Blind and deaf chihuahua Martha was the victim of a brazen theft, but her owner went to extreme lengths to ensure she was returned safely.
While pet ownership has surged in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, so has the dark underworld of animal theft.
But a growing industry of pet detectives is reuniting owners with their fur-babies.
When Martha, a 17-year-old blind and deaf chihuahua, was taken from her home in Traralgon, Victoria, last year, Anne Marie, founder of Arthur and Co Pet Concierge, was contacted by her desperate owner to help track Martha down.
Just like detectives working a missing person case, Anne Marie’s team developed a case file for Martha with details on everything from her personality to physicality.
Investigators build case file
“The first thing that we do is to profile the case. So like with a missing child, or a missing person, every case is unique. Every pet’s personality is unique,” Anne Marie told news.com.au podcast The Dog Detective.
Martha’s owner, Ellen VanDeelen, who likened her pet to “an old frail lady”, adopted her companion when she was 15, to make sure her final years were as happy and comfortable as possible.
“She just needs all that extra care like an old person would in a nursing home, she needs people to look after her, but she’s got a lot of love to give,” Ms VanDeelen said.
But her world was thrown upside down when a visitor to her home snuck out with Martha hidden under their arm.
“Something told me something wasn’t right because they wouldn’t look at me when they left,” she said.
Ms VanDeelen couldn’t find Martha inside so she raced out to the garden to see if she had taken a little stroll.
“She wasn’t anywhere to be seen. My husband was in the garage, I ran in there and I said to him ‘Martha is gone.’”
Social media sought for help
The visitor wouldn’t answer Ms VanDeelen’s calls, so she took to Facebook in a desperate bid for the community’s help.
“I was worried if she was dumped somewhere where there were little kids … they could be picking her up and dropping her. Because she’s so old and frail, I just had all these worrying thoughts that went through my mind,” she said.
As weeks went by and Ms VanDeelen came no closer to finding Martha, someone recommended she get in touch with Anne Marie for help.
The pet detective gladly took on the case, combing through every detail possible to get the best idea of where Martha could be.
“We went through all of the case details, we then obviously profiled the case and came up with what we thought would be effective tactics tailored specifically to Martha’s case,” Anne Marie said.
Ms VanDeelen said she wouldn’t have coped if Martha had died while in the company of total strangers.
Detective closes in on culprits
After some gruelling but ultimately unsuccessful conversations with the people she believed were responsible, Anne Marie brought in a private investigator, Richard James, founder and director of RICIVA Investigations and Covert Solutions.
He visited an address where Martha was supposed to be, but found she had been moved elsewhere.
He tried a different home, but again, Martha was nowhere to be seen.
His probing appeared to have a paid off though, because the following day he received an all-important call.
“I had a phone call the very next morning to say that an unknown person turned up at a local lost dog’s home and dropped off Martha,” he said.
Owner’s emotional reunion
Ms VanDeelen immediately went to the dog’s home where she broke down in tears, offering her hand to an understandably ecstatic Martha.
“I never spoke, because she can’t hear me, but I put my hand out first. I just put my hand up to Martha’s nose straight away. She just had this big reaction and just started licking like crazy. She knew my smell so she knew she was safe,” she said.
“She knew she was back home.”
It was later discovered the chihuahua was stolen because of a family dispute.
Martha died a few weeks ago, in the care of her loving owner.
The Dog Detective is news.com.au’s new six part podcast serial lifting the lid on the complicated world of dog detectives, and the dark side of the pet community in Australia