03/11/2015 11:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This Is What It's Like To Be A Real-Life Pet Detective

Cathleen Calkins


How Annalisa Berns, owner of California-based Pet Search and Rescue Investigations, tracks down lost animals.

As told to Cathleen Calkins

On Finding the Just-Right Gig
"I'm a private investigator and Missing Animal Response technician, or a pet detective. When a dog or a cat -- or an iguana or a horse, you name it -- goes missing, the family contacts me, and I start gathering clues about the animal's recent activity. I always wanted to work with animals, and I love mysteries. This is the perfect combination."

On Her First Partner
"I adopted my dog Lilly ten years ago. Early on, I came home to find my flip-flops in a hundred pieces. Lilly needed a job! I found an organization called Missing Pet Partnership, which trains animal detectives as well as helps reconnect owners with their pets. I'd been working as a military contractor but was curious about a new career, so I took the 60-hour course on animal behavior and tracking -- and was hooked. Then it was Lilly's turn: I bought a live mouse, whom I named Target, and hid him everywhere to teach Lilly how to use her nose."

On Following Her Animal Instincts
"First, we walk around near where a pet was last spotted to pick up any relevant smells. Then I introduce Lilly to the animal's scent, usually from its bed or a toy. Once Lilly has that, she leads the way. A search can take anywhere from three hours to a couple of days, and my success rate is 70 to 80 percent. Animals are survivors: They fare better lost than humans do."

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