Lost Pet-Search Services: Helpful or Waste of Money?

Pet Amber Alert says it notifies residents, local animal-related businesses about missing pets

By Deanna Dewberry
|  Tuesday, Nov 6, 2012  |  Updated 12:13 AM CDT
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A Garland pet owner raises questions about the search service she hired to help her find her lost dog.

Deanna Dewberry, NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit

A Garland pet owner raises questions about the search service she hired to help her find her lost dog.

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Losing a pet can be gut-wrenching, but is it worth it to hire a search service?

Garland resident Kathy McCulloch hired New York-based Pet Amber Alert when her escape artist dog, Kalli, got loose from her backyard last month and ran away.

McCulloch and her grandchildren canvassed the neighborhood looking for Kalli, a Catahoula leopard mix with crystal blue eyes, black spots and a playful spirit.

Pet Amber Alert notifies residents and local animal-related businesses via phone, social media and fax that a pet is missing.

McCulloch enlisted the company's help for about $150. She paid for 500 calls to be made to residents in her area and for 50 faxes to be sent to local pet-related businesses.

"I thought, you know, how can you go wrong?" she said. "It's worth every dime you spend if it'll get your pet back."

But McCulloch grew suspicious when she started asking neighbors if they had gotten a call, and some told her they had not.

"I did not get a call, and I'm right across the street," Patty Arnold said.

Veterinary Referral Center of East Dallas, a 24-hour-per-day, seven-day-per-week emergency animal clinic that keeps a log of all lost pets, said it didn't get a fax from Pet Amber Alert.

"If we're right down the street, I would think they would contact us," Dr. Travis Dennett said. "But we do not have any record of their attempting to contact us or provide any information regarding that pet that was lost."

The NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit did some digging and called Pet Amber Alert's 27-year-old owner Mark Jakubczak.

The company is not his primary job but is set up to help grief-stricken pet owners, he said.

"This is the way our service works," he said. "We send out all the calls and faxes and then, if you read our disclaimer that the lawyer drafted up, it explains that, you know, some places might ... just throw the poster in the trash or some neighbors might not, you know, even want to pick up the call or participate."

Jakubczak provided NBC 5 Investigates with a list of all the calls and faxes that went out. The Consumer Unit called 50 of the numbers. Half did not pick up. A quarter were not working numbers. Of the quarter the Consumer Unit actually reached, two said they remembered getting a call. Of the faxes, five of the animal clinics closest to McCulloch's home to a fax from Pet Amber Alert, but other pet-related businesses close by, such as the 24-hour vet clinic, were not on the list.

Pet Amber Alert also sent NBC 5 Investigates a list of satisfied customers, including Keller resident Jayne Davis, whose six-pound Russian Blue cat named Priia escaped in May.

In Davis' case, a watchful neighbor who got a call from Pet Amber Alert called Davis to tell her that she had spotted the cat four days after she ran away from home.

"This lady said, 'I think your cat went into the culvert under your driveway,'" Davis said.

The reunion was an emotional one, with Davis bursting into tears. She credits Pet Amber Alert with her happy ending.

On its website's frequently asked question section, Pet Amber Alert said its average success rate using phones, faxes and social media is 77 percent.

But according to a recent American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals national study, the overall recovery rate is higher. Eighty-five percent of lost dogs and cats are recovered, according to the study.

"The majority of cat owners, the way that they found their pet was that their cat returned home on its own," said Dr. Emily Weiss, ASPCA vice president of shelter research and development. "Those who owned dogs, the way that they were most likely to recover their pet was by searching the neighborhood."

Weiss said that having an identification microchip implanted in a cat or dog and making sure they wear tags are two of the best ways to find a lost pet.

And the most crucial time to begin the search is within the first hours, she said. The longer pets are missing, the more the chances of finding them diminish. Dennett added that securing a pets' environment is also key.

McCulloch is still searching for her Kalli, optimistic that one day she will be reunited with her furry friend.

"She's part of my family," McCulloch said. "I just want to get her back."

She adopted the dog sight unseen last year. Once they met, it was love at first sight.

"She's a beautiful dog," McCulloch said. "Kalli is probably one of the sweetest dogs that I've ever had. She's very friendly. She's very likeable. She loves kids. She slept right beside me every night."

Typically when Kalli escaped her yard, she would head straight down the street to neighbor Arnold's house. But that day, Arnold was working late.

"I'm sure she came, but I wasn't there to let her in," she said.

For now, Kalli's bed sits empty outside McCulloch's home in hopes that the scent will lure her home.

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