‘Forget Jim Carrey’ - Meet the real life pet detective finding missing animals in Sussex with the help of ‘one in a million’ dog

An experienced police sergeant turned pet detective has said his job would not be possible without the support of his ‘one in a million’ dog.

Friday, 23rd October 2020, 5:20 pm
Updated Monday, 26th October 2020, 10:47 pm

Wisborough Green dad Colin Butcher, 60, who has assisted in the infamous search for 15-year-old mongrel, Spillo, in Midhurst, has been recovering stolen and missing pets for more than 20 years.

Colin Butcher established The UK Pet Detectives in 2005, following careers with the Royal Navy and Surrey Police, and it has since become the ‘market leader’ in the investigation of crimes against animals.

Based in Sussex for the last 15 years, chief investigator Colin and his team complete ‘about 20 investigations a year’ in the county, which he said is split 50/50 on dog thefts and missing cats.

Colin Butcher with his dog Molly who can find missing cats from their unique smell. Pic Steve Robards SR2010194 SUS-201019-171132001

He said: “We only have a small team but we never say no. We have a specific set of skills that normally the police don’t have.”

Colin is assisted by his six-year-old cocker spaniel, Molly, who can find cats from their ‘unique scent’.

Colin, who has written a book about his unique pet which he found on Gumtree, said: “Molly is the only working, missing cat detecting, dog in the world.

“She does what’s known as scent match discrimination [and] the method is what’s known as sourced origin.

Colin Butcher with his dog Molly who can find missing cats from their unique smell. Pic Steve Robards SR2010194 SUS-201019-171025001

“She’s an air-scenting dog. She doesn’t track a cat’s scent across the grass.”

Colin, who trained Molly using a manual offered by police in Germany, said a cat can hide from a human, ‘and we would never see it’, but a cat ‘can never hide from a dog’s nose’.

He added: “When we assessed her, she had the perfect temperament for the job. Incredibly intelligent, very focused and a good problem solver. She hadn’t been spoilt by any bad training and most importantly, she didn’t react to cats negatively.

“Molly has a four out of five success rate with finding cats.

Colin Butcher with his dog Molly who can find missing cats from their unique smell. Pic Steve Robards SR2010194 SUS-201019-171155001

“We have people ask how to train their dog to be able to do it but most dogs will not be able to. It took me over a year and a half to train her.

“It requires a great deal of focus and it has to be the right breed of dog.

“She’s one in a million.

“She is going to be featured in [English broadcaster, journalist, and author] Clare Baldwin’s book, Ten Heroic Animals.”

Cases in Sussex

Molly has, so far, completed 121 recoveries and her century was in Devil’s Dyke in January.

Colin said Molly has proved to be ‘immensely successful’ in Worthing.

Colin said: “We’ve had six searches and recovered every cat.

“One of the Worthing recoveries is in the book. A cat got run over by a car, sprinted off and got locked in a garage. It had a broken pelvis and a broken leg.

“It was literally against the clock. If Molly hadn’t found its when she did, the cat would have died because it had internal bleeding.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I trained her up, as we can get to sick or injured cats very quickly. Normally they would hide and we would never find them.”

Colin said he has taken on dozens of cases in Sussex and was part of the investigation into the Brighton cat killings.

“We’ve been all over Brighton, Worthing, every single town over the years,” Colin said. “When we get a call from somebody in Sussex, we are usually keen to take it on because we can get to them relatively quickly.

“Molly is the real Duchess of Sussex. A good 20 of cases of her recoveries are Sussex based.”

Colin, who is ‘advising on two dog thefts in West Marden’ as well as continuing the search for Spillo in Midhurst, said he is successful in what he does ‘because the community helps me’.

He said: “The people in Midhurst were fantastic, for example. I was allowed to use CCTV footage whenever. I was really impressed.

“It took a long time to get people to forget the Jim Carrey image [but] I’m happy to say more people have seen us now.”

‘Why I wanted to be a pet detective’

Colin revealed that has ‘always intended’ to end up working with animals.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet but my parents had different plans for me and I went into the Royal Navy,” he said.

“As a kid growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, I thought I wanted to work with animals. It took me a long time to get to where I needed to be.

“When I joined the police, I was very keen to get involved in work with drugs dogs.

“I was a detective sergeant on a Guildford-based drugs-enforcement unit and I had a dog team based on my unit. I had to learn exactly how the Spaniels worked. Same way you would want to know what skills an officer had.

“That was the platform for me to move into a private detective agency.”

Colin said the skills he learned as a detective inspector, working on homicide and rape cases, were ‘transferable for dealing with dog thefts’.

He added: “A dog is a living part of the family group. I fully understand the pain people are going through.

“A lot of people feel guilty that they are grieving a missing pet but they shouldn’t.”

Colin said everyone who contacts the agency ‘goes through the same process’, adding: “We have a number of key questions which we ask to identify when the animal went missing, where in the country it is, what the owners have done.

“We will then decide if it goes forward for consideration for an investigation. We don’t like to work for people who have been reckless or careless.

“As with the Spillo case, it can be a long drawn out investigation and we need the owners to work with us.

“We won’t look for a missing cat if it’s outside two weeks. Normally won’t take on a dog theft outside 48 hours unless we feel we can recover evidence relatively quickly.

“We have to politely say no we can’t help if your dog has been missing for months.

“We’re not an organisation which is about raising invoices. We like to be successful with every case. We are not going to take on no-hopers and bring them crashing down.”

Why there has been increase in dog thefts during pandemic

Colin said dog thefts are usually driven by breed demand. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the supply chains used by illegal dog breeders, ‘smuggled in from southern Ireland or Europe’, have ‘all but dried up’.

“This has resulted in illegal breeders (Puppy Mills) getting the word out to dog thieves that they will take any intact/entire (unneutered) working pedigree especially spaniels and collies or their puppies,” he said.

“My estimate, based upon our contacts across the country and the calls we receive to the office is that 80 per cent of dog thefts this year (January to October) were committed by specialist dog thieves. Previously the figure was around 25 per cent.”

Colin’s book, Molly the Pet Detective Dog, which has been released in the USA this month, is available in the UK in Waterstones stores and online via sites including Amazon.

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world.  But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.