Pet-finding service generates complaints

Drew Varnes did what most people do when they lose a pet: He made calls, told neighbors and put up lots of posters. Then he heard about a website that claims it can help -- for a fee.

The Seattle man's 4-year-old poodle mix named Harley has been missing since the end of December. Varnes said Harley darted out of the house when he came home on December 30. She'd been frightened by loud fireworks outside. Varnes set up a blog for Harley on Facebook, plastered posters over a 10-mile radius and posted numerous ads on Craigslist. He also enlisted the help of a website called PetAmberAlert, based in New York state.

"They would call about 5,000 phone number in the vicinity of where she'd initially been lost. Plus sent out 250 fax notices to animal shelters and businesses," he said.

He said he paid $500 up front on his credit card, but was very unhappy with the results.

"I just think they didn't deliver as they indicated," Varnes said.

Varnes said, for starters, the alerts did not go out right away. Then, he said some people who got the robo call alerts called him to complain they were getting repeated calls even after answering the phone. Varnes said one person got 10 calls in a 10-minute period, but the calls cut off at the beginning and were not very clear.

"They couldn't understand anything about the description of Harley," Varnes said.

He also complained that he never got a promised list of names and locations confirming what services were performed.

I did find a Pet Amber Alert flyer for Harley posted on a bulletin board at the Seattle Animal Shelter.

"They come in our the fax machine and we then put them on our board," said Kara Main-Hester, who manages the shelter's volunteer programs.

According to Main-Hester, the Pet Amber Alert flyers come in about once a month and are sent by fax -- something any pet owner can do. After a period of time on the bulletin board, the flyers go in a binder which the shelter keeps on hand for the staff and the public. During my visit, the binder contained several alerts from Pet Amber Alert about other lost dogs in our area, along with various flyers made by pet owners.

Main-Hester said to her knowledge, the Seattle Animal Shelter has never seen a lost pet reunited with its owner as a result of Pet Amber Alert or a similar business.

"No, we haven't," Main-Hester said. "We don't know of any pets in Seattle that have been located because of that system."

Main-Hester adds that finding a lot pet takes more than paying a service to make robo calls and send faxes to pet-related businesses.

"You need to be out searching. You need to be contacting everyone in the neighborhood, posting on blogs, posting on Craigslist, posting on Facebook.That's how people get their animals home," she said.

It urns out Varnes was doing everything right on his own all along. After numerous email complaints, Varnes says the company refunded $390 of his $500 payment. As of this writing, he's still holding out hope that Harley will make it home.

The Seattle Animal Shelter says some pet owners may also benefit from the help of a nationally recognized non-profit that uses specially trained dogs to help track the scent of pets after they've gone missing. Just remember, you can't rely on any one tactic alone.

As of February 12, complaints about Pet Amber Alert had earned the company an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau in Los Angeles. The BBB in New York also showed numerous complaints and noted the company failed to respond to requests for substantiation of the company's pet finding claims.

I made several attempts to contact Pet Amber Alert for this report, but could never get to a human on the phone, or an option to leave a voice mail message. The link to contact them through email did not respond.