By Sophie Norris
A mum-of-one who has helped hunt down hundreds of missing dogs since her own dog was rescued two years ago has been dubbed ‘the real-life Ace Ventura: Pet Detctive.’
Donna Ryan, 49, set up Bindi’s Lost and Found, a lost dog group on Facebook, in April 2016, after a beloved sproodle, Bindi, was found after five days.
Since then, Donna and her huge team of volunteers have helped rescue over 600 dogs and continue to work together in a race against dog wardens.
In Liverpool and its surrounding areas, the price for a dog to stay in a kennel for one day if it is picked up by a warden ranges from £68 to £110 per night, then £10 – £25 per night after
Donna’s team aim to find the dog, rescue it and reunite it with their owner before the warden gets involved.
When a dog is missing for a prolonged period, Donna enlists Drone SAR for Lost Dogs UK, a group of volunteer drone pilots, who attend searches with their equipment and use high-tech thermal imaging cameras to locate animals that may be in dense woodland.
Donna, from Frodsham, Cheshire, said: “We laugh when I’m called Ace Ventura.
“It’s not just me. We’re a whole community who come together and help each other.
“We have a number of lost and found groups for the area and the one that my friends and I run has 26,000 members. We work across all of the North-West.
“One of our biggest drivers is to stop the dogs going to the dog warden because they can charge anything from £68 to £110 per night, then it goes up by £10 to £25 for each night after that.
“If an elderly person or a child lets out a dog by accident, people often don’t have that kind of money going spare.”
After having treatment for breast cancer in 2015, Donna decided to turn ‘pet detective’ while off work recovering.
Since then, her commitment has helped reunite thousands of owners with their much-loved pets.
Although Donna is the admin for many groups, she insists it is all about coming together and showing good team work at the vital moment.
Donna said: “After my treatment, I had a few months off work to recover and I threw myself into this to keep busy.
“When I’d survived and won the battle I realised life should be grabbed with two hands so that’s why I set up my group.
“We get the community involved and we’ve got tens of thousands of members.
“We have a great network where someone will post saying ‘we’ve had a dog go missing’ and within minutes another person will write that it has been scanned and taken in.
“If the dog doesn’t have a microchip, we do have to inform the dog warden unfortunately.
“We still try to get to the dogs before the wardens and in 90 per cent of cases, we are successful.
“If a dog is lost for up to 48 hours, we’ll even use scenting, which involves an owner spreading urine outside of their homes to attract the dog back. They might also drag old clothes along the floor or leave the dog’s bed outside so they recognise the smell.
“If we suspect a dog has been stolen, our main thing is to make the dogs too hot to handle as soon as they are reported missing by sharing their pictures on Facebook.
“We have such good connections among the lost and found groups that we have massive power. “This often means that the groups that do sell stolen dogs often struggle to do anything with them because we watch the pages like hawks.”
Working with Drone SAR for Lost Dogs UK and using their state-of-the-art equipment to help give her searches an extra push by ruling out large sections of woods or farmland.
Donna said: “I deal with the searches. If a dog has been lost for a few days, I have access to the drones and we use pilots who help us on the searches.
“The drones use thermal imaging to detect dogs that might be hiding in forests or dense woodland. They cost £25,000 each to buy.
“The drones we use are operated by volunteers – my main assistants are Carl Brierley and Drone SAR (Search and Rescue) – a network of volunteers who are amazing.
“They kindly help and we are indebted to them as it adds another dimension when dogs are missing for some time.”
Donna believes in the last two and a half years she has come to understand just how brilliant her community can be.
She claims on searches she has attended or ran, she has worked with members of the emergency services who have come along even on their days off, parents with babies on their back and even disabled people in wheelchairs.
Donna said: “At a recent search in Delamere Forest, near Cheshire, we had doctors, nurses, mums and dads with their children in prams. We’ve even had people in wheelchairs.
“In St. Helen’s, we recently had shop owners going out on their lunch breaks to help.
“The ones that can’t get help out on the searches outside are on social media searching groups.
“Over 60 people turned up on that Sunday morning to help.
“Most don’t know the owners or the dogs but the majority are dog owners and they just want them to be reunited with their owners.
“Every single owner we reunite with their dog says they can’t believe the community spirit.
“Even my own dog, Ozzy, a Bijon Frise, comes out with me.
“Importantly, a key part of our function is to support families and individuals, particularly children who are deeply distressed when their family member and pet is missing.
“When a family pet is stolen it is devastating and they need support and guidance.”