Kat Albrecht-Pet Detective
For devoted pet owners, few things are more frightening than losing their pet. When Kat Albrecht’s bloodhound A.J. turned up missing in 1996, she became just like thousands of other panicked people who face the same situation each year. But what set Albrecht apart was what she did about it. The Central California K-9 unit police officer who worked each day with dogs trained to track down people didn’t run to make posters of her dog to plaster across the neighborhood like most. Instead she got on the phone with another police dog handler. A short time later they scented the dog on A.J.’s bedding and he was able to track down the bloodhound within 20 minutes. It was the perfect success story and the basis for an endeavor that would consume the next seven years of Albrecht’s life.
After her bloodhound’s recovery, Albrecht realized the dogs that she’d spent years training to find people could just as easily be trained to find lost pets. She pitched the idea over the Internet to others in the rescue dog business. They didn’t bite. With a successful career in law enforcement, Albrecht had no intention of pursuing the idea on her own.
To Albrecht the evidence that her project could work was clear. From her experience training police dogs, she knew that one of the most common mistakes the trainees made was getting distracted by the scent of another animal. “It makes sense,” she says. “Hunting and tracking other animals is something instinctual for dogs — it’s more natural for them than finding a human. But we’re able to train dogs to find everything from drugs to bombs — certainly this comes easier to the dog.”
Despite her commitment, Albrecht’s tale of developing a pet-finding service is one of constant setbacks and heartache. That struggle is one of the primary focuses of her book, The Lost Pet Chronicles, due out in April. In 1997 she formed her first pet detective side — business, moonlighting around her existing police job. At the time, a friend told her the idea of making a living as a pet detective was nothing more than a “pipe dream.”
“That comment angered me enough that I started thinking on a national level,” Albrecht says.
Discouraged and facing extreme financial hardships, Albrecht had all but given up by December 2001 when a neighbor came to her for help to find a lost cat. It didn’t take Albrecht long to find the cat, but the experience proved a turning point for her.
“I realized that this idea needed to be developed.”
A short time later, she and others incorporated Missing Pet Partnership, a nonprofit with a mission to create community-based lost pet rescue services through partnerships with animal shelters and rescue groups across the country.
Pioneering a new field
Just as it takes a special dog to find people, Albrecht only selects dogs that have a certain personality she calls “dog park mentality” to find other dogs. Unlike the dogs chosen for police work who are “people dogs” that react strongly to play and food (stimulation for finding the missing person), dog park dogs are those who run and play together and are inseparable from other canines. Albrecht puts prospective dogs through a test to look for those traits. Those that don’t exhibit the personality she’s looking for do not get trained.
Still, the dogs that Albrecht and others with Missing Pet Partnership use are only one tool in the box of pet finding instruments. Albrecht relies heavily on a science common in police work to find missing people called Search Probability Theory. The idea behind the theory is that certain animals, just like certain people, can be tracked using evidence from their previous history. For instance, a lost cat who often hid under its owner’s house is likely to be found under another house elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Through field work, direct consultations, email consultations and information provided on her Web site, Albrecht estimates she’s helped to recover over 1,800 missing pets. Of 96 investigations where a dog was used to search for a lost pet, 45 ended with either the pet or physical evidence being located, a 47 percent success rate.
Albrecht compares that to a study done on a particular search and rescue department where only five percent of missing persons were discovered by search dogs.
Albrecht says it angers her that at a time when veterinary medicine so closely mirrors the medical treatment of humans, American’s primary method of looking for missing pets remains the same way they advertise a yard sale. “When you look at the whole animal welfare system, the laws are actually in favor of keeping stray animals stray. It’s a convoluted mess.”
Unfortunately, there is a breakdown among humans when it comes to lost pets, Albrecht says. While animal shelters are often one of the first places an owner will look for a lost pet, it’s often the last place someone who finds a missing pet will bring the animal. Furthermore, she says, few people are aware that if their pet ends up in a shelter and is not claimed within the allotted time period, ownership reverts to the shelter to do what it wants with the animal. Albrecht hopes that legislation will soon be passed that will make microchips injected into animals the equivalent of a serial number. “In this country, we do a better job of tracking stolen guns and cars than we do our pets simply because those items have serial numbers,” she says.
Building a training center for volunteers and dogs and developing a volunteer training course as part of the partnership are both important to Albrecht. She wants to ensure that her efforts will outlast her. “I once asked another search and rescue person why anyone else never did this before. They told me that someone did do it – a guy in Texas who would go out with his bloodhound and search for your missing pet for a fee. I asked whatever happened to him, and they said he died back in 1986. I thought to myself, what happens when I die? Then I realized the only way for me to make sure this continues is to go through the struggle and make a movement for change.”
Find out more by visiting the Web site of Missing Pet Partnership, www.lostapet.org
Editor’s note: Technology has advanced to the point that lost pets should be a thing of the past. Micro-chipping has become standard practice when animals are adopted out at shelters. Many organizations such as Kat Albrecht’s Missing Pet Partnership and services such as www.Help4Pets.com make it possible to find lost pets across the globe.