Kat Albrecht and her search dogs have sniffed out missing people, dead people, Alzheimer’s patients and drugs.
Now they search for lost pets.
Albrecht, who recently moved to Federal Way, is the founder of Missing Pet Partnership, a nonprofit organization that aims to reunite owners with lost pets and reduce euthanasia rates at animal shelters. She discovered the need for such a service when working as a police detective and bloodhound handler as well as losing her own dog, A.J.
A friend, who also had a bloodhound, found A.J. within 20 minutes. An idea was born.
Albrecht took Rachel, her retired cadaver dog, out on a few searches for missing pets. She found two missing cats and a dog. It turned out search dogs were quite good at searching for lost pets.
“People lose their pets every day and they need this service,” Albrecht said.
That was back in 1996. Since then, Albrecht has trained and certified more than 100 pet detectives in five countries and has written two books. Of the nearly 200 searches that she has been on, she estimates she’s had a 60 percent success rate finding the lost pets.
Sometimes Albrecht finds the missing pet deceased. Despite their sadness, owners are often happy to have closure in learning what happened to their pets.
Often times, Albrecht and her dogs won’t find the missing pet during the day of their search. But the tips she gives the owners often lead to the pet being found days or weeks later.
On Friday, Albrecht and her dog detective, Sadie, headed out to Bothel to search for a black cat named Mickey who had been missing for two weeks after escaping from an opened door.
Melanie Pidgeon, Mickey’s owner, said she frequently searched her apartment complex for the cat during the past two weeks and posted fliers in the neighborhood.
Mickey was most likely hiding somewhere, Albrecht said.
“The behavior of a misplaced cat is they’ll hide in silence and not meow,” she said. “Cats don’t run away. Dogs run. Cats hide when they’re scared.”
Lost cats are most often found one or two houses away underneath a porch or in the bushes, Albrecht said. In apartment complexes, they might hide underneath a car or a trash bin.
Often times, indoor cats escape through an unsecured window screen during the summer.
“The moment they hit the ground, they’re looking for the first place to hide,” Albrecht said.
The more hiding places near a cat’s home, the more likely a lost cat is to be located close to home. A cat will travel only as far as necessary to find a hiding place, Albrecht said.
Unfortunately, people are entirely too quick to assume their cat has been killed by a coyote, Albrecht said. It is not a good idea to quit looking for a lost cat after only a few weeks. Cats can remain in hiding for several months and often don’t end up in animal shelters for three to six months.
Lost pet cats that end up in animal shelters are often put to sleep because animal control workers find them exhibiting aggressive behaviors such as hissing, lunging or spitting.
“That is not necessarily a sign that the cat is untamed. It’s a sign that the cat is scared,” Albrecht said.
On Friday, Albrecht and her search dog didn’t find Mickey. But they did locate several areas where Mickey was likely to be hiding. Pidgeon planned to head out over the weekend and set humane traps in those areas in an effort to catch the lost cat.
After the search, Pidgeon said she was more confident that she would eventually find Mickey.
And that’s the important thing, Albrecht said. People need to keep looking.
“The moment that you stop searching, that cat becomes absorbed in the feral cat population,” she said. “We want that cat back at her home and not in the shelter because otherwise, that’s going to contribute to the euthanasia rate at shelters.”
Albrecht said she dreams of one day having a national animal sanctuary where she can train dogs from animal shelters to find missing pets. For now, she hopes to work with King County Animal Care and Control to reduce the local euthanasia rates.
Contact Margo Hoffman: firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 925-5565.
The Missing Pet Partnership, a national nonprofit organization, is looking for volunteers from the Federal Way area to work in the office and assist on lost pet investigations. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old.
For more information call (253) 529-3999 or visit www.missingpetpartnership.org and click on Seattle Pet Hunters.
The Missing Pet Partnership will host a volunteer recruitment meeting from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 9 at the Federal Way Regional Library, 34200 1st Way South.
Representatives from the Missing Pet Partnership will be at the Federal Way Farmer’s Market from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 7.
The Missing Pet Partnership will host a pet detective academy for search dogs beginning in August. For more information, call (253) 529-3999.