Pet detective Babs Fry helps find missing dogs for free

Rotisserie chicken and a “pet recovery specialist” have played a critical role in reuniting many Southern California residents with their lost dogs.Take the case of Doctor, a mixed-breed dog who escaped from a pet sitter’s home just 20 minutes after Darlene and Paul Horn dropped him off. They were packing for a trip to Alaska when they got the call that their 6-year-old pup had gone missing.“As a childless couple, we consider Doctor pretty much our family,” Darlene Horn, 45, told TODAY.
Darlene Horn and her husband consider their dog, Doctor, a member of the family. They take him on vacations when possible, like this cross-country trip to Maine.Courtesy of Darlene Horn
Panicked, she reached out to Babs Fry, who is well known in San Diego for volunteering to help reunite owners with lost pets, particularly dogs. Fry shares photos, videos and stories of dogs lost and found on her Facebook page.The pet recovery specialist recommended they split up: One should wait at the pet sitter’s house in case Doctor returned, the other at their own home — with all doors open and the lights on. Meanwhile, they spread the news about Doctor on the neighborhood social network site Nextdoor as well as Facebook and Twitter (and canceled their trip to Alaska).
Doctor smiles at his family immediately after being reunited. The 6-year-old dog had been missing for 88 hours.Courtesy of Darlene Horn
Several days later, two neighbors reported seeing Doctor in a nearby canyon. Fry suggested the Horns use her not-so-secret weapon: rotisserie chicken. So Paul Horn spread a blanket near the last place where Doctor was seen and opened the package of chicken, releasing the aroma into the air. He sat quietly and, instead of screaming the dog’s name to keep from scaring him, jingled the belt that usually meant it was time for a walk.

Many dogs have a condition nicknamed “Frito Feet,” in which their feet smell little bit like corn chips. As Matt Soniak wrote in a Big Question on this site, this has to do with the kind of bacteria found on a pup’s feet, and “could be due to yeast or Proteus bacteria. Both are known for their sweet, corn tortilla–like smell. Or it could be Pseudomonas bacteria, which smell a little fruitier—but pretty close to popcorn to most noses.”

Minutes later, Doctor was in his arms, wagging like crazy. The couple was, of course, overjoyed.

“It had been 88 hours,” Horn said. “He had lost 3 pounds, but he was happy.”

Fry refused payment for her services and instead asked the Horns to “pay it forward” by helping others with lost pets.

“I’ve taken it to heart because this is priceless,” Horn said.

For five years, Fry, a 49-year-old realtor, has been helping people like the Horns because she can relate to the desperation of losing a dog. The longtime rescue advocate had fostered about 200 dogs when a particularly fearful pooch named Prada ran away after just 12 hours in her care. Thanks to advice from a friend who had experience finding lost dogs, she reunited with Prada a week later.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” Fry told TODAY. “It made me a believer.” Now Fry offers free phone consultations to “pretty much anyone” who calls about a lost dog; she fields about six calls a day. Most people are local, but some live out of state or in other countries, like Canada and Australia.