Got a dog who’s nuts for cats? You might want to train him to put his feline obsession to good use.
The Seattle-area-based Missing Pet Partnership (MPP) trains dogs, and their owners, to be first-rate detectives, sniffing out lost pets. When it comes to cat-detection, “we pick dogs that naturally get hyper-excited and wiggly when they detect the scent of a cat,” MPP founder Kat Albrecht tells Paw Nation.
Albrecht, who began her career as a police officer working with search-and-rescue bloodhounds, would use her own search dog to track lost pets in her spare time. Eventually her side project grew into the Missing Pet Partnership.
Not every cat lovin’ dog is up to par though. Only one in 15 dogs passes the initial test, which determines whether a dog can stay in the cat zone despite distractions like food and other pups. Dogs that pass this test enter a training program that typically lasts three or four months, Albrecht says. After they graduate, the dogs are ready to help locate runaway cats. Most graduates — and their owners — go on to provide their detecting services to their communities.
“Cat-detection dogs are a tool that we take with us when we go yard to yard looking under and in every hiding place for a cat. If there’s cat scent, the dog will let us know,” Albrecht tells Paw Nation.
Cat-detection dogs aren’t always the best choice for finding missing cats, though. “If it’s a skittish cat, [such as] an indoor cat that was pushed out a window, we know it’s likely hiding nearby,” she says. In such cases, human pet detectives will first search the area where the pet went missing, or set out a humane trap to try to recover the frightened feline. “The dogs are only one tool that we use in recovering lost pets,” Albrecht stresses.
Still, they can be an important tool. “In cases when it’s an outside cat that suddenly vanishes, that is where cat detection dogs [can be] vital,” she says. “At that point we don’t know if the cat is trapped, or injured or deceased, or if it was taken by a predator and there might be some physical evidence that the dog can find.”
MPP also trains dogs and their owners in scent detection. Unlike cat-detection dogs, which track down any cat in the vicinity, trailing dogs follow the unique scent of a missing pet, be it a dog, a horse, or a ferret. Training a trailing dog is a long process that can take up to two years, Albrecht says.
Both cat-detection and trailing dogs must meet certain criteria. Breed isn’t important, she says, but medium-sized dogs are usually best, because they can run for long distances while searching, and they can get into small spaces to root out hiding pets. The dogs can’t be aggressive toward people or animals, and can’t have any fear issues. If your dog fits the bill, you might consider making him the next pet detective.
MPP maintains a national directory of certified Missing Animal Response pet detectives and search dogs. Because of funding constraints, the organization is currently only training animals in the Seattle area. They hope to eventually find funding to expand the program and train pet detectives — both human and canine — nationwide.
“Our goal as an organization is to rescue dogs from shelters, train them to find lost pets, and then issue them to animal shelters and rescue groups that we partner with,” Albrecht says. “There definitely is a need for these services in all communities.”