Pet Search podcast 1 – Who is Pet Search
Wow, it seems like a simple question doesn’t it. Who are we? But in this technology based world we live in now sometimes it really is difficult to know who the people are who you are talking to on the phone, getting advice from, purchasing things from as you do a lot of interactions with companies without ever meeting the people behind them face to face. But when it comes to finding a lost pet and getting advice from people you really want to know how reliable the source of information is, where they get their knowledge and what is their experience. How can you trust what you are being told?
So let’s start this podcast with the who, what where, why when and how of Pet Search and then secondly about me, Lee your host.
So, Pet Search started in March 1992 in Newtown which is an inner city suburb of Sydney, NSW. Fiona Campbell lost her pet and saw how difficult it was to navigate the lost pet system, pounds and shelters operate independently, vets often handled stray pets,rescue groups took in stray animals and sometimes even pet shops took in found pets. Information on lost and found pets was disjointed and records were scarce and sometimes were as simple as a post it note on a cage. No one communicated to each other, so when searching for a lost pet an owner had to physically go to each pound and shelter across Sydney and look in every cage (approximately 16 in Sydney). They had to contact each vet (over 300 in Sydney) and then hope that they got their pet home. So Fiona established pet search as a centralized way of searching for a lost pet. Pet Search took on the role of collecting information daily from all of the places involved in handling stray/found pets and collecting information from owners who have lost a pet and matched this information together in a database and got lost pets home. Remember, this was the time before facebook, before microchips, before the internet, before email so the information gathering often involved visiting pounds, receiving faxes from vets, shelters, calling up pounds to get their impound list each day. Pet Search was the only way to get a comprehensive search for a lost pet across Sydney.
The alternative of an owner doing this all every day was almost impossible. At this time the reclaim rate of stray animals at the pounds was low, for cats it was as low as 2 or 3% and for dogs it was as low as 10-20%. It was so difficult for owners to find their pets and this meant that euthanasia rates were very high. So the pounds and shelters welcomed pet search with open arms for some shelters working with pet search doubled their reclaim rate. As Pet Search became well known so did the demand for help and over the years many different people (all women) became involved in the company and currently I am the lead pet detective, so you may ask how did I become involved. Funnily enough very much like how Fiona become involved. I was already an animal foster carer throughout my childhood and early adult hood, with my family caring for orphaned kangaroos, cats, dogs, birds, possums and chickens but it was in my early 20s when I was working as a database manager/statistician and my friend who worked with me lost her dog. She used Pet Search to find her lost dog and told me about how it worked and how she would like to thank them for helping find her dog and how she thought we could help them with making some improvements to modernizing their database. This sounded great and was right up my alley both because I loved animals but also because of my skillset. So we volunteered to help Kylie who was the current lead at Pet Search with getting this done. After some time Kylie mentioned she was moving out of Sydney to live in Queensland and was pregnant and concerned she could not take Pet Search with her. She was going to close the doors. We were so worried what this would mean for all the people who needed the service to find their lost pet, so after some discussion I agreed to take over the reins. So I jumped straight in the deep end. Now I was responsible for finding peoples lost pets. This was a bigger responsibility than I could ever have imagined and I went from working a normal 9-5 job to working long days and nights at Pet Search so we could get people’s lost pets home. Talk about life changing.
So lets skip forward over the last 10 years to now. What has happened in the last 10 years in the world and in the area of lost pets?
Microchipping became more common, this dramatically increased the number of lost pets being reunited through pounds and vets and made the job of finding a lot of lost dogs that previously sat in the pound easier but it is important to note that it has not has as great an impact for lost cats. The internet and email became more readily available, this helped with information sharing and also improved reunions because photos of lost and found pets were able to be put on posters and sent by email too. So now with a lot of the burden of simple matching of pets in pounds with lost pets being improved with microchips and the internet we were being asked to undertake a lot more complicated lost pet cases. During the 10 years of working at Pet Search I undertook professional training in pet behaviour through the Cambridge institute in the UK and also lost pet investigations through the missing pet partnership in the united states. I also became a licenced private investigator and worked on surveillance and investigations, I worked with marketing experts on how marketing techniques can be used to improve lost pet posters and studied human response behaviour around advertising and marketing campaigns. I spoke with lost pet organizations across the world and found that many of us were experiencing the same things and the knowledge that were were gaining through our work was similar across the world. The common element underpinning all of this was pet & human behaviour. A lost shy cat in the US behaved the same way as a lost shy cat in Australia. The way a human responds to seeing a lost pet poster is similar across a lot of cultures (although there are some differences in Asian countries). So we started comparing notes and knowledge and many of us came together under the guidance of Kat Albrect the founder of missing pet partnerships to improve our services and improve our success rates of getting lost pets home. Having a statistics background I was able to see the improvements in success rates but at the same time the cases we were being asked to work on were a lot more complicated. More pets were being stolen, owners were struggling because they had less time to commit to searching for their pet and were being overloaded with information on what to do to find their pet, and with the growth of facebook lost pet information as actually becoming disjointed again. So instead of having 16 pounds to check in Sydney to find a lost pet many owners get overwhelmed because there are also over 50 facebook lost pet pages/groups for Sydney as well. Who could have predicted this? But the one constant world wide was that the techniques that were the most successful in finding lost pets did not involve technology, they were the same thing that has been successful throughout the whole 23 years of pet search. Posters and street signs. When done right using the right techniques, this is still the number 1 thing that gets more lost and stolen pets home than anything else. We are the only lost pet service that can provide proven success rates and we are the only qualified lost pet detectives in Australia, our ethical guidelines ensure we are honest with people about their chances of finding their lost pet and if there is a case that we don’t think we can make a difference on we won’t take on the case. We don’t want people to have false hopes or be looking in the wrong place for their lost or stolen pet, pets are family and the last thing someone needs when they are distressed is someone telling them to spend money and time doing things that won’t work. There are lost pet finding services that offer automated phone calls or emails to people in an area but this is all focused on making a profit not getting the lost pet home. I have seen these messages go out with no care taken as to whether the message is right or whether it could damage the chances of finding a lost or stolen pet. At the end of the day it is humans that get lost pets home not technology or the internet. There is always people involved in the transaction, people are reading your post on facebook, people are reading your lost pet sign and if you focus your search efforts on reaching people and understanding the human and pet behaviour, using the right techniques you have a good chance of finding a lost or stolen pet. At the end of the day, our aim is to reunite lost pets with their families, nothing more nothing less and we will do this in the best way possible. Hopefully this podcast has given you a bit of background on pet search and me and don’t hesitate to call us or email us to speak to one of our pet detectives. If we can help, we will.