Who ya gonna call? The pet detective — Northumberland 89.7 FM Top

Who ya gonna call? The pet detective

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By Cecilia Nasmith

Oh no, your beloved pet is missing – if only there really were such a thing as a pet detective!

Of course there is, Northumberland resident Robert MacArthur says. And as a certified Missing Animal Response Technician, he should know.

MacArthur is also a member of the Missing Animal Response Network, as well as a technology, finance, accounting and marketing consultant. He is also trained to find missing pets under the title of the Ontario Pet Detective.

But he's only one man, so he has taken that technology expertise and launched www.ontariomissingpetsalertsystem.ca that he hopes can make a difference, not only for pet owners but on multiple fronts.

His certification as Missing Animal Response Technician is the result of an actual course he took back in 2014, when he was working as a licensed private investigator and happened to read about how some PIs in the US are also pet detectives. In some states, only a licensed PI can be a pet detective.

“I took a course with a lady named Kat Albrecht from the Missing Animal Response Network. It's an intensive course on how to find, track and retrieve lost pets. She's helping me train my dog Roo to be a pet detective,” MacArthur said recently.

While pet detectives are not unknown south of the border, he added, he only knows of one Canadian who does anything like that.

“One gentleman in Whitby has a tracking dog for lost people, and he does it for pets,” he said.

“They don't help all the time, but they'll tell you where the pets have been.”

The course MacArthur took examines different traits of dogs and cats – cats love to hide, for example - as well as some quirks an animal might have.

“I have been doing it since 2014, and I get a lot of teasing from friends,” he said, admitting that he's been called Ace Venture more than once.

“I probably have been involved with retrieving over 80 lost pets. I was hoping it would be a career – it would be a lovely career – but Canada is a real do-it-yourself country. So this is a volunteer job when I have the time. Being a Rotarian and a volunteer, mostly now I give advice and, if it is local, I will help out. I have traps, and I'm saving up for a thermal imager.”

His first question is always did you see your dog outside, did you see it leave. And his first suggestion is to search the house thoroughly. Cats love to hide, and a dog may be trapped in a closet.

“One thing I have been doing, when you know there's a pet in an area where there's coyotes, I put out buckets of dog food. If they are not hungry, they won't hunt.”

Those humane traps see a lot of work, like a recent case when a friend called on him to trap a stray kitten on his property. It turned out to have a slight injury. They took it to a vet, their daughter fell in love with it, and now the family has a new pet.

“I'm successful about 95% of the time in finding out what's happened. Sometimes it's not so happy,” he said.

MacArthur described an Ottawa case where the small dog a soldier owned was being taken care of by his sister while he was deployed elsewhere. The day before his return, the little dog ran away and got hit by a car.

Not a happy way to crack the case, MacArthur said. But he did contact the newspaper in Ottawa, and they published a tribute to the soldier and his pet.

“The important thing is, never give up,” he said.

He sometimes sees cases where a lost pet will wander onto a property and be adopted by the homeowner – even in cases where there is a tag or collar. This was the case when a dog that worked with the horses on a farm ran away once the horses were taken away for the winter.

“So you put the big signs up and then a lady called to say, 'Oh, was he lost? I didn't know.'”

It was a big rare breed worth three or four thousand dollars, which brings up another reason pets may disappear.

“Now dogs are being stolen and put up for a reward on Kijiji – look at Lady Gaga's dogs recently,” MacArthur pointed out.

“There's a ton of groups on Facebook and they're awesome, but it's up to people to go check out. We need an alert system.”

The idea is that people and organizations sign up for MacArthur's site and receive information on what pets are missing. This might be an e-mail alert, or perhaps SMS messaging at some point in the near future.

“And it goes to the browser from Google. That means people just surfing the web will find these, which makes it much more accessible.”

MacArthur found a similar service in the US, but it is a site that has not been updated in years and they charge for the service.

“I can see that, but I can't do it,” he said.

The typical lost pet owner is in distress and feels panicky – not exactly the mood to try to figure out a difficult site that is asking for money.

Facebook users and people on some other platforms sometimes tend to be territorial about sharing information – all these groups, but not necessarily the cross-communication one might expect.

“I will share,” he stated.

“The big thing is, we get the word out as quickly as possible because, especially with small dogs and cats, the traffic is a concern. In rural areas, predators are a concern. I have seen foxes running across the road in from me in downtown Port Hope with something in their mouths.”

MacArthur is sometimes asked why some people make such a fuss over a lost pet. It's not something that can be explained, he said. You either get it or you don't.

“We had a cockapoo named Buttons who passed away last year – she got me through when I had cancer. She was there for me every day.”

Then they found Roo, an Australian-shepherd-poodle mix, “smart as a whip with a really good nose.”

As his granddaughter has found out when she visits, tries to play hide-and-seek and gets sniffed out.

The site is all done at his own initiative and expense, so he is also looking for partners, sponsors and supporters who can increase the exposure of the resource and help pay for enhancements that would make the project even more successful.

That thermal-imaging equipment is an example of one thing he would like to acquire, but he is also hoping such support will help him with a larger project.

“The shoot-off of this is statistics,” he said.

“We don't have any statistics of how many lost pets, stolen pets, by breed, where they were found, how did they get lost. This system will help me start gathering that information so you can share with other people.

“The more people doing it, the more people will help out.”

MacArthur is also working with the Missing Animal Response Network, which is trying to do the same thing on a nation-wide scale in the US. He hopes the prototype he is producing in Ontario can be helpful.

“I was called by CBC when Lady Gaga's dogs got stolen. They were wondering, are stolen dogs up because of COVID. We have no idea. I went to StatsCan to find out, where they keep track of crime – they don't keep track of animals stolen,” he discovered.

“I am talking to police associations, vets' associations, SPCA, looking for funding or at least some support by getting the word out.”

For more information, visit www.ontariomissingpetsalertsystem.ca