Pet detective works hard to sniff out Carmel’s lost pals

Pet detective Jim Berns charges $100 per hour to use his dog, Luchious, to track lost pets in Carmel. (Submitted photo)

Pet detective Jim Berns charges $100 per hour to use his dog, Luchious, to track lost pets in Carmel. (Submitted photo)

By Terri Spilman

What’s a new resident of the Carmel Arts and Design District to do when their beloved pet cat suddenly disappears, leaving two feline siblings in despair and their owners sick with worry?

It sounds like the plot of an Ace Ventura Pet Detective movie.

But after three weeks in their new home, recent Indianapolis transplants Mark and Rita Marley’s family pet of ten years, a Blue Russian/Gray mix named Girl Kitty, went missing.

“We did an immediate area search on foot, posted missing notices on Craig’s List and Indy Lost Pet Alert. We shared over 300 flyers/postcards with neighbors, local area veterinarians and local businesses. We walked the area daily for up to three hours at a time and talked to residents often, made several visits to both humane societies,” explained Rita Marley.

“While posting ads on Craig’s List, we came across a pet detective, Jim Berns, based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. We discussed our situation with him, and – after some due diligence to find out if this guy was legitimate – we decided to hire him and his two search dogs (a coon hound and a blood hound) for a day.”

Berns is entering his sixth year as a pet detective and has done more than 300 searches for the organization Pet Search and Rescue based out of California. The company is actually owned by his daughter, Annalisa Berns, who specializes in criminology.

“Almost everyone that loses a dog or cat posts on Craig’s List as one of the ways they get their pet back. That part of Craig’s List works really well,” Berns said.

He also cautioned that pet detectives may not be right for every situation.

“What happens is we don’t work every time, but it puts the odds back in favor of the owner getting their pets back. More than half get them back safe and sound,” he said.

And if it’s any consolation, he has solved three out of three missing turtle cases.

Berns is somewhat of a person of intrigue like Jim Carrey’s pet detective character, Ace Ventura, though Berns prefers wearing a fluorescent orange vest as opposed to a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt while on the hunt.

On the weekends, Berns is a pet detective, but during the week he holds a full-time job managing the woodshop at the University of Cincinnati architecture school and has run for public office several times on the Libertarian ticket.

When asked if there are any similarities to Ace Ventura, Berns said, “I love the movie. Only I don’t have any beautiful women chasing me like he did.”

Hiring a pet detective is not cheap. The cost ranges from $450 to $800 for just half a day in the Indianapolis area with the fee covering costs of training, care of the dogs, travel expenses and a modest profit.

“We don’t want people in their moment of anguish to spend money they can’t afford. We try to give them a realistic expectation and give them the facts. Many of our clients are young couples who are not married long and they may or may not have their first child,” he said. “Their pet is a very intimate part of their relationship. They have to be able to afford it.”

Luckily, the Marley’s had a happy ending to their story. The hounds, Samantha and Luchious did not find Girl Kitty, though they were able to narrow down a one mile radius for the Marley’s to concentrate their search efforts. After three weeks, a dog walker who was familiar with the Marley’s search found Girl Kitty only seven blocks away.

“The community was amazing. I feel like we know all of our neighbors now,” said Rita. And when asked if she would hire a pet detective again, the answer was, “Yes, at least he gave us an idea of where to search. He’s an animal lover. He was truly concerned.”

In the words of Ace Venture, “Alrighty then…”

Tips for keeping animals safe

  • Small dogs should never be outside alone, especially with the coyote situation.
  • Indoor/outdoor cats only have a one-third life expectancy of an indoor cat.
  • If a pet is lost, offer large rewards to generate interest, saturate the location where the pet was last seen with attention-getting posters and alert neighbors in the area.

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