by Heather Larson
When Jim Branson started rescuing dogs and cats and turning them into household pets, little did he know that one day some of those dogs would themselves become rescuers. In 2008, Branson took his Retriever mix, Kelsey, for a romp at the local dog park. There he noticed a flyer announcing a Missing Pet Partnership training, a place where Branson could school his dogs in how to find lost pets.
Missing Pet Partnership is a non-profit organization founded by Kat Albrecht in 2002 in Seattle, Washington. She had worked as a dog handler for a small police department in California, and after leaving that position, began experimenting with training dogs to find lost pets.
“I didn’t know that kind of training existed, but I knew I wanted to learn how to help people recover their missing pets,” says Branson, who founded Seattle’s Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue. Branson lost a cat in 1997 and gave up looking for it quickly because he didn’t know anything about finding lost pets.
After successfully completing the pet detective course and working with Albrecht for four years, Kelsey aided in many rescues. During her eight-year career as a pet detective she went on more than 350 searches and won many awards including “Pet Detective of the Year” two years in a row. Then last year cancer took her.
Currently Branson has two dogs he liberated from bad situations working as rescuers plus a puppy in training. Komu was discovered tied to a tree in his owner’s yard and severely neglected. Now Komu sniffs out cats. Fozzie, a Poodle look-alike, was found running on the freeway and now looks for missing dogs. Valentino, who was born the day after Branson took in his mother, is currently learning how to search for lost dogs.
Beginning the Search
When a client engages the services of Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, this is what happens.
“When I take a scent-trailing dog like Fozzie on a search, I present the scent to him, let him sniff it for a second, and then say ‘Search’,” says Branson. “We usually get the scent from a bed, collar, or vest.”
A search conducted by Komu, the cat detection dog, works a little differently. Once Komu has his vest on, he knows he’s working. He’s not looking for a particular cat. He is looking for any cat he can find, searching the hiding places with the highest probability. Cats don’t usually roam very far from home, Branson says. A scent article isn’t presented to Komu and this dog goes to work without being given the “search” command.
Branson gets an average of 550 requests for help each year. (He keeps detailed records.)
“Twenty percent of the time my dog goes right to the lost pet,” says Branson. “People who ask for my services have a 70 percent chance of getting their dog or cat back.”
However, pet owners who hire Branson and one of his dogs and don’t actively participate in the search lessen their chances of seeing their pet again.
What Owners Can Do
When your pet is lost, call Branson or another pet detective right away to determine what actions to take. Branson says he only recommends a pet owner hire him in about 250 of the 550 calls he gets each year.
“Records I’ve kept since 2008 clearly show that people who follow our advice have the highest rates of recovery,” says Branson.
That advice might include:
- Write down everything pertaining to your lost pet. Don’t rely on your memory. This includes vital statistics about the pet, male or female, neutered or not, coloring, chipped or not, etc. and actions you’ve taken.
- Mark the rear window of your vehicle. Use rainproof markers and write huge letters that can easily be read by drivers and passengers in other cars. Say something like: “Lost Tri-Color Beagle, Highway 509, (555) 555-1212.”
- Call nearby shelters to see if your pet landed at one.
- Make huge neon posters, not 8.5 inch by 11 inch flyers. Instead use 22-inch by 28-inch neon poster board and print on it with six-inch-tall bold, black letters.
Additional in-depth tips are available on the Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue website.
Prevent Pets from Going Missing
According to HomeAgain, a pet microchipping service, one in three pets will become lost at some point in their life. This company, of course, recommends every pet have a microchip, which is a good way to make sure you’re reunited with your lost dog or cat. Just be sure that you let the microchipping service know if you move and/or change your phone number and have your veterinarian periodically check to make sure the microchip is intact. So being proactive and preventing a pet from going rogue is your first line of defense.
For dogs, you also need a fenced yard with a tall, solid, secure fence and no weak spots, an ID tag (good for cats, too), and if you want to be extra cautious, surveillance or security cameras.
Preparation in case your pet is lost always makes sense. Keep current photos of your dog or cat and store a scent item of his or hers in your freezer.
Should you need to hire a pet detective, Branson offers a word of caution.
“There are some fraudulent services out there, claiming to find lost pets,” says Branson. “They take your money and disappear.”
You can ask for references and talk to someone who has used the service to make sure it’s legitimate. Someone certified through the Missing Pet Partnership training certified would also be a good bet.