SHANGHAI, June 16 (Xinhua) -- With night vision equipment and pipeline detectors, he lurks around homes and hides in stairwells after dark. Not a burgler looking to break into houses, he is a pet detective.
Sun Jinrong, 39, is tasked with retrieving lost animals for their owners. In the past eight years, he has reunited more than 1,000 pet owners with their "fur babies" in China. He may understand the meaning of the phrase, "cats have nine lives," better than anyone else.
Sun started tapping the potential of the market in 2012, when many Chinese had never heard of the profession.
Without any expert to draw experience from, Sun slowly explored working methods himself out of an ardent passion for animals. Currently, he has built a pet detective team of 16 in Shanghai to help pet-owners whose animals have gone missing.
"In our limited lifetime, there are so few opportunities to create miracles. I hope that when I grow old, I can have some brilliant stories to share with people," Sun said, his shoulder still scarred by a cat's paw during a recent mission.
"The moment I saw the cat, I didn't have time to think about anything else, and I just wanted to catch it as fast as I could," Sun said. So he pounced with a sweep net in hands. While his shoulder hit the ground giving the panicked feline a chance to scratch him, it couldn't wriggle out of the net.
Many years ago, when Sun first came to Shanghai to earn a living, he entered a pet boarding school, a charity institution that also helps stray cats and dogs.
"We would often receive clues about injured stray cats and dogs somewhere, but when we went there to help, the animals were usually gone. We had to look for them," Sun said.
In the process, Sun began to think about where the animals might go.
"I would try to figure out their trails from the animal's perspective," Sun said. "For example, if a dog feels thirsty, where would it drink? Or if it's hot outside, where would it go to chill out?"
Gradually, Sun could find stray animals faster and more accurately than his peers. In 2013, he took it up as a career and became a pet detective.
"A few decades ago, cats and dogs were just 'functional animals' for Chinese families to guard their houses or catch mice. Gradually, these animals became our pets and our family members," Sun said. "People's love for pets spawned the pet detective business. I feel like we are not just looking for missing animals, but family members."
HOPE FOR LITTLE PAWS
Sun has a cache of professional pet-seeking equipment, including expensive night vision devices, glare flashlights, life detectors, and pipeline detectors. As cats usually show up in the middle of the night and are likely to hide in corners, Sun and his colleagues often lurk around local residential compounds at night and look for them in building staircases.
"We may even look like thieves to some people. We creep around and look around in the middle of the night, and sometimes we need to crouch in the area and look through a telescope," said Sun.
Stress of the job and being up through the night made Sun suffer severe hair loss. His employees come and go, and only those who endure the grind stay.
In order to improve the success rate, Sun bought expensive equipment, learned to communicate with pets from foreign animal experts, imitated bird sounds to attract cats, and quit smoking to get rid of cough which could scare animals away.
Each task involves thinking and learning. At first, the retrieved pets were directly handed over to their excited owners. However, Sun found that cats were easily frightened when taken back to their owners' homes and may escape again. Therefore, Sun always carries a white net bag in his backpack. Each retrieved pet is packed into the net bag Sun calls "Lucky Bag", and is only taken out if it has been inside the owner's home with locked doors and windows.
Perhaps only those who have lost pets better understand the challenges of Sun's career.
Li Ximao, a famous pet blogger with over one million followers on microblog Sina Weibo, shared the experience of looking for her missing cat on Weibo. She and the three other family members stayed awake for two days and two nights, calling at every garage door, checking the bottom of every car in the neighborhood, and following stray cats to find where their pet might be. Her knees and ankles swelled because of long walking.
After they couldn't locate the cat, Sun was summoned. He found the missing cat within three hours. Many pet owners who hired Sun are impressed.
However, Sun is also the target of scathing comments. Some people say his charges are too high, often much more expensive than a pet's value. Also, there is no guarantee that the lost would be retrieved.
But Sun said he never promises owners that their pets will be found.
"We can only use professionalism to improve the rate as much as possible. In fact, there are only two outcomes for retrieving a pet: it's either 100 percent or nothing," he said. "I prefer that the pet-owner can work hard with our team with all his or her heart, no matter what."
According to a white paper on China's pet business published by a Chinese pet industry website goumin.com, urban consumption in the pet market in China reached 202.4 billion yuan (about 29 billion U.S. dollars) in 2019. Data from iiMedia Research, a consulting agency, showed that the size of China's pet market will reach nearly 300 billion yuan in 2020. Pet-related businesses, including pet detectives and pet shipping, have seen a rapid rise.
Despite dozens or sometimes up to 100 orders every month, Sun's career seems to have taken a different direction. He started to post videos and content on social network sites, educating people to scientifically foster animals and reduce pet loss.
"An ancient Chinese doctor once wrote, 'I pray there will be no more illness in the world, even if my medicine rack will be covered with dust.' I also hope that through science, more pets will be safe at home, and pet owners will not suffer losses," said Sun.
Sun said he always says "bye" to his customers instead of "see you" because he wants pet-owners never to see him again.
"Our meeting was an accident that never should have happened. Owners should learn from the experience and provide better protection to their pets," Sun said.
"Please take care of your own pet because we charge a lot!" Sun wrote on Weibo. Enditem