Pet's best friend: Bremerton woman devotes countless hours to rescuing animals
By Christine Clarridge
BREMERTON - There's not much that pet detective Melody Pugh won't do when it comes to rescuing lost, stolen and abandoned pets.
She'll dig through garbage to find owners who have moved and left their pets behind. Then she'll track them down and confront them. She'll stake out a home where she thinks a stolen dog is held. She'll stalk the woods at night where a lost cat has been seen. She'll crawl under houses, post fliers and search the classifieds.
And her vigilance doesn't stop once an animal seems safe in someone's arms, either.
"I'll make surprise visits to homes where I've placed (an abandoned) pet, and if I don't see the care that I want to see, I'll repo the pet," said Pugh, who visits up to a year later. "If I have to go back and fix what's wrong for that animal, then I will."
Pugh - who has reunited almost 400 pets with their owners since she began doing this - is one of a few Washingtonians who call themselves pet detectives, but she is the only one she knows of who goes so far in her quest for justice.
She started her business three years ago when her cat, Norman , escaped from her car during a routine visit to the vet. She spent the rest of that day and night combing the surrounding woods and back yards for him.
She quit her job at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and spent, she said, every moment of every day looking for him.
"What I found is that family and friends begin to think the situation is hopeless and that you need to move on," she said. "They desert you after about three weeks. But I couldn't give up on Norman . I knew he was ought there counting on me to find him."
Pugh posted thousands of laminated fliers, knocked on hundreds of doors, walked countless miles and investigated more than 600 reported sightings.
In the 95 days it took to find Norman - who was eventually snagged when a newspaper carrier saw the cat, remembered the flier and called - Pugh encountered dozens of pet owners who shared stories of lost companions.
She found several lost pets and arranged several reunions while she was looking for Norman . She knew then that she had found her calling.
Pugh - 44, married and the mother of a grown child - grew up in Oregon with her sister and her mother.
She says her father, who left the family, caused her attachment to animals.
"I learned early on that some people will betray you, but no animals ever will," she said.
By the time she was 13, she had raised a rhesus monkey, back when that was legal, and donated it to the Portland zoo. She bred boxers, intending to sell them, but then trained them as service animals and gave them away. She dragged all manner of strays, and sometimes nonstrays, home for a bath.
"(My mother) was mad, but I wanted them to feel loved and cared for," Pugh said.
She thought about becoming a veterinarian, but school wasn't her strong point. Instead, she became a police officer and worked for eight years outside Portland .
She left police work about a dozen years ago, moved to Bremerton with her husband and took a job in security at the shipyard.
Pugh gets thousands of missing-pet reports through her volunteer work with local animal agencies and through her lost-pet Web site. Much of her work is holding the hands of distraught owners and leading them through a sometimes complicated process.
There is a specific way that fliers ought to be worded, for example, to garner the most response. And there are certain ways of dealing with shelters that are better than others.
She can't resist getting directly involved in as many cases as she possibly can, though, and she often works more than 12 hours a day on five or six cases at a time. She and her husband haven't been to a movie in the evening in two years because she's always working nights. She's put more than 15,000 miles on her 4-month-old truck as she's crisscrossed Kitsap County .
"She's great," said Teri Olson, Bremerton 's lead animal-control officer. "Nobody else has that kind of energy, and she can do things that I don't have time to do. When I turn them over to her, she just goes for it."
Pugh works on a voluntary basis with the local shelters, finding homes for hard-to-place animals. She accepts donations but charges nothing for her services, which sometimes involve hundreds and hundreds of hours.
"Sometimes you have to go above and beyond for the pets," Pugh said. "If I don't do it, then who will?
"If someone loses a pet I'm going to stay with them until they find it. If someone steals a dog, then I'll follow the leads until I find it. If someone abandons an animal, I'm going to find that pet a forever home, and then I am going to track down the people that left it and make their life a little bit miserable," she said. "Because those pets are counting on me."
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company