people and never met an animal that I didn’t like. But I’ve met a heck of a lot of people that I could take or leave. Anything going missing or getting stolen or abducted is stressful. More than that, though, you can’t reassure a pet. You can’t say to them, “Look, I know you’re missing, but I’ve got you now, and I’m going to help take you home. We’ll call the vet and make sure you go back to your owners.” You just can’t communicate that to animals. Maybe they’ve escaped the yard, and all of a sudden, they’re in someone’s car and driven to a new area and may be kept in someone’s yard for some time or forever. Pets also get caught up in domestic violence, breakdowns of relationships, and often they get involved in pet sitting arrangements gone wrong. Also, I realised that if a child goes missing or a person goes missing, you have the full force of the police investigative powers behind you, whereas if a pet goes missing, very often, there’s no one to help. There are lots of volunteer pages out there and community pages, and they do a wonderful job. I’m not disparaging or devaluing them, but sometimes more is needed than a post on a Facebook page or volunteers with limited amounts of time. That’s where I thought perhaps we should start looking at a police investigative model but applying it to pets.
Just to backtrack for a moment, what do you mean by pet-sitting arrangements gone wrong?
We have worked on an astronomical number of cases where pet-sitting using a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ (for want of a better phrase) has gone wrong. We do have a lawyer who specialises in those things – about what pet owners should do in regards to getting stringent contracts in place with pet-sitters. In those cases, the police will say that the pet is not stolen because you gave them the pet. The fact that they haven’t returned the pet becomes a civil matter, and you then need to take it to court. We know that it’s not a civil matter, it’s theft, but in the eyes of the police, it is a grey area. People often end up getting caught in these long, arduous civil court disputes to try and get their pet back at the cost of a lot of money, time and stress. Largely, it could all be prevented if there were contracts in place.
That’s terrible to hear that people have to go through that process. What is your team like?
We have private investigators who used to be police officers or detectives. We have a really good set of people working with us. We work with a tracker, we have thermal drone pilots, we have a lawyer, we have people who are excellent at social media and then we have people who do door knocks and put up posters. We have every sort of service that you could think of to find a missing pet.
Right, so you have a variety of roles going at once then. In terms of clients, I would imagine that you would be dealing with some extremely emotional clients – based on the fact that losing a pet can be a traumatic experience. Is this the case, and can it be emotionally taxing for you to deal with stressed-out clients in stressed out situations?
That’s a great question and not one that I’ve ever been asked before by a journalist, a podcaster or anything. Yes is the answer. For so many people, their pets are their family. It’s like losing a child or a family member… pet owners get very, very stressed. Irrespective of the result that we get, whether it’s positive in terms of owners being reunited with their pets or whether it’s tragic – their pet is never being found, and there’s no closure, or their pet has been found deceased – 99% of people are still very grateful and speak very highly of you. Some people do get angry, and even though we’ve done everything we could and said we would do, plus give our all or even extended our services for free – there are still some people that you just cannot please. I find that the hardest. Often it feels very hurtful because they’re not sitting with me, and they’re not seeing the amount of work and the amount of time, energy, genuine care and compassion that goes into it. To be yelled at or abused… can sometimes be extremely disappointing and very upsetting because we’re not miracle workers. We don’t have crystal balls, and we don’t promise to be miracle workers, but we can promise that we will do our best, we will try our hardest, and we will throw whatever we can at it. The good news is that 99% of people and our interactions with them are positive. They are very strong connections that we develop with our clients. We keep in touch, get referrals, and sometimes even get repeat clients.
What would someone get out of stealing a pet?
The most common answer to that would be money or self-gain but there is also the belief that it is in the best interest of the pet. People might steal a pedigree dog that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford or that they want to breed, so they may steal both a male and a female from either the same place or different places. There are also things like puppy farming where there are some (not all) unsavoury characters. Then there’s dogfighting which is the one that people often mention. Dogfighting does exist, but we need to understand that it is very uncommon for a missing dog to be linked to dogfighting. There’s also passive acquisition which is where a pet has got out of the yard, and the person who finds it either keeps it, sells it or re-homes it. We see that quite a lot.
What advice can you give to people who have found a pet?
Never assume anything, do your due diligence because you never know what the status of the pet that you’ve found is. Always take the pet for a microchip scan. Never put up a pet on a page and say, ‘does anyone own this pet?’ because we have seen so many pets falsely claimed. In Sydney, we recently did a case where the dog had been stolen for nine months, and the people who found him took him to a vet, and the chip wasn’t complete, and then they called us, we tracked down the owners, and they were like ‘oh my gosh, our dog was stolen nine months ago.’ Never assume that someone is the valid owner, and never assume that it’s poorly treated just because a pet has something like eczema. Never assume, always follow the processes.
You said nine months. What’s the point in time where you say ‘okay, this is it, we’re not going to find this pet’ and then report that to the family?
We always keep the case open because unless there is categoric evidence that the pet is dead, there is always hope. The case may take on a different approach in terms of it not being as active, if it’s not such an aggressive search or if there’s not a huge push for information… [the investigation] can then be paired back a bit. If in three, six, ten, or thirty-six months, we see a dog that pops up somewhere… if it looks like one of the pets that we’ve been searching for, then we pursue that.
Do you think that because people now place the price of pets so high and people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for a pet, this could be a major contributor towards pet theft?
Yes. The rate of pet ownership and the value of pets has increased astronomically. Still, the systems and processes that are meant to be in place to protect them (if they get lost or whatnot) have not evolved with the rate of pet ownership or the cost of pets, creating a supply and demand issue. The systems and processes haven’t evolved to catch up with the sorts of crimes that are occurring or the ways to make it hard for those thefts to not only occur but also for people to get away with it.
Interesting. So, how many pets are you asked to locate per year?
Hundreds – well over 100. More than that, though, there are a lot of cases that we do that aren’t a part of our formal numbers or statistics. Those are the ones where we advise for free. Each year, we would probably answer thousands of calls to provide free advice or consult calls.
I read an article by an independent researcher called William Summers recently, and in it, he states that the majority of dog thefts go unsolved. Have you found this to be the case? Are there any success stories?
I can’t speak for the general statistics, but what I can say is that our success rate for 2020 was around 80.56, so over an 80 per cent success rate, and that was predominantly dogs and cats. I know that the statistics that the police release aren’t accurate. There are many stolen dogs where the police won’t allow a stolen dog report because there is no concrete evidence that it was stolen, for example, no CCTV evidence of the theft occurring. If we look at the crime statistics, there is almost certainly a huge percentage more of stolen pets that just aren’t formally being reported. At least around 50-70% of our clients will say they’ve called the police and the police say they can’t do anything, or they won’t accept a report. That’s not a criticism to the police because obviously, if they had to investigate every time someone assumed their dog was stolen, they wouldn’t have time to do anything else. What is the process for trying to find a lost or stolen pet? Well, it varies. We’ve always tailored our approach to suit the case. We do that because we spend time with every pet owner for free, profiling the case and going through all of the relevant details before we come up with a strategy. We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach. It also depends on factors such as the breed, the age of the pet, its personality, where it went missing from, what time of day/night or where their witnesses are. The most important advice I can give is don’t just drive around randomly searching because you can lose a lot of evidence, witnesses and time. Search your immediate area – your yard, your home, your street but don’t drive suburb to suburb, and around and around. If they’ve been stolen, you’re wasting very valuable time.
Would you say that pet theft is usually un-calculated and spontaneous or the opposite?
It’s probably pretty even, and that’s just based on the thousands of pet owners that I’ve personally spoken to in detail over many years. If your pet has been stolen, it is commonly someone who is in some way known to you, be it in a removed way or very directly.
Do you think that the laws and punishments surrounding pet theft should be harsher, or do you think the system is working?
No, I don’t think the system is working. Pets are considered property, so it’s the same as if you stole a car, a grocery item or a mobile phone. Yet if you had a mobile phone or a car stolen, you would be far more likely to get police assistance than if you had your pet stolen. One hundred per cent of our clients would say they’d rather have their car, mobile phone or diamond ring stolen than their pet. Pets need to be treated and acknowledged as sentient, feeling beings, not as property. If someone steals your car… if they scratch it or steal your stereo, that’s all stuff you can replace or fix easily. It’s not going to have its personality damaged; it doesn’t feel fear; it hasn’t been beaten and felt pain. With a pet… they don’t recover easily; it’s a long process. They need to change the status of pets under the law, and they also really need to enforce those punishments and prosecute those who are guilty of that offence. Many people should be charged with pet theft who just haven’t been.
Do you have any additional comments to make on the topic of pet detective work?
What’s important to highlight is that, unfortunately, in the animal world, there are a lot of egos. One of the most frustrating things that I find about my role is the level of uncooperativeness that I get from some (not all) of the people who run the volunteer lost and found pet pages. Because I am a paid service and they feel that they offer the same, but for free, they won’t work with me. That ultimately means that the animals suffer the most. If people want to pay us to find their pet, that’s their private choice. Thermal drones are worth $30,000 just for the drone, private investigators and former police officers spend entire careers specialising their craft, posters that are coloured, that are laminated and that are A3 have hard costs associated with them, paid social media ads are very different to just a post on a page. There are real costs associated with these services, but they do get results over 80 percent of the time. We once had a dog we were searching for that was stolen from a homeless man. That dog was on a lost and found page that my team and I had been blocked from for four days. If we don’t work together, then what are we doing?
That’s a shame because, ultimately, the end goal is to find the pet, so everything else should be irrelevant. Thank you for your time today Anne-Marie, we wish you all the success in the world for your future pet detective endeavours.
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