Animal Rescue and Pet Recovery Specialist
Few situations are more frightening for a pet owner than when their animal goes missing. That’s when Babs Fry steps in. Nicknamed the “Pet Detective,” Babs is an animal rescuer and pet recovery specialist who provides incredible support during the most stressful moments for pet families, helping to reunite them with their lost pets. We spoke to Babs about her early beginnings in animal welfare, what she’s learned from decades of rescue experience and what it takes to make a difference in the life of each animal she comes across.
I lost a dog and I had an “Aha!” moment. I learned a lot in the eight days she was missing, and the first thing was that I didn't know everything I thought I knew.
I was fostering a fearful dog and was a specialist with these types of dogs. This dog would pee and poop herself from fright and couldn’t be touched. She jumped out of my husband’s arms and ran into the wilderness of Jamul. For a day and a half, all I could think is that I would never see this dog again. I had a phone call with someone who does what I do now, and I was desperate enough to listen and to do what I was told. I still thought her advice was crazy when my foster dog was in a trap in my driveway seven days later. I wondered, how could we not all know this information and how could we keep making these mistakes?
I then begged and begged to follow her, to learn and to be taught. Everyone wants to get involved in this type of work, but it takes a special level of commitment. You don’t quit until you get your dog home, and I vowed to pay it forward by sharing my experience. I didn't really realize where that was going. The more that I shared, the more people would reach out. And the more I shared, the more I wanted to learn and to perfect my craft. It blossomed into what it is today.
I have always been an animal lover. Even as a small child, I related to them on a level that was different. Animals were everything to me.
I was a Navy brat, so I grew up in Naples, Italy, where there's a hefty stray population. Early on, I got involved in getting animals into the shelters there. I’d see a stray dog or a cat who needed help and would do what I could. As I became an independent adult, I got more directly involved in rescue officially by being a foster and working with shelters.
I found my knack for helping fearful dogs and that is what led me down the journey that I’m on today. Now with thirty plus years of experience, I’ve found my niche.
My family had a German shepherd who passed away before we moved overseas, so we did not take on any animals for that specific reason. My parents stuck pretty hard and fast to the “no pets” policy while we were there, because they knew how difficult it would be trying to get them back to the United States.
Pets were always a bit of a revolving door for me. I was taking animals on and helping them get to a place where they could be rehomed, so it wasn't until actually I became an adult that I started to have my own pets.
I’m in the field 24/7. I am an official rescue and have a kennel license so that I can do what I do. I do have some personal dogs at my house, but try to leave room for strays and those with behavioral issues that need more help.
I also have a few of what I term “lifers,” who are more difficult to place. My husband (who is in Texas with some of our dogs) and I have pursued a property in Texas so that we can build a sanctuary of sorts where these dogs can have large yards and playtime.
The sooner I can reunite dogs with their families or find them a new home, the better. Then there’s a new spot open for the next fearful dog I find. Unfortunately, as we all know, not all the dogs running loose on the street have people looking for them. When I get involved, I do my best to make sure that their future is insured through proper screening and rehabilitation.
I have a very solid network of volunteers, fosters, rescues and other institutions that support what I do. I am intensely grateful for the relationships that I have with our local animal agencies, including San Diego Humane Society. It's a very collaborative relationship that has really made a difference for a lot of dogs who are loose and on the streets and need a little extra help. I am very grateful for the opportunity and the relationships that come with rescuing.
It makes me cry every time. Sometimes there are those cases where I feel so defeated, frustrated and discouraged, because it never ends. Sometimes the animal you've worked so hard for ends up not making it or disappears. I have some dogs I’ve cared for that I desperately want to be somewhere else, because I see a wonderful dog nobody else has gotten to enjoy. Then, a person comes in, who decides they're going to be there for that dog to help get them a brighter future. There’s always a plan out there.
I’m reminded on a daily basis that I’m just a tool and I’m along for the ride. I just have to trust the process which, funny enough, is the same thing I tell owners when their dogs are missing.
That’s a tough one. I really invest myself emotionally in every rescue and they're all different. Each one presents their different levels of emotions or challenges.
There is a dog, Fury, who took me two months to catch! She started in Spring Valley, went to La Mesa and bounced out of a trap. She made it all the way to Lake Jennings, which I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen pictures. She then spent some time gallivanting in Santee and ultimately ended up in Mission Gorge before I caught her. For two months it was a roller coaster ride with sightings all along the way. I now understand how she did it, and still intend to place her. She’s a wild one and will need a very special owner.
You forge a very unique relationship with people when you do this. Once the dog is safe, we kind of move forward, but I can probably name every dog I’ve helped. And there are a lot of dog owners I still think about.
Some owners will send me periodic messages or photos and updates on Facebook. I got a text message a few days ago from an owner whose little whippet I had helped save a year ago. They’re all meaningful and it’s a pretty amazing experience.
It’s always been for the animals. But I've been very blessed because this has allowed me to really grow as a person, and to grow with people. Every time I feel like there's not a good human being left on the planet, God gives me this amazing owner to remind me that there are good people out there. Sometimes I just meet good people helping strays.
What I do is not a black-and-white textbook. To be successful, I give you a recipe and we’ll make it a certain way based on a certain set of ingredients. The first thing to do is to call me, because there’s something to be said for a conversation.
I know this sounds crazy, but the first thing to do is stop looking for the dog. Everything that we do as human beings is based on our human fears feelings, and none of that aligns with dog behavior. The sooner people can reach out to me, the better, because I can give them the recipe to apply to their specific situation.
At the end of the day, I’ve been there, done that. Most people don't know what to do, or think they know what to do, and then find they’re hysterical because it didn't work. More often than not, all I do is talk pet parents off the ledge and the dog ends up home.
It’s all a really humbling experience, and it’s all about the dogs.
Babs is always willing to help owners with lost pets. She can be reached at 619-249-2221.
Published: April 19, 2021