Doggone? Bloodhound Ron Dufault Runs Around in Circles to Help Pet Owners Find Their Missing Pooches

updated 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

With a name like Igor von Nöbachtal, this canine clearly was no ordinary mutt. "He's a schutzhund, level III, the top rating you can get in a German shepherd," says Denver attorney Howard Glicksman, who paid $10,000 to import the prizewinning dog from Bavaria. But only hours after his arrival in Denver, Igor vaulted a fence and vanished. "The police brought in tracking dogs and even two bitches in heat to lure him out," Glicksman says. But for two days there were no leads, no sightings. So the distraught owner put Ron DuFault on the case.

DuFault, 53, is a professional pet tracer, a kind of private eye specializing in missing animals. In 15 years his Pet Recovery Service has reunited more than 2,000 dogs and cats—occasionally even a bird or snake—with their owners. Drawing on the proven theory that dogs tend to explore new turf in ever expanding circles, DuFault pinned down a neighborhood of about one square mile in which Igor was likely to be found. Sure enough, an untagged dog matching Igor's description was picked up there a week later and taken to a shelter. "If it hadn't been for Ron's methodology," says a grateful Glicksman, "I would have lost Igor."

Indeed, as in most detective work, DuFault's sleuthing boils down to patient slogging. A former auto-finance investigator, he now works out of a home office in a duplex apartment he shares with his wife; the principal tools of his trade are a computer and the telephone. His normal procedure includes reward posters, often distributed in schools ("Kids always keep their eyes open," says DuFault), and a daily canvass of a dozen shelters within 50 miles of Denver. When he started, he says, "I was finding maybe three of every 10 pets I looked for. As I built up my technique and contacts, I upped the recovery rate to eight of 10."

DuFault's fees are negotiated, averaging $250 per case, and he never accepts the reward money put up by owners. While he sometimes bears the brunt of the blame for lost pets not found, most of his endings are happier. "Some people treat their animals almost as children, so seeing people's faces when you bring the pets back—well, that's some reward," says DuFault, who by the way has never lost a dog of his own. He doesn't keep pets.

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