Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pet detective knows all the tricks to getting your dog back

Lorna Marion is a real life pet detective. Although, if you ask her, she’ll say she’s not.
And then she’ll laugh at the thought of it.
The unassuming mother of three is adamant she’s no Ace Ventura. Connecting the dots between worried owners and their lost pets is simply a hobby, one she’s been doing quietly for the past three years.
“Sometimes when I call people they’re very suspicious of me or think I’m crazy,” she says with a laugh. “They say, ‘Well, who are you?’ or ‘Have you got my dog?’ ”
Marion doesn’t have their dog. But if she calls, she’s got a good idea who might.
About 10 times a day, the animal lover — who has a sheltie and bichon poodle — sifts through the lost animal sections of the Toronto Humane Society and the city’s Animal Services websites. And then, for good measure, craigslist and Kijiji.
When frantic pet owners post about a lost pet she’ll take note.
A little detective work comes next.
Because all the sites operate largely independently of one another, Marion noticed gaps where information could easily get lost or missed.
So she began to act as the aggregator. The unofficial Google of Toronto pets gone AWOL.
“Sometime people think if they make a post about a lost pet on the Humane Society that covers it,” she says. “But their pet could also be safe somewhere else.”
The Humane Society only takes in lost animals for up to 24 hours. After that, Toronto Animal Services keeps them at one of four city sites. If they go unclaimed for five business days, the city starts looking at adoption options.
“After a while, they might get put up for adoption and there is somebody’s loving animal that’s missing,” says Marion. “I can’t have the heart to just ignore it.”
Whether it’s mere hours or a few days, for a pet owner, waiting for news is agonizing. Something Portia Wade knows well.
On Saturday, her 11-year-old greyhound, Marcello, escaped from the backyard. She immediately created a post on the Humane Society’s website describing the dog.
Within an hour, Marion called. The Toronto Animal Services website posted that a whippet (not far from a greyhound) was found. It was around the same time Marcello went missing. And the age lined up as well.
Wade soon found herself at the Exhibition Place shelter, reunited with Marcello.
“They were closing for the day and I wouldn’t have known where he was,” says Wade. “I wouldn’t have been able to sleep.”
She admits that at first she thought Marion was a bit nuts. “But she was completely genuine so I heard her out.”
When the pair met Tuesday for a photo, Wade brought a bouquet of flowers. She gave Marion a big hug and whispered, “Thank you for finding my dog.”
Marion doesn’t get any money for her efforts. She’s never collected a reward.
“One time a woman was so happy she offered to buy me a drink, but I said, ‘No, you have your dog back now, buy him a treat.’ ”
She even had to be coaxed into an interview and photograph with the Star.
Her 15-year-old daughter, Baylee, is proud of her mom. “I think what she does is amazing. She doesn’t think she deserves to be recognized for it but she’s reuniting owners with their pets and she’s done it a lot more than once.”
By her modest estimates, Marion says she’s connected at least 15 people with their dogs. But the number is likely higher because most people don’t email back. “I just notice the post goes down off the site so I figure that it must have been their dog.”
The Toronto Humane Society is impressed. Executive director Garth Jerome admits the websites could be better. A collaboration is in the works and Animal Services has been posting some pets on the Humane Society’s site.
It’s not enough though, Jerome says, adding he sees someone like Marion as a “catalyst” for improvements.
Marion plans to keep on doing what she’s been doing. She’s never lost a pet herself, but can imagine what it must be like.
“The pets are already found,” she says, rebuffing the notion she’s a bit of a pet detective. “All I do is check the Internet.”