- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

BALTIMORE | Laura Totis and her 4-year-old German shepherd Chewy arrived at the Reisterstown cul-de-sac. Two days earlier, Biscuit, a freshly shorn Wheaten terrier, had fled in a panic.

Waiting for Miss Totis were Biscuit’s owner, Namha Corbin, and the dog-sitting friend on whose watch Biscuit had vanished.

Miss Totis is one of two full-time pet detectives in the Baltimore area. Her friendly competitor is Sam Connelly of Pure Gold Pet Trackers. They both get several calls each week about a missing pet.

Usually it’s a dog or cat, but the two have looked for a ferret in Canton, a llama, and even a pet skunk in Pennsylvania.

Miss Totis and Mr. Connelly offer practical advice as part of their services. For example, they recommend well placed posters with a phone number in large type.

But both detectives also stand ready to deploy their four-legged associates, whose noses are capable of following a smell to its source.

That’s exactly what Chewy was eager to do in Reisterstown when she hopped out of the car in her blue harness. She was offered a few whiffs of Biscuit’s dog bed.

The details of Biscuit’s disappearance: Mareco Edwards, Miss Corbin’s friend, said Miss Corbin had dropped off Biscuit at his place on a Sunday before leaving on a business trip. Everything went fine until one evening when Mr. Edwards was working in his garage with Biscuit lying nearby. Then came a crack of bone-rattling thunder. Then came another ear-splitting clap. This time, Biscuit ran out of the open garage.

Mr. Edwards, 39, gave chase, then searched from his sport utility vehicle. Nothing.

Miss Corbin got home, and there was still no sign of her dog. She immediately joined Mr. Edwards in the search, but other than finding out that two neighbors had seen Biscuit in their yard, the night turned up nothing. The next day, Miss Corbin and Mr. Edwards took off work to print fliers, visit animal shelters and post Web notices.

Mr. Edwards stumbled across the Web site of LJT Training, Miss Totis’ dog training and tracking business in Hampstead.

The 45-year-old Totis said the large entourage could make a nervous dog even more so. Still, she thought Chewy might be able to provide vital clues about Biscuit’s flight path.

Miss Totis says about 80 percent of her animal cases are successful. She never did found the pet skunk in Pennsylvania, and the llama was captured before she got there.

A dedicated pet owner is the most important element, she says. In this case, Biscuit not only had ID tags but a microchip embedded under her skin.

Chewy began to pull Miss Totis, dropping her snout to the ground as she raced around streets and lawns.

Within minutes, Chewy gave her first head lift, a sign that she’d made an olfactory match. This was near woods a few hundred yards from Mr. Edwards’ home.

As Miss Totis and Chewy moved into the woods, Mr. Edwards followed with his flashlight. Miss Corbin called out, “Biscuit! Come on, boo-boo bear, where are you?”

Chewy kept poking around the woods, trailing what Miss Totis termed a very good track. But then, inexplicably, she lost her way.

Miss Totis then recommended putting food by the woods, along with flour to indicate whether any footprints left behind were Biscuit’s. Put an old shirt of Miss Corbin’s on the ground to give Biscuit a familiar smell.

Miss Totis asked for $50, mostly to cover her time and gas. Mr. Edwards doubled it, grateful for the leads and tips.

About 36 hours later, Miss Corbin’s cell phone rang.

P.J. Bean was calling. He had Biscuit. The dog was alive and safe; hungry and tired, but in good shape.

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