She is a rare breed...
... one of fewer than a dozen people in the country who search for lost companion animals. You’d have better luck finding a Golden Retriever who hates to fetch. The scarcity of pet detectives is unrelated to the demand: says 2.5 million dogs and cats go missing each year. To help shoulder the load, earlier this year Oklahoma-based Karin Goin founded Pet Detectives Inc., a nationwide network of pet detectives.
Goin says almost three-fourths of her cases are resolved, for better or worse, over the phone. The rest of the time, she and her detection dogs travel to the scene to track the missing critter. This day in Goin’s life begins in Lubbock, Texas, where she has been searching for a terrier-mix named Remy.
7 a.m. Sipping Starbucks in her La Quinta hotel suite, Goin reflects on the six-week search for Remy, who slipped out of his yard. His owner has carefully followed Goin’s instructions, putting up huge neon “lost” posters and keeping the media in the loop. Indeed, TV reporters showed up yesterday at the RV park where Remy has been spotted. They’re filming the two women setting up a food station with tuna, salmon, and catfish bait. “We need other people’s eyes and ears,” Goin says, “and the TV news skyrockets awareness like no other.” After the segments began airing yesterday afternoon, Remy’s owner’s cell phone rang nonstop, and Goin and her dogs tracked the leads until 9 p.m. Some were Remy, some were not, but none brought them close to this infuriatingly slippery terrier.
7:10 a.m. The cell phone interrupts Goin’s thoughts. It’s a New Jersey woman who lost her 9-year-old cat, Rose, a few days before. Goin has been coaching her over the phone, but the woman wants her to fly to New Jersey. “I am scheduled to leave for a much-needed vacation in just three days, and I am in the middle of the search for Remy. But Rose’s owner has been looking for the cat for nine days, and she is also exhausted,” says Goin, who agrees to fly east tomorrow.
7:45 a.m. Remy’s owner arrives at Goin’s hotel, and Goin jumps into her white van rigged with built-in crates for her search dogs. “There’s no mystery to the training,” she says, noting that every potential detection dog starts off by learning hide and seek. Goin says, “All that is required is that you can read your dog.” Most of hers have a different signals for “no dice,” or no scent found. Dodger, a Feist, jumps up. Boone, a rescue whose elongated figure smacks of Basset Hound, does the same. Chocolate Labrador Retriever-Coonhound mix Cade stares into Goin’s eyes. And Paco the 5- pound Chihuahua — Goin’s “soulmate” dog who picked up searching just by watching the other three — jumps up and dances in a circle on his hind legs.
8 a.m. Nobody has to tell the dogs they have arrived at the location of a sighting: They see Goin laying out their black and red vests emblazoned with the words “Pet Detection K9,” and immediately begin air-scenting. The caller said he saw Remy at 3 a.m. ,and described his ice-blue eyes. “That’s a feature that’s very recognizable” and distinguishes Remy from other stray dogs, Goin says, although she can’t help but wonder how the caller saw them so clearly in the middle of the night. Normally, super-enthusiastic Cade is first on deck, but today his ears seem to be bothering him, so Dodger gets the assignment. After sniffing Remy’s bed, he circles the area, then returns to Goin and jumps up, meaning there’s no matching scent. To double- check, Goin tries Boone, who comes to the same conclusion. “If the caller saw ice blue eyes last night, they belong to some other dog,” Goin concludes. “Remy has not been here.”
9:35 a.m. Next stop: a golf-course community about a half-mile from the spot where Goin’s dogs found Remy’s track two days ago. Changing dogs every five to seven minutes because of the intense heat, Goin jogs past the upscale neighborhood’s McMansions, with Remy’s owner running alongside her handing out fliers to curious residents. After 20 minutes, Goin realizes the trail is five or more hours old, and ends the search. “Tracking Remy is not a problem,” she sighs. “We need a more recent trail.”
Noon. It’s time for a debriefing. The two women head to a Taco Bell parking lot, and perch inside the van’s open doors, sometimes petting the dogs inside, sometimes wiping the tears from their own eyes. "We didn’t necessarily think we were going to catch Remy, but we did think we would pin him down,” Goin says. But Remy has turned out to be a “ roaming dog at large” — one who refuses to develop a routine. “He’s being seen sporadically, and at all hours. He’s probably enjoying himself. People hate hearing that, but the dogs develop a life of their own out there.” They decide the best course is for Remy’s owner to keep raising public awareness. “When in doubt, poster,” Goin says —preferably on fluorescent poster board, with as few words as possible. “The picture of the dog is what creates the unique memory.” Since Remy disappeared, his owner has quit her job, taken out loans, even contemplated selling her car to continue the daily search. Though her own dog eludes her, she has found six others in her search, returning them all to their grateful owners. “I wasn’t surprised when she asked me about becoming a pet detective,” Goin says.
1 p.m. Goin begins the seven-hour ride back to Oklahoma. But there’s no flipping the dial and relaxing to light jazz tunes. Instead the van becomes a mobile office, and her cell phone her lifeline. Headset on: There are seven new phone messages and as many e-mails waiting.
1:13 p.m. A couple from Illinois calls about their blind and deaf 17-year-old Rat Terrier who wandered off two days ago during a heat wave. They are surrounded on three sides by dense, impassable cornfields. A dog’s sense of smell is very powerful, even in advanced age. Goin advises the couple to put salmon or mackerel upwind of the dog, using fans to spread the scent, in the hopes of attracting him back. Even dirty laundry is worth a try.
4:55 p.m. A searcher from New York City calls to update Goin on Vivi, the champion Whippet who escaped after last year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. (At press time, she was still at large and sighted occasionally). Like Remy, Vivi is an iconoclast who continues to roam unpredictably, hop scotching around congested urban neighborhoods, and traveling through greenways. Goin believes she understands how the displaced Whippet feels. “I’m from California originally, just like Vivi, and New York was hard for me — like a jungle,” she recalls of the few days she spent there last March searching for Vivi.
5:37 p.m Finally, a happy call. A Bluetick Coonhound look-alike from Utah, Cager was thrown from the car during an auto accident and Goin has been doing phone consultations, analyzing an aerial map for wilderness belts and high-traffic areas. “The owners were pretty sure he was not in the nearby woods, but I was pretty sure he was.” She encouraged them to walk through the woods, using normal, “inside” voices instead of alarming Cagger with loud cries. On the way back to the car, the woman realized she had dropped her purse, and retraced her steps to retrieve it. There was Cagger, who had been watching silently from the woods, nosing her wallet and keys.
8:07p.m. Home at last, however briefly. There’s no question who will accompany Goin to New Jersey tomorrow. It will be Dodger, her fly boy because he is the most portable. Goin doesn’t need to pack for either of them, as she keeps flight and equipment bags at the ready. “Rose’s owner hopes that after what is now 10 days, Dodger will be able to find her cat alive in the woods that surround her house,” muses Goin, although her instinct suggests otherwise. After all, many of her physical searches are for closure — not all are storybook endings.
But for now, there is hope, both for Rose’s owner and all the other owners for whom Goin is a last resort — and an answered prayer.
Denise Flaim is a freelance writer and the pet's columnist at Newsday in New York
B Y D E N I S E F L A I M for DOG FANCY Magazine
WWW.DOGFANCY.COM | December 2006 27