What animal lover hasn't daydreamed about ditching their desk job and applying for a job at the zoo? Or at a doggy daycare? Or tracking gorillas in Africa? We sure have, but since most of us may never actually get to work with the animals we love, we thought we'd introduce you to a few people who do.
Name: Laura Totis
Title: Pet tracker and owner of LJT Pet Tracking and LJT Training
How long have you been tracking pets?
I started officially doing it back in 2002.
Describe what a pet tracker does.
For the most part we can help people find their pets just with a phone consultation or some Internet advice. Making posters, figuring out the logistics, what exactly happened with the animal missing, some personality factors that would affect what may help or hinder recovering the pet. We sometimes end up bringing in a search dog but that's just one little tool in the whole process. If we do that, then we need an article that smells like the animal so we can tell the dog what we're looking for.
Do you generally track in a suburban, city or rural setting?
Sadly, animals are lost in all kinds of settings. I've had searches in New York City, and I've had searches out in wilderness parks.
What's the success rate?
I always tell people, for a "walk-up find" the success rate runs about 20 percent. That's where we go out, we find the animal, we pick them up and take them home. Sadly, that's generally cases where the animal's incapacitated and they're not moving. Occasionally we'll get lucky where we place the owner in the right place and they call their pet and they come out to them. When I first started the recovery rate was right around 50 or 60 percent. Now I think it's closer to 80 or even more for people who actually get their pets back.
Are the animals generally found within a certain range of their own home?
That's kind of a loaded question! It depends on a lot of mitigating circumstances. For example, an indoor-only house cat that got out one day, they're usually found within three yards of where they disappeared. You don't necessarily need a tracking dog. But a sight hound or something, those dogs can cover miles in just a few minutes. For the most part, a puppy who just got out of the yard and he's just running around the neighborhood, chances are good if he's a friendly little dog he's going to be picked up by someone who goes by. As long as he's got identification, the dog comes home. On the other hand, if you've got a real skittery or afraid dog that came out in a blind panic, he may not stop running for miles.
When a pet first goes missing, what should a pet owner do?
The knee-jerk response is to get out there and look for it. With cats, make sure they're really missing. I can't tell you how many lost-cat searches we've had where it turns out the cat was actually in a cupboard or locked into the basement Do the obvious things first. Do quick checks. Make sure all the immediate neighbors know. Contact animal control in case somebody does pick him up right away. Call your vet. If it goes on and he's not right in the obvious places, then the next thing you want to do is start getting the message to the community because, again, especially for fairly friendly animals, they're going to be seen by somebody. I would say posters and fliers are the number-one way animals get recovered. Twitter, blogging, and Facebook have made a big difference. The whole [social media] thing has added a very different component to finding a lost pet.
So when do they call you in?
I've had people call me within a few hours. I've had people call within the first couple of days. It's like a lost-person search -- my background comes from searching for lost people -- so when you start going through the characteristics of what happened and why it happened, some are high-priority emergencies. If you call and say my dog is confused and he's old and he's got epilepsy and a heart condition and he just disappeared out of the yard that he hasn't left in 18 years, then I'm putting my dog in the car and we're going to come look for that dog right now.
What's the strangest thing you've been called out for?
We got called out for a skunk search once! I had an old lady call me in the middle of the night for a lost bunny rabbit, and I said "I've got a beagle I'm doing the searching with -- he'll pay you to do a rabbit search." Interestingly that rabbit came when she called it.
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