Landa Coldiron: Pet Detective

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Pet detective Landa Coldiron uses bloodhounds to resolve cases of missing domestic animals. 

Point Dume resident Julie Nistico Hamm was desperate. Her pet cat, Lexi, had disappeared somewhere in the neighborhood and had not come back. 

She contacted neighbors, posted signs, even ran an ad in the newspaper. Nothing. 

“I needed to know for sure. I was tired of thinking of what may have happened to her,” Nistico Hamm said. 

So, after a week, she turned to Lost Pet Detection and Landa Coldiron. 

Dressed in combat fatigues, trailed by three bloodhounds, Coldiron set out to find Lexi. Using scent to determine a direction of travel, Coldiron’s dogs followed a trail into a ravine between Cliffside Drive and Bison Road that appeared to be Lexi’s last known location. A forensics agency analyzed fur samples found at the site, which matched Lexi’s. In the end, Coldiron’s team concluded that Lexi had fallen victim to coyotes. 

“I was skeptical at first,” Nistico Hamm said, “but then I was shocked. Her dogs followed [Lexi’s] scent trail right up to where she was before the coyote got her.” 

Coldiron said this outcome is unfortunately the most common. 

“Most of my cases don’t end well,” Coldiron said. “But the owners get closure.” 

Lost Pet Detection has had more than 2,000 cases in the eight years since Coldiron started the business. And although “live walk-up finds” are rare, she has had her share of happy moments as clients and their pets are reunited. 

“People don’t realize that 10 million pets go missing every year,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the owners. If I say do A, B and C and they do D, E and F, their chances (to keep their pets safe) are drastically reduced.” 

Nistico Hamm found out firsthand how many pets disappear in Malibu. “After I put the ad in the paper, I got nine calls from people who recently lost a pet,” she said, “including two little dogs in just the last two weeks.” 

Andrew Hughan, an information officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said there isn’t a serious coyote problem in the Malibu area, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a concern for residents and their pets.

“It’s all about food sources,” Hughan said. “There happens to be food attractants in (the Malibu) area. It’s easy food. Their sense of smell is so good, it goes right toward the nearest meal. Unfortunately, that can be someone’s Chihuahua or cat.” 

For pet owners like Nistico Hamm, it’s as much about closure as it is about recovery. But Lost Pet Detection, besides cats and dogs, has found ferrets—“a lot of ferrets,” Coldiron said with a chuckle—horses, tortoises and even a parrot. 

After her own pet passed away, Coldiron had what she called “a moment of clarity,” after seeing famed bloodhound handler Kat Albrecht on TV doing a lost animal search. She joined the California Rescue Dog Association for training shortly after and later focused her attention on finding lost pets as a full-time job. 

Today, with bloodhounds Ellie Mae, Glory and Diana, and a Jack Russell terrier named Apache, Coldiron has more business than she can handle. Former clients include major pet outlets, celebrities and veterinarians, she said. 

“I get calls all day long,” said Coldiron, who has a home in Lancaster and an apartment in South Pasadena because she is “on the road so much, I got tired of sleeping in motels.” 

Ellie Mae and Glory are the only Certified Trailing Bloodhounds in the state, and in 2011 the Board of Governors of the California Veterinary Medical Association inducted Ellie Mae into the Animal Hall of Fame for her “detective” work. 

Although Coldiron is not a licensed private investigator, she has assisted law enforcement in some searches. Still, it’s finding that family pet that gives her the most satisfaction. 

Said Nistico Hamm of Coldiron: “She’s just great. People relate to her.”