Colin J. Butcher was born on 10th June 1960 in Fareham maternity hospital, Hampshire, growing up in Jahor Bahru, Malaysia and Sembawang, Singapore. Upon his return to England in the early 70s, he lived in Bishops Cleeve near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds before moving back to Fareham.
His father, Geoff, was an engineering officer with the Royal Navy and his mother, Margery, was a secretary for a local construction company. Colin was one of four children. His brother, David, was diagnosed with Leukaemia at the age of 13 and died just short of his 21st birthday. He has a younger sister, Lynn, and a brother, Rian.
Growing up on the edge of a tropical rain forest, a young Colin would spend hours beneath the vast emerald green canopy exploring with David. ''I was a total animal nut. Every day we would see something new; there were insects and reptiles everywhere. I was bitten, scratched and stung more times than I can possibly remember and it was usually my fault. I just had to learn how to approach animals in a way that didn't make them feel threatened.'' Colin’s knowledge and experience in handling animals would one day come in handy: in his role as a Pet Detective.
Colin joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 and was drafted to HMS Antelope; a ship later sunk during the Falklands conflict. In 1983 he trained as aircrew for the Royal Navy's Anti-submarine Seeking Helicopters and on completing the necessary 18 months’ flying instruction received his wings and, being the top student on his course, was awarded the Colin Vickers Trophy. ''These were amazing years,'' he later said. ''Flying with the military is an incredibly exhilarating experience and one I shall never forget.''
In 1988, following his Royal Navy service, Colin joined Surrey Police as a detective. After five years’ service in drugs enforcement, he was promoted to Detective Inspector of the ‘serious crimes’ division, investigating cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and homicide.
Colin left the Police in 2003 to set up his own London-based Private Detective Agency, Complete Investigations, and in 2005 formed a second company, United Kingdom Pet Detectives (U.K.P.D.). ''I always knew I would end up working with animals. It just took me a few years to discover the right profession.''
With over 30 years’ investigative experience under his belt, Colin is a leading authority on pet crime across the UK and has worked with police forces across England, Scotland and Wales. His research into cat behaviour — specifically why they migrate away from their homes — was the subject of the BBC’s Horizon documentary ‘The Secret Life of The Cat’. Speaking of the project, Colin explains: ''We needed to develop a better understanding of why so many cats abandoned their homes. So, we set up a cat tracking project in our local village of Shamley Green. I was absolutely thrilled when the BBC Horizon team approached me and asked to join [it].''
Leading on from his work with the BBC, in 2004 Colin embarked on a second — slightly more ambitious — project: investigating whether it was possible to train a dog to locate lost cats by their unique scent (pheromone) signature. ''We recorded hundreds of hours of video footage during the cat tracking project and when we reviewed it, we discovered just how important scent marking is to cats,” Colin recounts of the time. ''It was evident that cats build an incredibly detailed odour map of their territories and, through careful examination of other cats' pheromone signatures, can identify age, gender, health and social status.''
One of Colin and his team’s most significant findings was the discovery that when a cat leaves its territory — whether due to foraging, exploration or being forced out by a more aggressive cat — it quickly becomes disorientated and in many cases is unable to find its way home. As Colin explains: ''If you imagine driving at night through a country you have never visited before and suddenly your sat-nav fails, then you can begin to understand just how disorientating it must be for a cat.”
Sadly, the use of a dog’s incredible sense of smell to search for a cat's pheromone signature, was rejected by every single dog trainer Colin approached with his idea. Some trainers were rude and unhelpful, some simply failed to respond to his emails and phone calls, and — most dishearteningly — the majority dismissed it as fanciful and pointless. Undeterred, he pressed on with the project: ''I knew it could be done because I had worked with so many different search dogs while in the police - it was just a case of finding the right people with the right attitude.''
Colin's breakthrough came just over a year later when he was introduced to the team at groundbreaking canine charity Medical Detection Dogs; specialists in training dogs to identify human disease by odour. Their CEO Dr Claire Guest agreed to help and in December 2016 the country's first Cat Detection Dog — a rescue spaniel named Molly — graduated from the M.D.D. Academy to begin field trials with Colin.
Three months later, Molly and Colin located their first missing cat, recovering 32 more in 2017 and a further 46 the following year. ''It has been an incredible journey,'' he describes. ''It was tough going at times, with numerous setbacks along the way, but I had some great people working with me and every time Molly finds another missing cat my heart leaps with joy.''
Molly is now a fully qualified Pet Detective and important member of the U.K.P.D. team. In addition to her cat finding skills she has helped to locate both missing and trapped dogs and stolen jewellery and often accompanies Colin on his Private Eye investigations.
Colin's passion for writing began as a child in Singapore, where at the age of seven his school essay on fire ants received the award for best story and most improved handwriting. ''I strutted around my school as if I had won the Nobel Prize in Literature as opposed to a handwriting competition,'' he recalls of the experience. ''It really was a pivotal moment for me; having my work recognised at such a young age had such a big impact. From then on, I recorded field notes on all the interesting adventures I had with my brother and read every book I could get my hands on.''
He continued writing during his time in the Royal Navy and Police service, and whilst a Detective Sergeant, and in 1998 he co-wrote the first police training manual for the investigation of criminal cases for Surrey CID officers. He proceeded to publish three further CID training manuals on the investigation of serious crime and homicide. He was also awarded the prestigious Chief Constable’s Commendation for his work.
In 2004, Colin received his first paid commission; a training a manual for the investigation of major incidents and serious injuries for BP. Several other paid commissions within the shipping and logistic industries followed, but even so, ''It wasn't until 2010 that I actually thought of myself as a writer. By then I was running my own Blog, drafting all sorts of articles on the investigation of crimes against animals and often received emails from journalists asking for contributions to features and news items.''
Colin’s first book, ‘The Owner's Handbook on Preventing Dog Theft’, was released in 2014, and two years later he started work on ‘Molly The Pet Detective Dog’. In 2017, extracts from Colin's work in progress were published in The Guardian newspaper, and several months later he was offered a publishing contract by The Little Brown Book Group. Over the following six months Colin was offered a further 14 book deals, eventually agreeing terms with Michael Joseph: an imprint of Penguin Random House.