When you type in the words "pet detective" into Google, amongst the smattering of tutu-clad Jim Carreys, you'll find a lone link leading to Carl Washington: the best pet detective in the entire world.
He's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has never turned down a case. Carl is a man who loves animals and has been tracking down America's lost pets for 18 years. He's been hired to find pets in every state in the nation—except Maine and Washington, where pets are probably illegal—and has three crime-solving dogs at his disposal: a Terrier named Bill, a poodle named CoCo, and a Jack Russell Terrier named Rocky.
Carl's southern drawl is as utterly charming—and as hard to navigate—as his GeoCities-era website which is filled with glowing testimonials from the owners of pets he's found, but we had a blast talking to him about his toughest cases, favorite animals, and—of course—Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.
When did you start the pet detective life?
Probably about 18 years ago. I'd been in the woods since I was a kid, doing hunting trips, gambling trips, and chasin’ dogs. My neighbor lost his cat and I took a tracking dog out and found it for him. He paid me pretty well, and I realized I was in business. I've been doing this ever since. I probably solve, maybe, seven to eight cases a month, or something like that, or more. Hundreds of cases over the years.
How do you find a lost pet? I have the top tracking dogs, I have cadaver dogs, I have my experience, I’ve got Google maps. I put that all together—nothing spooky, no psychic stuff. I just get out there, and do the groundwork and shake people up, and shake up the woods, and go all through the woods for a body. [These dogs] get in the woods, and they get into areas that you can only go in one way and come out one way and stuff like that.
"I just get out there, and do the groundwork and shake people up."
What kind of case is the hardest to solve? Mostly stolen dogs or something like that, because people actually hide them and move them from one place to another. You can end up on the other side of town instead of just where the dog or cat was taken from.
Have a lot of these lost pets turned up dead?
Oh, believe it or not, ain't more than about one percent. I thought it would be higher too. Yeah.
So, Carl, where do these lost dogs go? Everywhere. Nowhere. They normally end up at somebody's house. The next door neighbor’s house or stuff. If they have pedigree, or something like that, the neighbors like to take them in, and try to keep them, and pass them on to their brothers and sisters and stuff.
Those sick f*cks try pass off the dogs as their own?! Oh, yeah.
Alrighty, then. What's the longest you ever spent on a case?
Oh, I spent 30 days on a case one time. Well, there was a lady that was sick from home, home-bound, or something like that. Her family was very wealthy, and this was up in Vienna, Virginia. They was very wealthy, and she just couldn't live without this cat. Every time I'd get the cat up a tree, something like that —it was already a feral cat when she got it—every time I'd get it up a tree, it'd jump out. So I made a special trap for it and everything. One day I pinned it on the car and brought it home to her.
What kind of animals have you looked for? Snakes, turtles, what's that little thing that spits all the time? What do they call it? I can't even think of that.
Uh, Llama? Naw. Anything but horses, probably so far.
What do people usually pay for you to find their animals?
As an average it's about $1,200 a day. That's a 24-hour day. $1,200 per day. That's a 24-hour day, now.
Do you like the job? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. This has been my profession for a while now. That's all I do for a living. I raised two kids and bought two houses.
Can we talk about the dogs you use for finding pets? Believe it or not, I'm high on Poodles and any type of Terrier. The Lab is nice, but they just can't get in tight places. I got one. I always keep a Terrier for tight places, you know? Basically, I prefer any dog that has a nose for hunting.
So, you’ve seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, right?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
And is it accurate? Yeah. Oh, yeah.
What would you have done differently than Ace? You can't do anything differently when you’re investigating. I would do exactly what he did. See, when you're investigating something stolen, you just gotta follow your mind, and creep around, and follow the trail, and when the trail get cold, you go back and start all over from the scratch. It's like a board game.
Even when it’s a missing dolphin from a football stadium? Yeah. If you’ve got missing birds and stuff, it's just you got to figure out how far they're able to fly. Are its wings clipped? Did it land on Tommy's house? Did Tommy's mother take it in? Is Tommy hiding it in the basement without his mother knowing? It's all kinds of things, but you always go back on your experience. History repeats itself, so if you had that case before, you have it again.
So, you have a similar cases, then.
Yeah. They're not all similar, but I'm just saying, they change because of the demographics on the earth, you know? If I'm in an alley of Philadelphia, up in there with the drug addicts, it's a lot different than being in The Hamptons, you know? Or being up in the mountains or something, or being in New Mexico over in the sand, you know? Or Texas down there with all the farms and stuff like that, all the orchards and stuff, so location, location, location.
Alrighty then! Have you ever lost a pet? Oh, yeah. I lost a Lab for about three days. I burned up a tank of gas on a motorcycle looking for her, so you know what that's like. I did everything I was supposed to do, and I got her back.
Where's the furthest you've gone to find an animal? I go coast-to-coast. California, up to Chico, California, Los Angeles. I've been everywhere but Maine. I've been trying to get there. They say the seafood is good. Just Maine and Washington state, the only two states I haven't been to. I'm out of Augusta [Georgia] right now. I was based out of Alexandria, Richmond for a long time, but my wife wanted to come down here and retire, so I've been down here in Augusta for about, maybe, 15 years now.
"I burned up a tank of gas on a motorcycle looking for her, so you know what that's like."
Do you carry anything on you like a tranquilizer gun or a net?
No, I tried. They won't give it to me because I don't have that certificate or whatever to, you know, to deal with any type of drugs, you know?
What advice would you give all those amateur pet detectives out there? You got to have hunting experience. Number two is, you got to have people experience. You’ve got to have that city knowledge and the urban knowledge or you’re going to get hurt.
Carl, do all dogs go to heaven? Dogs are only as good as their owners.