A few years ago, I heard a fascinating interview of Kat Albrecht, a former policewoman turned finder of lost pets. After twenty years in high tech, I was in the mood for something totally different, and Albrecht’s story hit me in all my soft places.
I immediately read her book, The Lost Pet Chronicles, but at the time the big paychecks were still important to me. Plus, I reasoned, our beloved golden retriever was too old to be pressed into service as a tracker. I filed it away as a lovely fantasy.
A couple of years later I did quit my job, with big plans to start a dog-friendly resort. But when a local pet-sitting service went up for sale and a partner showed up to help me run it, I went into that business instead. Soon thereafter, we had to say goodbye to our dear old golden, and my elderly mother also passed away. In the aftermath of those big life changes, I decided I wanted to get a puppy and train it to do something useful. Within a few months, my boyfriend and I had acquired two Golden Retriever puppies.
While surfing the web one day, I discovered that Kat Albrecht was teaching a MAR (Missing Animal Response) Technician course near Yosemite and I signed up on the spot. The course was fantastic. Kat taught us essential search strategies, the basics of animal behavior, and how to use the necessary equipment. She warned us about mental blocks to watch for and avoid – in ourselves, in the owners of lost pets, and even in the rescue organizations we might work with one day. We watched videos, listened to lectures, and learned to set humane traps. I finished the course convinced that I would love this work.
Two months later, I took my eight-month-old puppy, Bailey, to Fresno to have Kat evaluate her as a pet-finding dog. I was eager to learn if she was cut out to be a MAR cat detection dog, trailing dog, or magnet dog – one that can lure a lost canine who’s too frightened to come to a human. A good pet-finder dog has to be well balanced, non aggressive, and non-reactive to all sorts of urban clamor and surprises. My Bailey was just a fun-loving wigglebutt, so I had my doubts.
Early the next morning, the assessment began. First came Fear Test One, in which large metal pot lids were tossed in Bailey’s direction. She didn’t flinch. In Fear Test Two, Kat charged Bailey, waving crutches in the air and staring her directly in the eyes. Still Bailey didn’t flinch. Good girl.
For the Dog Aggression Test, Kat brought out a dog Bailey had never seen before. Bailey greeted him with her best Golden Retriever butt wiggle. For the Cat Aggression Test, Kat used her famous dog-loving cat, Cheeto, who was hidden in a black bag. Bailey approached the bag curiously, sniffed, and started to dance when she identified the feline’s scent.
Now came the Recall Test. Would all my work at dog school pay off? I put Bailey on a stay, backed off about thirty feet, and called. She flew to me. What a dog!
Kat concluded that Bailey could become one of those rare creatures, a MAR Dual Purpose Dog, who can find both cats and dogs. This sounded great, my puppy having rare talents. Training is very different for each purpose, however, so we had our work cut out for us.
A few months have gone by and Bailey and I are making progress, helped by some chapters Kat sent me from her upcoming book on training pet-finder dogs. We have also taken a beginning AKC Tracking Dog class and I’m thinking of hooking up with the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA), which trains trailing dogs. It all takes time, but we are relishing the process.
There’s a tremendous need for trained help when pets go missing, and every pet finder I’ve met calls this the best job they’ve ever had.
Pet Detective Resources
- Kat Albrecht’s main website includes information about her current and upcoming books and MAR Tech courses. http://www.katalbrecht.com
- Kat’s non-profit organization website offers organized, detailed information about what to do if you lose a pet or find a lost one. http://http://www.missingpetpartnership.org/index.php
- Albrecht’s for-profit organization website provides information on the MAR tech training process, upcoming seminars, and a list of certified MAR techs who find lost pets. http://www.pethunters.com
- This website is devoted to helping people find lost cats. It includes profiles of cat personality types and what they’re likely to do when lost, suggests strategies for each profile, and shows how to use a humane trap. http://catsinthebag.org
Jane Sokolow (email@example.com) is an amateur dog trainer, gardener, and nature lover who has worked as a linguist and nonfiction writer. She aspires to be a canine masseuse and finder of lost pets.