Real Life

The pet detective agency helping owners find their missing animals

Anne-Marie Curry has tracked down thousands of furry friends who have been lost, stolen and sometimes held for ransom.
Anne-Marie Curry who has become a pet detective.

When his dog vanished, Matthew Walton was on the other side of the world. All he knew was that his deaf, 13-year-old labradoodle, Patch, was lost in virgin bush in a state forest. A place he had never been before. And not gentle bush – a hostile wilderness full of snakes, wild pigs and wild dogs. 

“Your mind just goes to the worst place,” Matthew recalls. “And Patch is a suburban labradoodle lapdog. He has never been to the bush in his life.” 

The helplessness of being so far away was agony for Matthew. Not being able to look for him, to protect him, knowing he would be scared and confused, unable to defend himself, and that he could die out there with no one to comfort him . It was the worst thing that could happen to “my wingman, my best mate.” 

Matthew was on a long-awaited, carefully planned trip with his wife and two teenage children. “It was a month over in the United Kingdom – white Christmas in a castle in Scotland.” 

The call had come on the second day in London. “I’m sorry,” said the pet sitter, “he’s gone.” 

Matthew with his dog Patch who were reunited.

“It was incredibly distressing,” Matthew recalls. “It’s almost like time stood still. It was early morning in the UK. What do you do? That day, the kids were supposed to go to Harry Potter Land with [wife] Debbie, and I was supposed to go to the Tate Britain. I was just numb. The whole day is a blur.” 

Matthew considers himself a “particularly conservative, thorough person. I’m a CFO,” he says. Patch’s usual dog sitter had retired but she had recommended another sitter. Matthew had first contacted this sitter in March. There were months of conversations but they didn’t get to meet until October. He did his due diligence. He took Patch to her house on Sydney’s leafy North Shore. 

“We looked at the house and the fencing and the gate and the inside and outside, and that’s what I thought we were buying. It was secure, she came with two references. There were no red flags.” 

Now Matthew was being told the pet sitter had taken Patch to a remote farm on the Central Coast, several hundred kilometres away, where he slipped his lead and fled the car on arrival. 

The story just didn’t make sense. “Patch has never slipped the lead. This was an old dog who I’m sure could run a short distance but he’s not likely to run off. He’s a homebody, he 

bonds with the person with him. He sleeps a lot, he will just be your shadow. He would have stayed close to her.” 

The family was about to book a return flight home when a friend did a Google search and found Arthur & Co. Pet Detectives. “I had never heard of such a thing,” says Matthew. Owner and founder Anne-Marie Curry told them not to come back. “She instilled an enormous amount of confidence. She was very strong on communication. She gave us activity and purpose.” 

Pet detective Anne-Marie with grateful pet owners.

Anne-Marie used thermal drones, experienced trackers, trail cams and traps. “We went house to house interviewing locals and potential witnesses,” she says. “There were posters, site searches and geo targeted ads.” 

But as the days passed and there was no sign of Patch, Anne-Marie began doubting the pet-sitter’s story. 

“It was increasingly obvious to us that Patch was never where she said he was lost,” she explains. “There would have not only been a sighting of him, but there would have been some evidence. We didn’t find paw prints. We didn’t find fur snags.” 

Matthew’s trip had been ruined. “I wished I’d never gone. You’re over in the UK trying to do a banking payment to transfer money to get a tracker. It added a whole layer of stress … We would go to sleep at night just willing him to find safety.” 

Six days passed. They doubted he could survive. He had arthritis and mobility issues. “Patch is not a mobile dog. We take him to the local park and he will do two laps, that’s it. He’s done.” 

Realising that what the pet sitter told them “might not be factual”, Anne-Marie broadened the search area and increased the radius on the geo targeted ads. It was 10 torturous

days before a family of bushwalkers found Patch in Ourimbah State Forest, realised he was lost and took him to a vet. He had an abscess on his back. He was 10 kilometres away from where he was supposed to have been lost. 

Matthew now believes that Patch would not have run off “unless he was petrified. If she treated him harshly. A fight or flight instinct has kicked in.” 

When the family returned, Patch was “just ecstatic to see us,” Matthew says. “It was overwhelming. It was one of the happiest days of my life. But it took two months for him to physically and mentally recover and start to be himself again.” 

Anne-Marie was certain the dog sitter had breached her duty of care. Both she and Matthew believe the sitter “subcontracted the job, and the subcontractor lost the dog”. Emboldened by Anne-Marie’s analysis of the case, Matthew launched legal proceedings against the sitter. What should have been a $2000 job had cost him $15,000. 

“She kept disputing and disputing,” Matthew explains, but “the judicial process basically said, ‘you had a duty of care, you failed in your duty of care’.” She was ordered to settle and Matthew recovered his funds. 

Pets come first 

Being a pet detective involves high drama, anxiety, distressed people and panicked calls. To Anne-Marie, a stolen or missing companion animal is “basically a missing child. Pets are very much part of the family unit,” she says. 

As a child, Anne-Marie had a pet that went missing and was never found. Many years later, by then a mother herself, a tradesman left a window open and a rescue cat escaped. “My son was devastated,” she says. 

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. But Anne-Marie realised then that there was no “service to help us with missing or stolen animals. That was when I thought, we have to do better.” 

She started Arthur & Co in 2017, has since done thousands of pet searches and says she has an 80 per cent success rate. The Arthur of Arthur & Co, incidentally, is a dachshund, “the chief executive dog. And he has a very high opinion of himself. He used to be the tracking dog, but he is retired now.” 

Anne-Marie with a client she has found.

Arthur & Co offers the care and attention to detail you would expect in a missing-person case. Anne-Marie adapts police methodology. 

“We do everything: Thermal drones, tracking, trail cameras, covert surveillance, data mining and online forensics,” she explains. She scours websites to see if someone is trying to sell an animal. “We have former detective sergeants who have worked on missing children and homicides and those sorts of things.” 

To Anne-Marie, the pet is the client. “Obviously they can’t engage us or pay us but they’re the client because that’s the priority. We’ll always do what we believe – based on facts and evidence – to be in the best interests of that pet.” 

Even with someone as thorough as Matthew, things can evidently still go wrong. “More common,” says Anne-Marie, “are situations where there has been no real vetting of the individual, no house inspection, no checks around the sitter’s routine, how often they’re going to be home. Where’s the animal going to be when they’re not home? What is the yard like? These details are often overlooked … So many of our clients say, ‘I feel like I’ve lost my child’. But they’ve seemingly placed their child in the hands of a complete stranger they found on Facebook. 

“Do your due diligence,” she advises. “Would you leave your six-month-old infant with someone you found on Facebook?” 

The shady trainer 

In March last year Deb Varga was going on a cruise and dropped four-year-old Archie, a Cavalier King Charles, at dog training school because he was being aggressive to other dogs on his walks. 

Until she met her partner, Deb had been a single mother of three. “So Archie was like my best friend. He used to keep me company when the kids started to get older and go out and go to work,” she says. 

A week after she dropped him off she got a phone call saying that Archie had been stolen, along with a groodle called Bessie. “We had absolutely no idea what to do.” 

Then she found out “that there is actually such a thing as a pet detective. I just thought of the Jim Carrey movie [Ace Ventura: Pet Detective], but when I spoke to Anne-Marie I felt she knew exactly what she was doing.” 

Archie and Deb were reunited by the pet detectives after a he went missing from a dog trainer.

Anne-Marie starts by profiling the owners of the pet. “Getting all the relevant details of the situation, much like a police interview … We really look at all the scenarios and then we seek to methodically rule those out.” It is not an easy conversation. 

“Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there are kids screaming in the background, or they are screaming at their husband who let the pet out. There’s a whole ton of things to deal with on top of getting the information. Our approach is: Assume nothing; question everything.” 

Once she has done that, Anne-Marie has a teleconference with the pet sitter if there is one involved. “Sometimes the pet is not in fact missing – it’s been rehomed or is deceased or there’s something more to it and there has been a bit of a cover-up.” 

In Archie’s case, Anne-Marie had a “very direct” conversation with the dog trainer, who was known to police. “I knew Bessie and Archie weren’t stolen. I’d spoken to all the neighbours – no one heard anything, no one saw anything, no one had anything suspicious on their CCTV.” 

The dog trainer had big, aggressive dogs on the property. Was it a cover-up after they had killed Archie and Bessie? 

“Sometimes the pet is not in fact missing … there’s something more to it.”

Anne-Marie Curry

By the end of the first week Deb and her partner were “distraught. I had to get myself mentally prepared for him to be dead,” she says. 

Then Deb received a call from a “random” woman saying she had found the dogs left by the side of the road, and that she had them with her. “Which we knew was absolute rubbish,” says Anne-Marie. 

The woman wouldn’t say who she was or where the dogs were. For another night and day, over five or six calls, the woman made excuses about why the dogs couldn’t be picked up. “My emotions went from frustration to anger – all that hope and happiness had just totally been overshadowed by anger. She was basically holding these dogs hostage. It was just very shady.” 

Finally the woman asked for money for their return. Anne-Marie explained that this was extortion, and it was time to call the police. 

Deb and Anne-Marie arranged a “handover”. The woman fled when she saw Deb, Anne-Marie and the police arrive to collect the dogs. It was a dramatic scene. Anne-Marie managed to grab Archie, but Bessie ran off, terrified. After hours of searching in the dark, her owners managed to coax her out of hiding. Archie, Deb says, “was dehydrated and starving”.

The woman was finally arrested and charged. But for “a very significant period of time”, Anne-Marie received serious threats from the dog trainer. 

The dognapped doodle 

Anne-Marie says there are two types of pet theft. “There is the intentional and targeted, where someone breaks into a yard with the express intent of taking a pet.” It could be an emotional, revenge-based theft. And in that case she has to explore what might have led to that. 

The other type of theft is more opportunistic. A pet has escaped, a gate left open, fireworks have gone off “and someone finds that pet and keeps it instead of doing what they are supposed to do, which is take it to a vet or a pound or a council ranger.” 

In the case of Maple, a cavoodle, it was a dispute between two parties who had bought her with plans to make money by breeding from her. 

“We agreed on sharing expenses,” says Kylie Riley, who was involved, “but Maple quickly became the kind of dog where we thought, no, it’s not right, we shouldn’t breed her. She was a family dog and didn’t have the temperament to be bred.” 

Maple with Anne-Marie and owner Kylie was part o a dispute between co-owners.

They were negotiating to pay out the costs to one of the co-owners when Maple went missing. There was CCTV audio of Maple being enticed from the family home. “They had her for 11 days and lied about it.” 

Kylie’s daughter, Georgia, was “beside herself. We tried to confront them, but they refused to speak to us. They wouldn’t even answer their door. I confronted one of them and I said, ‘Have you seen Maple?’ They were like, ‘Nope’. And walked inside and slammed the door. I texted them and was immediately blocked.” 

Anne-Marie stepped in. 

“She interviewed every person in my street. She got as much footage as she could from everyone. She confronted them.” And she negotiated, gradually de-escalating the situation. 

“It wasn’t until they were confronted with proof they’d taken Maple that they were prepared to negotiate,” says Kylie. 

Kylie believes that “it is only because Anne-Marie was involved that I got her back. Because without her, I’ve no doubt they would have kept her and used her to make puppies.” 

Maple, she says, hasn’t been the same dog since. “We have had quite a few issues with her anxiety. She didn’t play with her favourite toy for weeks. She was edgy, barking constantly at the front door.” 

“It is only because Anne-Marie was involved that I got her back.”

Kylie Riley

Anne-Marie says there is often “some unpleasantness” with these cases, given the high emotions of people who love and have lost their pets. In the stress of it all, both clients and pet-nappers can be downright abusive. 

But searching for a missing pet can bring out the best in people as well. “It can be heartwarming when there is goodwill from complete strangers who just want to help a pet be found and reunited with its people,” she says. “Some of those cases are lovely to be involved in.” 

In 80 per cent of cases, Anne-Marie and her team return a pet to its owners, and that’s enormously rewarding. But the 20 per cent that remain unsolved are the cases that play on her mind. 

Some of those cases, she says, if subjected to a coronial inquest, “we are almost certain the pet would be deemed deceased. It’s just unfortunate that the body hasn’t been found so the owners don’t have that closure.” 

Then there are the cases where Anne-Marie is certain the pet is still alive, but try as she might, it can’t be found. “Where we know that the pet is not deceased,” she says finally, “those cases are just baffling. And they’re the ones that keep me up at night.” 

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