Game is afoot as ‘Sherlock Bones’ reunites missing pets with their owners
Trainee accountant Robert Kenny’s life changed when he rescued a stray dog
Pet detective Robert Kenny with his son Ben (6) and search dog Gina. Photograph: Frank Miller
The postman calls him the “catman”. Down at his local, he’s known as Ace, as in “Ventura”. He’s even been called Sherlock Bones. But until a few years ago, Robert Kenny was a trainee accountant searching for a niche in life. That all changed in 2006 when he was on holidays in the US.
As he strolled along the flat expanse of Monterey beach in California, Kenny was looking forward to the day ahead. It was to be a brief taste of adventure out on the ocean doing some deep-sea fishing. Looking across the strand, however, he noticed a golden retriever on the rocks stranded by the tide. “It looked distressed, and didn’t seem to know what to do, so I swam across and brought it back to safety.”
The shivering animal had no collar or identification tag but Kenny was determined to find the owner. It took him four hours and the help of a local radio station to track him down. “It was the best feeling ever when I reunited them. That rescue was life-changing.”
As the owner pressed a $1,000 reward into his hand he told Kenny he should be a pet detective. “I’d never even heard of such a thing, but I thought that’s a lot of money for a few hours of really rewarding work.”
“I was bored out of my tree as an accountant. So when I was interviewed on radio and television in America about the rescue, I began to think, this is something I could do.”
It wasn’t an easy decision. Intensive pet detection courses cost thousands and were conducted in modules over two years in Fresno, California, but his partner Nicole was pregnant with their son at the time. Kenny had always had an affinity with animals, however, as did Nicole, so he went. “I’m the fella you see pulling up on the M50 gathering up the dog with the broken leg that has been run over.”
In Fresno he studied everything from animal psychology to profiling to DNA gathering. He learned to use motion-sensor cameras, listening devices and humane traps.
Profiling is key, as breeds have tendencies when it comes to straying. “I can tell you a little bichon frise probably won’t go more than 250m from home, whereas a red setter might travel 15 miles.”
Back home, he set up Happy Tails pet detective agency. Newspaper clippings on happytailsdetective.com tell cheery tales of puppies and kittens reunitedwith their owners.
Kenny never had a pet until he was 24. “We had dogs, but they weren’t allowed into the house. They weren’t pets. My first pet was my cat Snowman.”
He now has six cats, ranging from 14 years to a few months old. “Dixie is my favourite. I recovered her from a derelict building. I found another one in the engine of a car when she was three months old. They are all rescued. I don’t need an alarm clock. They have me up at the crack of dawn if not before.”
Sitting in the blazing midday sunshine in his Happy Tails-emblazoned navy jerkin, Kenny looks wan. He has been up since 5.30am beating the bushes of Meath for a cat. He has also recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, which, he says, took a lot out of him.
Happy Tails pays the bills (it charges individuals from €50 per hour, though there are discounts for the elderly and separate rates for corporate clients) but Kenny is also director of Leinster Rescue, which finds homes for ill-treated or injured animals. These days he gets about 300 calls a week about missing or stolen pets. He reckons he has found about 1,000 missing cats in the past six years.
He hates to say no to a case. “But if an animal has been gone for more than five days, often it’s too late to track them down.”
It’s about seven years since that fateful day in California took Kenny in a new direction. “Everybody has a niche. Before that day on the beach I was never up before 8 in the morning. Now I’m in charge of my destiny and I know I am helping helpless creatures.”