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Lamp-posts and tree trunks have long been neighbourhood notice boards for the desperate and the broken-hearted.
They stand sentinel for “missing” and “found” ads - the photocopied pleas from pet owners aching to be reunited with their furry friends.
They’re the kind of pleas Esmé Pretorius heard all the time taking calls at her partner Brad Nathanson’s private investigation practice in KwaZulu-Natal.
“People would be so desperate they’d phone us, asking for advice on how they could find their pets,” Pretorius says.
But Brad Nathanson Private Investigations in KwaZulu-Natal doesn’t look for pets, strictly speaking.
“All I could do was sympathise with them and I’d keep a lookout for the animals when I drove around the neighbourhoods,” Pretorius says.
Then in February this year Pretorius decided to set up a Facebook page called “Pet Detectives - Brad Nathanson Investigations” with the mission of being “an initiative to reunite lost pets with their lawful owners and to create awareness for missing animals”. In a matter of weeks the “Likes” starting growing and so did the posts. The power of social media connected animal lovers from across South Africa right through to Namibia.
“We had been contacted some time back by people looking for information about dogs smuggled across borders either to be sold or to be used for dog fighting and we were able to put that information up on the page, connect people and to make people aware how some criminal syndicates were working.
“The beauty of social media is that it’s a massive network and it’s like having thousands of eyes and ears out there, not just a dozen posters up in the two or three streets near your home. And the truth is people live on Facebook these days,” Pretorius says.
From the crime stories linked to theft and smuggling of sought after breeds of dogs and cats, the page is also used to alert authorities about cases of animal cruelty. People write posts and upload photos of incidents where a dog may be chained up all day or when pet owners have abandoned their animals for days on end, leaving them with just a ripped-up bag of food and bucket of water.
Pretorius, who can’t restrain the detective in her for long, admits that she will investigate many such cases herself and then get authorities to intervene.
But the Facebook page is also full of the posts of people just looking for their Fido or Fifi who has not come home for days.
There’s a post and photo looking for Captain Jack the green iguana. Owner Lynne has written with a sad face emoticon saying: “I need my boy home.”
There’s also a post searching for “Our baby Sky”, an 18-month old Labrador/ Boerboel dog and a missing notice for someone who’s “missing madly” her “Ginger, the most friendly and chilled cat”.
The page also has information on quarantine for pets, information about animal charity events and uses the network to re-home or foster animals.
“We don’t charge anything for this and so far we’ve had over 100 cases already where people have been reunited with their pets. It’s such a good feeling when that happens,” says Pretorius, an animal lover and human to four dogs and numerous reptiles and birds.
It’s the good news stories that make it all worthwhile for her - when someone responds to a post with a comment of “Have found your pet”.
It’s summed up in posts like the one from Paula van Wyk from Morningside, Durban: “We have found our Punch. SO relieved! Thank you for having this page. It is awesome so many people care.” - Saturday Star