A GROUP of pet detectives spend their free time sitting in bushes and trawling the streets as they try to reunite lost animals with their owners.

Less than three weeks after being formed, more than 500 people have joined the Tilly's Angels Facebook group.

Helene Leader, 54, and Ann Cushion, 56, started the group so desperate owners could share their missing dog posts, get advice and organise searches.

Ms Leader said: “The first 24 hours of losing your dog is critical. As well as Facebook, you need posters up for those who aren’t on social media.

“All dog walkers in the area will be concerned and keep their eyes open for sightings.

“We are dog owners so we know how people feel when they lose their furry friend. Most importantly, we are there to support dog owners. People are beside themselves and we can help point them in the right direction."

She added: "After a few days of running around, lost dogs seem to go almost feral so it’s vital that we monitor sightings. We have had to sit in bushes quietly waiting for a Chihuahua before but when we found him, there wasn’t a dry face around."

The group is named after a Cockapoo called Tilly, who went missing from Shoebury in April.

The women helped owner Emma Waddell, 33, find their pet- but unfortunately there wasn't a happy ending.

Ms Leader said: “The death of Tilly the beautiful Cockapoo on the railway in Southend was terrible. We wanted something positive to come out of this devastating loss, so Ann and I came up with a name for our group and Emma gave us her blessing.”

The group was inspired by a sister group in north Essex called Bella’s Angels.

Talking about her experience, Mrs Waddell said: “I can’t express how grateful I am to the ladies for helping us. I knew none of them. I truly owe them everything because I wouldn’t know what happened to Tilly otherwise.

“With Tilly there was more than 1,000 posters put up, mainly from people I didn’t even know. I had strangers offering everything and anything to help. It really brought the community together.”

The women pay for poster printing costs themselves, but plan to start fundraising as the group grows.

To help with the searches, they need to buy night vision equipment, a wildlife camera and tracker.

Miss Cushion said: “Facebook is amazing to communicate with people and spread the word quickly but posters are key.

“We found two dogs through posters last week. People can go online and print them off themselves, it is really priceless how people get involved.

“Our advice to owners is that they need to first register at dogslost.co.uk which is a really great site and allows anyone to print posters off when their dog is missing. We also tell owners to contact vets and the local pound and the dog warden."

To donate or join, visit the Tilly’s Angels Facebook page.