When Jayne Hayes lost her dog Hermes she was utterly distraught as any pet owner can imagine
The mini French Bulldog went missing from her home in 2003, when the breed was so rare most people didn’t even recognise it.
Desperate to find her, she pounded the streets, printed posters, drove round to vets, groomers, rescue centres and council pounds.
Still, it took her six weeks to trace her 30 miles away. Had it not been for Jayne’s dogged determination she may never have seen her again.
It inspired her to set up DogLost, a database to help owners locate their pets, and 15 years later, she has 120,000 people poised to help each time a dog vanishes.
Today, April 23rd, is Lost Dog Awareness Day and Jayne kindly agreed to speak to us about her work, and share her advice for owners if they’re ever faced with the nightmare of losing a pet.
What inspired you to set up DogLost?
I decided to set up a lost and found database as when my own dog Hermes went missing there wasn’t anything online out there.
Losing your pet is terrifying. You can’t think straight and go through so many emotions, but I was fortunate enough to get my dog back.
I decided I wanted to use what I’d learned to help others.
What happened with Hermes?
I opened the back door to our old home, we used to live in Hermiston Hall, a manor house in Doncaster, in the morning so our three dogs could run outside, as I did every day.
I walked to the front door to greet them, opened it, and Hermes had gone. She’d been stolen. I was frantic.
My friend made me posters and we drove round to about 90 different places, rescues, vets, councils. I’d already rang them beforehand to ask if they’d seen her.
But when I got there only four people knew what I was talking about, they hadn’t taken down details, people were so busy.
It made me realise how hard it was. All the dogs at the rescues were jumping up and I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, these are somebody’s pet.’
At a pound, I asked them what PTS meant after seeing it written on the cages. They told me, ‘It’s seven days until they’re put to sleep.’ It broke my heart.
Owners didn’t know they were there and I vowed I’d do something about it.
We found her through complete strangers who saw me putting up posters.
One lady took one from me. Her daughter worked in a vets 30 miles away and it was that vets that called and said a woman had walked in, seen the poster and recognised her.
Hermes was a French Bulldog and at that time they were rare. There was only 320 in the country and it was the sort of dog people looked twice at.
So what happened next?
The woman who had seen her phoned me and told me that every day she’d been phoning all the organisations I was calling.
No-one made the connection. She even phoned the police and said her neighbour had turned up with a French Bulldog that was worth thousands of pounds.
The couple were unemployed and there was no way they could have paid for her. She’d even said to them what a lovely dog she was and asked what breed she was – they didn’t know!
She told me where they lived and we contacted the police but they wouldn’t help so we staked out the house.
We spoke to the neighbours who had dogs and asked them to let us know if they left.
It sounds so dramatic, but you’d do anything to get your dog back wouldn’t you?
Absolutely. We had a tip that they got on the bus and went into Worksop town centre every Wednesday to sign on and they had the dog with them.
I went in the car with my partner, and as soon as I saw them he ran out and grabbed the dog. Someone thought we’d stolen her and I said, ‘No, it’s our dog!’
A mob came from nowhere, kicking my husband and I was on the phone with the dog, clutching her. The police came and wanted to arrest him for affray.
Eventually they worked out what had happened. We were just so relieved to have her back.
A recent report by Direct Line found five dogs are stolen every day in the UK and only one in five are recovered?
Yes, it’s a huge problem and I wanted to do something to help. And also to help the people who lost their dogs too.
So how did DogLost begin?
Well I’d never even used a computer when I started the DogLost website and I did it all on my own and it was entirely self funded.
Word spread and we added missing dogs to the database and people who wanted to help owners find them.
Now, we have 120,000 people on our database and within minutes people of a dog being reported missing, they start sharing it so people can look for them.
For every two people who join, we get one dog back. Dog wardens and vets use us and can check on gender, age, area and ideally find the dog.
We keep our records forever. We’ve had dogs reunited with owners after five and eight years.
That’s remarkable. And you work with rescues too?
We work with the RSPCA, with Battersea Dogs Home and the police. People trust DogLost which means the rescues work with us too so they have space for other dogs.
Sometimes we put up a dog on the ‘Found Dog’ page and send it out and so many people don’t recognise them but they remind them of a pet they once had.
They’ll say, ‘Oh doesn’t that look like our Benji, he’s in the kennels, let’s go and see him,’ and they end up taking a dog. It’s so lovely.
I thought it would be a couple of minutes a week and it has taken over my life. I sold my manor house and gave up everything to fund it but it’s so rewarding.
Can you talk us through what happens when a dog is reported missing?
Yes, the owner calls us and we calmly gather the information we need to try to find their dog.
So their name, age, sex, whether they are microchipped or tattooed, if they have any distinguishing marks or features, where they went missing and contact information.
We put clear details on the website and make up a poster for the owner to print and distribute in their local area.
We press a button and immediately alert pet owners nearby. Owners are told to put posters up where people go; cashpoints, stations, shops, get them in the local paper and on the local radio. You have to be positive and think, ‘Yes I will see my dog again.’
For every day a dog is missing there are ten people out there who will see them. Neighbours, visitors, the postman. Dogs can’t talk but people can.
What else are owners told to do?
We have 50 regional volunteers so as soon as a dog is reported lost the volunteer will send them a list of all the relevant organisations in their area.
On there will be councils, wardens, vets, rescue centres and the owner is asked to call them and tick off on the list. We urge they to keep going to places and ringing, just like I did.
We see lots of posts about missing dogs on social media, does this help?
Yes, but it’s a combination of doing things the old fashioned way too. Not everyone is on Facebook and the internet and it’s dog walkers and owners who are most likely to spot a dog.
If you share a post on your personal page that your dog has gone missing, your friends will see it, but if we share it, we can reach thousands more people.
Facebook or other platforms are excellent at spreading the word but it’s unlikely that social media alone will find a dog.
Are there any measures owners can take just in case their dog is ever lost?
Make sure they’re microchipped or tattooed. We actually prefer tattoos as vets will check eyes and ears as soon as they come in and they will notice the tattoo in the ear.
It’s a reference number and you call the National Tattoo Register and they will give you the contact details.
Also, keep microchip details up to date. This has been a legal requirement for over two years but you would be surprised how many people move or change phone numbers and can’t be traced.
Have photos of your dog from the front, and from both sides so they can be easily identified from a poster.
What do you think needs to be done to tackle dog theft?
Ultimately, there needs to be tougher custodial sentences for people who take dogs as a deterrent.
We have a great relationship with the police with three police liaison officers who deal with the stations directly.
Five police forces work with us who have given us assigned officers who we can call and we’ve had a lot of arrests. They all want to help dogs too.
People who steal dogs or who are cruel to them don’t get on very well in prison as inmates are often dog owners and they give them hell.
We have a petition to reclassify the theft of a pet as a crime and you can sign it HERE.
Hearing your story shows how many people are dedicated to finding dog though which is amazing
We want to reassure owners that there a strong chance they will be reunited with their dog and there are so many people who want to make that happen.
If they lose a pet, try to stay calm, contact us, follow the advice we give from our many years of experience, and try to be positive and have faith.
To read about Jayne’s #pettheftaware campaign click HERE