Dec
13
2017

One out of three pets get lost during their lifetimes.

And if a pet service provider hasn’t lost a pet that’s been under their care, it’s only a matter of time, says lost pet expert and real-life pet detective Annalisa Bern.

Berns is owner of Pet Search and Rescue in Southern California, where she’s a licensed private investigator, but her company consults on missing pet cases all over the country.

She keeps busy—more than ten million pets get lost each year. And pet service providers lose their fair share.

Berns estimates that 20 percent of her clients are pet service providers, including animal hospitals, boarding facilities, pet groomers, and dog walkers. “It isn’t a matter of if they’ll lose a pet, it’s a matter of when,” Berns says.

That’s why Berns is expanding her services to include specialized online certification courses in pet detective training for pet service providers, starting next year. Berns' research shows that, on average, five to twenty pet owners walk in to a typical animal hospital or shelter to report lost pets each week.

But most hospital staff don’t know how to help owners take steps to recover their pets.

Berns says that’s because there’s are old ways of finding lost pets and there are new ways. Berns says the old way usually involved the hospital putting up a homemade flyer with the pet’s photo and the owner’s contact info on the bulletin board, and that’s pretty much it.

Berns says, “People have this idea that they live in the town of Mayberry. And they’re going to put out two flyers, talk to the dog catcher, and hope their dog comes home. That’s the old way of searching.”

Berns says there are new ways of searching for lost pets and she’ll teach those techniques in her new course. Meanwhile, she shared a few with NEWStat.

The new way of searching for lost pets starts with social media. “Social media is huge,” Berns says. Especially Nextdoor, a free, private social network for neighborhoods that’s become extremely popular. “It’s huge with helping recover lost pets and people getting sightings of lost pets.” Berns says it’s better than Facebook for finding lost pets, because Nextdoor is local and specific to the neighborhood the pet lives in.

Another new way is using search dogs. “It used to be unheard of, using a search dog to track a lost pet,” Berns says. People thought search dogs were used to track people, or detect bombs, or sniff out drugs. But tracking lost pets with trained search dogs makes up the bulk of Berns' work.

Berns says another big trend is the use of wildlife cameras, also known as camera traps. “These cameras trigger and take a photo every time there’s heat and motion. These are really invaluable,” Berns says. “Especially in cat cases, because they’re such good hiders.” Berns will set up a wildlife camera in an area where the pet was last seen to see if he returns to the area at a certain time of day. If they get a photo of the pet, “we can put our humane trap there, or the owner can wait there, and see if they can get [the pet] to come up to them instead of just guessing and having to sit there and wait for days on end or do surveillance.”

If the old way was homemade black-and-white flyers on a bulletin board or telephone poll, the new way is giant, eye-catching neon posters in high traffic areas. “Or even billboards or banners,” Berns says. The point is to get noticed.

And implanted microchips can be great if someone finds a lost pet and brings it into a hospital to be scanned, but Berns stresses that microchips are not GPS devices. She says it’s astonishing how many people think that they are. Meanwhile, an actual GPS device, installed in a pet’s collar, is another way to go.

Berns says learning pet detective techniques gives hospital staff a chance to help pet owners, and it makes the staff feel like heroes when they reunite an owner with a lost pet.

And as Berns says, “Who doesn’t want a job where they’re a hero?”

Photo credit: © iStock/fergregory

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