Unfortunately, when a pet goes missing, the perception that it’s a bona fide family member doesn’t hold up. When a child disappears, the community throws all its resources into bringing him or her safely home. When a beloved dog or cat disappears, it’s just that: LOST DOG, two words on a poster that most people won’t even notice.
Somebody ought to train a search dog to find lost pets, I thought.
Guess which somebody it turned out to be . . .
-Kat Albrecht, Pet Tracker: The Amazing Story of Rachel the K-9 Pet Detective
Do you love animals? Are you a dog parent/owner? Do you work in the criminal justice or psychology fields? Have you ever wondered what your dog or cat is truly capable of? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are among the many who will be blessed by this fascinating foray into the life of a woman whose dogged determination– pun intended– led her to a career as a pet detective.
Kat Albrecht is one woman you should never say “that can’t be done” to. Years ago I became aware of Kat’s work finding missing pets and have referred concerned pet owners to her Missing Pet Partnership website and Pet Detective Blog. Kat offers Lost Pet Recovery training on her website at Katalbrecht.com and has an informative Facebook page.
Additionally, Kat’s Mercy Paws ministry trains teens in her field of expertise and helps them discover their life’s purpose through service and love for God’s creatures. Her journey from disillusioned dispatcher to passionate police officer to preeminent pet detective can and should inspire others to fight for their dreams. A major theme in Pet Tracker is finding your true calling and leaving behind the soul-sucking jobs that cage your talents and authentic self.
So how does a woman named Kat become an expert on search dogs? Kat began her career as a law enforcement employee in the not too distant past. Simply by virtue of her gender she ran smack into the brick wall of sexism so prominent in policing at the time (and still present in all too many agencies today). As a young, female go-getter, the male-dominated culture in her agency found her work ethic, innovative methods, and intelligence threatening. She was told to do menial “female” tasks and harassed, like when trying to build rapport with victims and suspects. Kat was forced to confront pervasive stereotypes and bias in the policing profession as she worked hard to show that she was not only a capable cop, but one with particular gifts.
On this point, as a former civilian law enforcement employee, I identify with Kat’s struggles. I joined policing later that same decade and was appalled that female employees, particularly civilian ones, were more highly regarded when they acted perky, giggled a lot, and made coffee, in my words at the time. Being sexually available to certain figures was sure to score major prom queen points and a prominent place on the popularity ladder as well.
I also remember the department-wide shock wave caused when I used the words “crappy report writing” about an officer’s narrative and it was overheard; you’d think I’d threatened the life of the president. It became clear that as a female– and a civilian– I was stepping outside my tiny culturally-defined box. They could say it, but I didn’t have the same freedoms. I learned, as Kat did, that being an intelligent female who challenges the status quo by trying to improve processes and procedures was often met with hate and derision. This was especially true for Kat as a sworn police officer because she was working in a traditionally male role alongside men who didn’t want her there.
Furthermore, Kat stepped WAY out of her box when she suggested that her agency utilize trained search dogs for their work. Kat wanted to be a K9 officer but again– gasp– she was female, and police dogs weren’t trained to perform the tasks she had started teaching her own dogs to do. Her department told her not to use a trained bloodhound to search for a missing girl. Even in a volunteer capacity, police departments were not receptive to the idea of using trained dogs to save lives, enhance public safety, and recover victims. Full-fledged Officer Albrecht was actually told to go work elsewhere if she wanted to work with a bloodhound!
This barrier is also familiar to me– law enforcement agencies sometimes feel threatened by outside help. They might believe they’ll do better without a pet detective or forensic psychologist or behavioral expert even though cops don’t usually have such training. Some also tend to do things the way they’ve always been done rather than act in the best interest of the public they’re sworn to protect. While I know many open-minded, intelligent, and creative minds in the business, there are also those, particularly those in charge, who are set in their ways and feel that change undermines their authority. They may seem attempts at positive change as insubordination or subversion.
In retrospect, Kat realized that “my passion for working search dogs was viewed as arrogance.” She just wanted to help. So she began to plan how she could develop her passion for working with her dogs instead of how to adapt to a police department that was never going to let her– or her dogs– do what they were best at. The time and effort she put into discovering her dogs’ individual gifts– aided by a very gifted and patient cat– is nothing short of remarkable.
With her dogs at her side she took what she learned in law enforcement and translated that into pet detective work– while continuing her career as a law enforcement officer at another agency who welcomed their skills (having had people at the same agency, I appreciate its open-mindedness). This much-needed positive change came about as she renewed her relationship with God and started seeking His way instead of her own. Woven into Pet Tracker is the discipline of learning to hear from God and trusting Him. As Kat can attest to, even when your own plans seem perfect, He sometimes has a better way. And literally stop her in her tracks a couple of times He did.
It was when her own police bloodhound went missing that Kat realized just how much of a need there is for canines trained to find pets. A volunteer dog located her beloved partner but that dog was one of very few conditioned to do so. As she points out, police dogs are trained to ignore other animals, not find them, so the average K9 officer can’t do this. She noted striking similarities between lost people and lost pet cases and built upon that, founding the National Center for Missing Pets on the way. Then life threw her another curve ball with a life-changing freak injury suffered as a cop but even then she found ways to continue and expand her mission.
Besides being a refreshingly honest look at the barriers she had to break in policing in order to use dogs in this line of work, Pet Tracker offers a very realistic look at certain dog breeds and also delves into the priceless value of rescue pets. It gives proper credit to the uniqueness of each dog and the depths of their intelligence. I was fascinated to learn how Kat determines what makes a good search dog and allows the dog’s natural gifts determine what type of search dog they will be. Like people, they can be trained for different purposes. As she won over law enforcement officials with her methods and victories, one detective noted, “I’ve yet to see a police dog around here that could find a simple hole in the ground… but your dog has made a believer out of me.”
Pet Tracker also runs the gamut of emotions and it details Kat’s relationships with her original search dogs and feline assistants including their aging and loss. I felt the latter deeply because I read the book less than a week before unexpectedly losing my own copilot of 15 years, my faithful hound who went through hell and back with me and his kitties. Kat’s descriptions of hound dog behavior and the endearing quirks they can develop rang true. If you’ve ever had a hound, you know that they will follow their nose even if it leads to pronounced peril or it means dragging you along behind them. They follow their noses, point blank, period.
There are other laugh out loud funny moments in Pet Tracker like when you meet characters such as Barry the Boa Constrictor and Bret the Bearded Dragon, a real life rock star. There are also invaluable tips on how to properly search for missing pets. I am convinced that many feline lives could be saved if shelter workers understood how lost cats behave and shared that information with the public. It’s from Kat’s blog that I learned how cats, when sick or injured, usually hide nearby in familiar places, even inside the house they’re thought to have escaped from. She also offers wonderful pointers about the types of posters you should create when looking for a lost pet and how to conduct outreach. I feel even more strongly that cats should not be allowed to roam freely outside after reading this, for their own sake as well as that of other pets and wildlife.
Our nation euthanizes millions of adoptable pets each year because no one claims or adopts them. This is abhorrent. I’m sickened by thinking of how terrified those innocent, loving dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets are when placed in a stark gas chamber to die. Others are given lethal injections like serial killers just because their owner didn’t properly contain them, come looking for them, abandoned them, or cared enough to spay and neuter, creating thousands more like them. Or because they sat in a cage for a few days with people passing by and not giving them a second thought. This is particularly true for older pets, who are, ironically, usually house trained and more calm and disciplined than puppies and kittens. Every year King County, where Seattle is, puts several thousand adoptable pets to death. And this in a county of more than two million people.
Kat emphasized the importance of finding missing pets and the horrific outcomes for many of them:
Animal shelters, for example, would hold a “stray” dog or cat for seventy-two hours, after which time they either adopted the animal out to a new family or destroyed it. So if a pet owner was not able to get to the shelter within seventy-two hours, their chances of a happy reunion were slim to none. The national “Return to Owner” (RTO) rate for lost dogs reclaimed by their families at animal shelters was sixteen percent. For cats, the rate is much worse—just two percent of stray cats held at shelters have someone show up to reclaim them.
Ultimately Pet Tracker was many things to me:
-An honest look at policing and the challenges women, canines, and innovators face in that profession
-A deeply emotional story about the bonds between pets and their people
-A journey through Kat’s relationships with her own four-legged family members
-The development of each pet’s individual gifts and traits
-A testimony to the power of perseverance and going forward no matter what the odds
-An eye-opening look into the importance of search dogs and their various functions
-The importance of volunteer search dog handlers (the next one could be you!)
-A call to treat our pets and other animals humanely and lovingly
-An insider’s view of missing people and pet cases
-A sobering look at the realities of shelter pets and the fate of many missing or abandoned animals
Thank you, Kat Albrecht, and your amazing animals, for never giving up and making the world a brighter and safer place for so many people and their furry loved ones. I highly encourage others to become familiar with Kat’s work and to share her knowledge and expertise liberally.
Who knows? You might be the next great pet detective, and it’s clear that those skills are sorely needed.
Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog. He can show you more honest affection with a flick of his tail than a man can gather through a lifetime of handshakes. -Gene Hill
©2015 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.