Beating the Odds: Successful Recovery Stories From the Secret World of a Lost Pet Specialist

sara s. bio pic

For over a year, I’ve owned and operated NinjaDog Concepts, a lost pet logistics company. Very few people can drop everything and launch a full-scale, 24/7 search for a lost pet (even though they want to), so they call me to do it for them. From flyering and midnight surveillance, to leveraging the web and managing volunteers - I do whatever it takes to run the operation.

I never forget any of my cases - they all hold special places in my heart - but here are a few that I’ve been thinking about lately.

Lil C: The Shy Black Cat

Lil C, the timid, little kitty, bolted out of her new adopters’ house, unbeknownst to them (they thought she was just hiding). By the time I signed onto this case, she had been missing for approximately ten days.

Volunteers were already flyering and conducting nighttime “spotlighting” (where you walk around the neighborhood with a high-powered flashlight/spotlight at night and shine it under cars, bushes, and anywhere a cat could hide), so I just made sure we continued those efforts in a more structured way. Every night, we put up more flyers, working in a grid fashion, and spotlighted. Then over the weekend, we went door-to-door with letters that told neighbors about Lil C and asked them to please search their property for her.

Lil C safe at home.Lil C safe at home.

On Monday evening, we got a call. We had been getting lots of sighting calls, so we didn’t get too excited. However, this was the most promising: a woman had gotten our letter and said that, for about a week, she had been feeding a little black cat who had suddenly shown up in her garage. She was 99% sure it was Lil C. She let us come over, and by the time I arrived, Lil C’s foster dad was on site and confirmed that a little black cat was indeed there, although he couldn’t get a good look at her. He had set a trap and was waiting, spotlight on the garage. She wouldn’t come out of hiding with us there, though, so we turned off the light and went to wait in the car.

We sat there with the windows rolled down for maybe 4 minutes when we heard the trap go. We rushed over, and it was her! After being on the streets for 2 weeks, Lil C was safe! She had lost some weight and bore scratch marks, but other than that, she was just fine and is still waiting for a new forever home!

Bella, the Chihuahua, Bolts

Bella attended a 4th of July party with her mom. When her mom stepped outside and left Bella with other guests, Bella bolted through an open door. A foot chase ensued and Bella fled in panic. She was missing for three days when I got involved - flyering and getting a Facebook page going.

On the fifth day, the rescue group Bella was adopted from sent an email to their entire database. Someone who received this email (but claimed to not know how she got on the list in the first place) wrote back, saying she had seen her the day before at a freeway onramp eating garbage near a homeless encampment!

When the tipster saw her, she got out of her car to capture her (despite being pregnant!), but Bella was scared and ran back into the bushes. At that point, the tipster did NOT know about Bella--all she saw was a dog in need. However, because she couldn't climb or run well, she had to abandon the mission.

Then, the next morning, the email mysteriously showed up in her mailbox. There was no logical explanation for how Bella’s email had gotten to a person who had seen her less than 12 hours prior, but nonetheless, it had. It was fate.

Bella reunited with her mom.Bella reunited with her mom.

After verifying that it was Bella (the tipster confirmed that she was still wearing her pink harness), we mobilized volunteers. When they got to the on ramp, police were on scene. The volunteers approached them with a flyer, wondering if they’d be in trouble for trespassing, but the officers called out, "WE SAW HER, SHE'S IN HERE,” pointing to the bramble next to the on ramp.

Minutes before the volunteers (including Bella’s mom) arrived, the officers had been investigating the homeless encampment and flushed Bella from the bushes. She started to run TOWARDS the freeway, so the officers got ON IT to herd her back down. Just as they had gotten her to safety, our volunteers pulled up.

As soon as Bella saw her mom, she jumped into her arms. It was clear that she had been living there for a few days at least, but she was safe! Needless to say, now Bella stays home on 4th of July.

Cleo: The Missing Akita

Cleo’s story is one of persistence. So often, people abandon their efforts too soon, thinking, “If I haven’t found her by now, I’m not going to.” Many times, the difference between unsuccessful cases and successful ones is the refusal to give up.

Cleo had beaten the odds once--she was rescued from the streets of Los Angeles with her puppies and adopted to a family in Beverly Hills (yes, all of her pups found homes, too!). But right after she got to her new home, she bolted when a loud noise spooked her on a nighttime walk. In a matter of seconds, she was gone--on the streets again--and we commenced a 7-week full-scale search for her.

Cleo Reward Poster_foundCleo's Reward Poster

We used every tool in the “pet detective’s” toolbox: flyers, emails, ads, foot searches, canvassing the neighbors, surveillance, and media coverage. We’d make progress and then get stymied, but we’d press on. We’d almost have her and then the trail would go cold again. We battled obstacles like a city order to take down our flyers, limited resources, and exhaustion. The ultimate blow came when her owners actually saw her themselves, but inadvertently scared her off and out of the area entirely. It nearly killed our morale. Weeks passed before we got another break, but it would turn out to be the break.

A woman who saw the ad we posted on Craigslist about Cleo emailed, saying a dog matching Cleo's description had been hiding in the bushes at her home. She was feeding the dog, and she had been coming back.

We worked with her to monitor the area to see if we could sight Cleo ourselves. She eluded us for several days--it’s like she knew we were watching, because she stopped coming around. Then, early one dark morning as a volunteer and I monitored the area, Cleo silently came trotting out of the shadows. After weeks of seeing nothing, this was like seeing a ghost. We fought the urge to yell with happiness--this was the moment of truth; a moment we might never get again. We couldn’t mess up.

It took some patience and measured actions, but we recovered her right then and there. I stayed totally hidden while the volunteer she knew well coaxed her softly. The volunteer remained calm and quiet and allowed Cleo to figure out who she was. After 5-10 minutes, Cleo got close enough for the volunteer to pet and hug her, slipping a leash over her head--Cleo was safe!

Piper Goes Missing In a Bad Neighborhood

I took on Piper’s case after she’d been missing for almost two weeks. Her mom is a makeup artist and she took Piper to a photo shoot one day. The studio owners assured her it was safe for 4-pound Piper to run around--all of the doors were shut. Well, they weren’t, and Piper got loose in a neighborhood that is known for backyard breeders. Even though her mom put up flyers with a sizable reward, she had gotten no calls, leading us to believe she had been stolen into a life of breeding. Piper is a young, unaltered, teacup Chihuahua, who was not wearing a collar and not micro-chipped at the time. Pretty much every odd was against her.

I was on the case 3 days when we got a call out of nowhere that someone had her. I coached Piper’s mom to make sure she got a cell phone photo to confirm that it was Piper. Once Piper’s mom was 100% sure it was her, we met up with the caller for the reunion. And bonus: we filmed it. Enjoy! Piper was immediately chipped and spayed after this, and now wears a collar and tags 24/7.

This work is full of conflict and emotion. It’s tiring, scary, sad, and desperate. It’s also inspiring, motivating, and triumphant. Every time a new client asks me to take on their case, I feel sick. I want to simultaneously start immediately and run away. I’m terrified I won’t be able to recover the animal who needs my help. But I do it anyway because no matter how terrified I feel, there’s an animal out there who is more terrified. And no matter how hopeless it may seem, cases like the ones I’ve shared here prove that you always have to try because you just…never…know.

Have you ever searched for a missing pet or are you still searching for one? Tell us about your experience in the comment box below. Remember, you never know what will bring your pet home!

Looking for more like this? Try: