Its my calling, 45-year-old Melody Pugh says when people ask about her work as a pet detective. In the three years she has been helping find lost pets in small towns and rural areas on western Washingtons Kitsap Peninsula, she has reunited 400 animals with their familiesall for free, or for whatever donation people care to make.
Pughs pet detective career began when her gray tabby cat, Norman, disappeared. She was so distraught that, in order to search for him full time, she quit her job as a security officer with the U.S. Navy. During the 95 days that it took to find him, Pugh, of Navy Yard City (pop. 2,905), met dozens of people who were looking for their own missing pets. Most of them were discouraged and uncertain as to how to proceed. Based on what shed learned hunting for Norman, she offered them tips on how to design lost pet flyers and suggestions about how to listen and look for their pets. Eventually, Pugh found several of the lost pets and took them home to their guardians.
I get a euphoric feeling when I know those families are going to be reunited, she says. Its a feeling you never forget.
Pughs experiences have taught her a lot about how to look for lost animals. If she thinks a pet is lost in the woods, for instance, she looks for paw prints, signs of defecation, and tufts of fur caught in brambles. She also pays special attention to broken spider webs within 18 inches of the ground that are an indication that an animal recently may have passed by.
When shes looking for a cat, Pugh uses a flashlight to peer into crawl spaces under all the houses in her search area, because cats become more reclusive when theyre frightened. Often animals cant hear people calling them from the street, so she bends down and calls directly under the house.
Both cats and dogs are afraid theyre in trouble if they hear a loud voice, she says. So she uses an indoor voice, to try to entice them out of hiding places. And its also important, she says, to stop and listen long and hard enough to hear the animals cries. When theyre frightened or hurt, they tend to lower their voices.
Pugh says the biggest mistake people make who are looking for their pets is in giving up way too soon. It may take weeks or months, but she never gives up on a pet. What keeps her going, sometimes 12 hours a day?
Ive got to have that happy ending, she says, and to get it, I have to get that pet found. But her biggest reward, she says, is in knowing that shes helped people who are desperate to have their pet back at home.
One of those people is Timothy Sayan, a retired health care worker who lives in nearby Mason County. Last fall, the family basset hound, Sherman, was stolen out of his yard. He escaped his captor and ran away, but then he was taken to the Humane Society in Kitsap County, where he was adopted a few days later.
When Sherman was gone, I felt like one of my kids was missing, Sayan says. The police told him that Sherman was legally the property of the man who had innocently adopted him and who was now refusing to give him up. But they referred Sayan to Pugh who was able to negotiate an agreement that allowed Sherman to return to his original family.
I dont think we would have gotten our dog back without her. Shes an angel! Sayan says.
People as far away as South Africa have enlisted Pughs help with finding their pets. If your furry friend ever goes missing, youll find search strategies and support at her website, www.pet-detective.com.