Good Housekeeping Magazine June 2005

It’s elementary, my dear Fluffy Pet Detective Melody Pugh can’t wait to get her paws on the next exciting case. by Jennifer Haupt

She looked like a bird-watcher standing on the quiet suburban street with her digital camera pointed upward at an oak tree. But what appeared in this woman’s viewfinder would’ve shocked the Audubon Society. Thanks to the camera’s telephoto lens, the bird-watcher (actually, a private detective) was peering into the second floor bedroom window of an old duplex home. And there she snapped the shot she needed to make her case: a man and woman entangled in a compromising position.

But Melody Pugh, 49, hadn’t been hired by a betrayed wife; she was doing her sleuthing on behalf of a distraught dog owner. A licensed pet detective, Pugh was hoping her efforts would help her to recover a stolen Yorkshire terrier named Duke.

A few days earlier, Duke’s owner had gone to Pugh’s Bremerton, Washington, headquarters in a quandary. Her beloved terrier was missing, and though she had a good guess as to who’d pinched the pooch (her daughter’s untrustworthy ex-boyfriend), she didn’t know how to get the dog back. When the client informed Pugh that the man had recently taken up with another woman, the gumshoe decided to stake out his new sweetheart’s home – hence the bird-watching ruse.

Pugh wasn’t sure the surveillance had paid off until she returned to her office to examine the photos. Then she discovered that one of her window shots had captured the couple in the act. Also in the frame: the missing terrier!

She called someone she knew in the sweetheart’s neighborhood and learned that the woman in the photo was married – to another man. Armed with that information and the picture, Pugh returned to the house, rang the bell, and told the woman who answered, “You have 15 minutes to return the dog – or I’m giving his to your husband.” Needless to say, Duke was soon back in the lap of his owner.

Clearly, Pugh is a woman who will do whatever it takes to return a missing pet to its master. And her achievements prove it: During her seven – year career, this private eye has returned nearly 900 pet to homes across the nation, for an amazing 80 percent success rate.

A lifelong animal lover and police officer for eight years, Pugh discovered her calling after her beloved kitty Norman went missing in 1998. The feline had bolted from her car right outside the vet’s office, and Pugh felt responsible. Driven by guilt and sorrow, Pugh searched tirelessly, printed thousands of flyers, and fielded hundreds of calls. “Family and friends started to give up after a few weeks, saying it was time to move on,” Pugh recalls. “But how could I do that to Norman? He was depending on me to love him enough to find him.” After 95 days, the big break came: A newspaper carrier called to say she’d recognized Norman from the posters and had scooped him up.

In the months to of searching before she found Norman, Pugh discovered dozens of other lost animals and was able to return many to their grateful owners. That experience convinced her that she might have a future as a real – life Ace Ventura. So she obtained a private investigator license, with a specialty in locating lost animals. What makes her different from most other pet finders is that she’s bonded, meaning she has insurance against lawsuits. Have a police background helps in cases like Duke’s, in which it seemed that the animal wasn’t lost but stolen. (Nearly two million animals are nabbed every year, often right from their owner’s yard; some are sold to research laboratories, dog fight rings, or puppy mills.)

Pugh’s methods aren’t always traditional (one a few occasions, she’s called in an animal communicator), but they nearly always work. One of her favorite techniques: animal profiling. In one such case, Cynthia Hildebrand of Pendleton, Oregon, reported that Booker, her prize winning schipperke, had run away from a dog show five days earlier. Hildebrand had organized a search party, with no results. So Pugh went to the profile. Learning that schipperkes are unlikely to run far before hunkering down, she set a humane trap – containing raw hamburger in a bowl – a quarter mile from where Booker had last been seen. Early the next morning, the runaway dog appeared, and the trap closed around him. “Melody has a sixth sense when it comes to lost animals,” Hildebrand says gratefully.

In most cases, however, Pugh’s first move is more prosaic: She visits the local shelter. “I check out the place in person,” she says, “because sometimes the pound makes mistakes in the written description of the animal’s gender, breed, or color.” If there’s no sign of her quarry, she’ll make two sets of flyers: one that’s descriptive to hand out and one with big photos to post. Then she’ll set out on foot to look for clues like a broken spider web, a tuft of fur, or a pile of droppings. She’s been known to track paw prints through forests, into Dumpsters, and under homes. Her most unusual resource for luring a lost animal out of hiding: a spray bottle containing the pet owner’s urine, which she says “carries the strongest ‘home scent’ there is.”

When she’s not out investigating a case, Pugh spends time comforting people who call at all hours to talk about their missing loved one. Because of her relationship with her own pets – she has seven cats, all rescued from abusive situations or the streets – she empathizes with her clients.

“Melody is just as caring with people as she is with animals,” says Teri Olson, a former lead animal control officer for the Bremerton Animal Control, who first met Pugh during her search for Norman. “She’s truly an angel.”

Pugh’s love of animals runs so deep that sometimes she’ll forfeit her $100.00-per-hour fee to conduct a search. “I’m a softy,” she admits with a smile. “If an elderly woman is missing her faithful companion or even if someone just doesn’t have the cash, I’ll take the job for free. I remember how alone and helpless I felt when Norman was gone.” And no matter whom the client is, Pugh will work day and night until every lead is exhausted. As she says, “The animals are counting on me.”

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