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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Animal Anguish? Call Real Pet Detective

As a criminal investigator Valery Sugrobov used to study the fingerprints and modus operandi of his suspects. Ten years after leaving the force, Sugrobov does much the same f but with dogs, cats, birds, snakes and even boars, as the only pet detective in Moscow.

Instead of police headquarters at Petrovka 38, Sugrobov now works out of a small two-room apartment on Ulitsa Metallurgov in the far northeast of Moscow.

The door opens to reveal a large man dressed in khaki and an odd smell.

Flies buzz around the room, a newly found dog pads around happily and a white cat balances precariously on the balcony railing. In one corner of the room, a large, malevolent-looking boa constrictor writhes in a small terrarium, hissing at the lamp inside. Above, seemingly unaware of his potentially hostile roommate, a guinea pig roams his cage. In a neighboring tank, a turtle flounders in shallow water. Sugrobov's 19 other cats are locked in the bedroom.

Sugrobov takes on virtually any animal case: from finding lost dogs to getting cats out of trees to finding a home for 40 kilograms of frogs.

His contacts with the police mean he is often called to help them with animal woes around the city f as when eight boars were found running wild in a local forest. Another time, the police handed over thousands of frogs found in a car owned by a Vietnamese restaurant taking them to their doom. Sugrobov released the frogs in a local forest to the surprise of swamped picnickers.

Once, during a drinking bout, a snake-lover released his 30 adders to crawl free all over his apartment. The neighbors called the police to complain and the police called Sugrobov, who gathered up the snakes, put them in a sack and kept them on his balcony until finding them a good home at the zoo.

In another corner of his apartment, Sugrobov keeps a battery of instruments that help on the job. Pointing to each one in turn, he shows straggly wigs used as part of a disguise when trying to get information from local down-and-outs f who, he says, often steal or know of lost dogs f various sticks with hooks to get cats out of trees, protective equipment against insects, bags for snakes and tranquilizer guns for large animals.

Sugrobov's love of animals began when, as a child, he was given a turtle. His grandfather, a man with an "unusual sense of humor," bought him a second turtle and Sugrobov spent hours trying to get the pair to mate. It was only once he discovered they were both male that Sugrobov decided to study animals with a bit more discipline.

This awakened his interest first in anatomy and eventually in criminology.

"I was interested in all the same questions that had earlier excited Sherlock Holmes," Sugrobov wrote in his brochure-size book "How to Find Lost Animals."

"As a child I unsuccessfully asked my mom to bring me home a skeleton," recalls Sugrobov, who pestered relatives with questions like, "Do people get bruises after death?"

His curiosity led to a successful career in the police f despite once mistakenly taking his own fingerprints at the scene of a crime f until the collapse of the Soviet Union 10 years ago.

It was a difficult time for Sugrobov, and he turned to animals instead of people.

"Animals are grateful to people, they don't get offended," he said.

Sugrobov offers his services free of charge, but he is searching for sponsors as feeding the animals is costly. Often he is forced to rely on spoiled meat donated by local butchers or rats that he catches.

Sugrobov found a group of like-minded people to help him. Now his 20-man crew includes an alpinist who climbs trees to rescue cats, several snake specialists, an expert on wild animals and Sugrobov's patient wife, who doesn't mind his filling the apartment with the waifs and strays he finds on the street.

Like any good detective, Sugrobov has a sparse, often wry style when describing some of the things he sees on the streets.

"A cat up a tree. She can't climb down for the fifth day. Terrible weather. Rain with snow. ? Viktor the alpinist climbs up the high pine ? spends two hours in the tree but gets the cat down," writes Sugrobov in his book.

The next case of a stranded puss has a far more tragic outcome. The cat's owner follows the alpinist up the tree, falls and dies.

"On the day of the funeral we take the abandoned animal with us," writes a somber Sugrobov.

It is not the glamorous work depicted by Jim Carrey in the film "Pet Detective."

Grim finds are common.

In another episode from his book Sugrobov writes: Another call from the police. A half-eaten body has been found in an apartment, but two dogs won't let the police inside. Sugrobov's team comes and takes the dogs away.

In other cases, they have found human down-and-outs eating their canine counterparts, the remains of animals tortured by others.

"[The film] does it with humor, but we have more serious work," said Sugrobov, who has campaigned against the wholesale slaughter of stray dogs and for tougher laws against animal cruelty.

Sugrobov assesses his success rate in finding lost animals at about 50 percent.

"It depends on the breed," said Sugrobov. "Long-haired [animals] are easy to find; small ones are harder to find, as anyone can take them."

Factors determining success include the season and the ease with which an animal's droppings can be found.

On the cover of his book, Sugrobov is pictured as a Sherlock Holmes of the animal world: magnifying glass in one hand, microscope nearby and a small mongrel in his arms. The back cover boasts a photograph of Kuzma, a 11-kilogram cat that found the strength to walk away from its home and get lost. Scrawled underneath is a note from Kuzma's owner thanking Sugrobov for finding her mammoth feline.

But some animal cases are beyond even Sugrobov. He had to refuse once when he was offered an orphaned camel.

"I live on the fifth floor. Not suitable," he wrote. "Although the wife's birthday is coming up soon. I could give it to her. That would be a surprise."

As of September, Valery Sugrobov can be contacted at 305-6245.