Dogateers: The pet detectives who track down missing dogs out of kindness and love
Two high-profile missing dog cases in Uttlesford have used the services of a voluntary group of canine experts who can sniff out even the most elusive of pets.
Herts & Essex-based Dogateers was founded five years ago by three women – Debbie Evans, Viv Perry and Liz Evans (not related to Debbie) – and demand for their expertise has since gone through the roof.
With a team of just seven volunteers, they give up all hours of the day and night to help track down people’s lost pets. They were out on Christmas Day looking for a missing Patterdale terrier, Kevin, in Stansted. He was eventually caught on Boxing Day after four days wandering the village.
And earlier in December they were instrumental in hunting down rescue dog Arnie, missing for six days after fleeing his owners’ car when it was involved in a collision on the M11. He was tracked to Audley End House and Gardens for an emotional reunion.
In the initial panicked aftermath of losing a dog, a lot can be done to boost the chances of getting them back safe and sound, said Debbie.
If owners can resist the urge to scour the area, calling out for their beloved pets, they will often find their way home. Sending out search parties was the “worst thing to do”, said Debbie, who has seen cases where spooked animals have been pushed towards roads and railways with fatal consequences.
“Don’t call or chase, although it’s what you want to do, because it can end up pushing the dog into danger,” she said. “Even with roads or train lines nearby, most dogs will keep themselves safe. They find a route and know that route, and as long as they’re not spooked, most will keep safe.”
This was particularly evident in the cases of Arnie and Kevin, who fended for themselves for several days – Arnie being out in freezing temperatures, having run off along the M11, and Kevin wandering around Stansted’s busy B1383 Silver Street.
Debbie explained how Dogateers was keen to educate people to increase the chances of finding their missing pets and reducing the need to call on them.
“It’s all about patience and piecing together a jigsaw. And you have to do the groundwork, which is frustrating for some people, but it’s about putting up hundreds of posters, then you get sightings and you can start to piece it all together. It’s about the whole picture, and once you get sightings coming in you can work on getting traps in place.
“If you think about it, just one poster could be 50 people’s eyes on the ground. It’s important people can access and read this kind of helpful information and find out what to do in the first instance when their dog has gone missing – and that’s what we do.
“Our advice would always be to leave your front or back door open because 90% of the time the dog will find its way back. We try to put Ring doorbells on their house first and put out smelly food, such as sardines, and you can also lay out something unwashed of the person the dog is most bonded with and generally that works.
“If the dog gets lost on a walk, make sure someone is home with the door open and sit in your car with the engine running as most of the time they come back to the point where they got out of the car.”
Debbie explained that once a dog has been spotted on camera and has found any food left out, nine out of 10 times “you know you’re going to get them back”.
“Even rescue dogs can do it. A dog will always go to the last place it got out of, despite having never been there before, as they can trace their own paw prints,” she said.
“In Kevin’s case, he did stay close and the owners were amazing at listening to our advice. A lot of our work is just trying to stop owners from having a meltdown! But we’re here to listen. It can be incredibly stressful, especially at times like Christmas.”
Kevin’s owner, Mary-Anne Rielly, praised Dogateers for their continual support, saying that they were always on hand to call and were very good at keeping her calm.
“The women at Dogateers were there from the start, offering advice, reassurance and support in a calm manner that kept us from spiralling,” she said.
“They were there at all hours of the day and night for support and communication, acted quickly to set up cameras and traps, created and printed posters, and monitored the traps and cameras at all hours day and night – all over the Christmas period, including Christmas Day, when they were also juggling Christmas with their families.
“I’m astonished by their kindness and determination. It was the trap that eventually caught Kevin and I honestly don’t think we would have caught him without the Dogateers.
“What is more astonishing is that these lovely women do all of this out of the kindness of their hearts and their love for dogs – they’re 100% voluntary and don’t get paid for their time or resources.”
A grateful Mary-Anne and her boyfriend Joe Robertson set up an online fundraising page at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/KevinDogateers to help pay for resources for Dogateers and hit their £2,000 target.
The money helps the group pay for bait food and traps, including a new remote-controlled trap that does not rely on a foot plate for the cage to be closed once the animal is inside, which can result in unwanted other creatures such as foxes being caught instead. The Dogateers can watch via a camera and activate the door to capture the right animal.
They also have a thermal imaging drone and a smaller drone which flies lower. “We have a pilot who operates the thermal drone, but in Kevin’s case it was too near Stansted Airport to fly,” said Debbie.
How to contact Dogateers
Dogateers can be found on Facebook. Their page features the acronym DOGS – Drone Operators, Ground Searchers. The numbers to call are 07950 701188, 07528 845113, 07891 956005.