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Lost Dogs: How to Get Them Back

Albrecht’s current mission is to create training partnerships with animal shelters so they can deploy their own volunteers to help recover lost pets. MPP recently formed a partnership with the King County Animal Shelter in Kent, Wash., where they plan to launch the first-ever lost pet search-and-rescue team on July 1, 2011. Ultimately, they hope to take this training program to shelters nationwide.

Number One Lost Dog Recovery Method
In the intervening years, Albrecht has continued to search for lost pets and refine her techniques. Her biggest aha! moment since we joined her on a cat search in Fresno five years ago is probably what she calls the intersection alert, or intervention: volunteers hold neoncolored, poster-sized signs at a busy intersection near the animal’s escape point. “It’s pretty much a protest,” Albrecht says.

Take the case of a Chihuahua named Sukhi. Last year, she escaped on July 3. Her frantic owners contacted MPP on July 5, and five volunteers staked out the busiest intersection in Seattle’s Central District near Sukhi’s home, holding bright posters with Sukhi’s photo and CHIHUAHUA, RED COLLAR in large type. Within 20 minutes, someone driving through the intersection pulled over to say that Sukhi was at their house.

“The owners had put out hundreds of flyers prior to that, all of which had escaped the notice of this person, but these big signs are impossible to ignore, especially with someone there holding them,” Branson says. The “protest” creates a sense of urgency.

Intersection interventions are based on studies of “inattentional blindness,” which Albrecht read about in Temple Grandin’s book, Animals in Translation. “The hypothesis is that if you’re not paying attention to something, you won’t perceive it; it’s as if it’s not even there,” Albrecht says. The protests are designed to break through that blindness. (A related strategy is to tag a vehicle — providing the same key identifiers as on the posters — in neon ink on the back window.)

Even without staging protests, giant, bright, concise signs yield results — even weeks after old-fashioned 8-by-11 paper flyers have become rain-soaked, tattered and ineffective.

The approach for a missing dog is very different from that used to find a missing cat. Dogs run. Cats hide. To find a missing cat, you need a detailed search of your own and nearby properties. Wildlife cameras and humane traps are also helpful. To find a dog, “a search needs to be very visible,” Albrecht says. “Just massive, obnoxious marketing.”

Enduring Lesson: Persistence
When Branson lost his cat about 12 years ago, “We were told, as a lot of people are told today, ‘A coyote got your cat; there’s nothing you can do about it,’” he says. “It’s thinking like that that can prevent an animal from being found.”

Last October, for example, a cat named Burley hid in his own Sammamish, Wash., backyard for 33 days. It took persistence and encouragement, plus a motion-activated infrared wildlife camera and humane traps rented from MPP, to recover the cat.

“Having a resource like Missing Pet Partnership allows people to keep looking; it gives them tools [that help them] take active steps in the recovery of their animal rather than waiting and hoping,” Branson says. “Giving them encouragement [to look] increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.”

New Tool: Magnet Dogs
Over the past few years, Albrecht has pioneered a new technique for enticing reluctant pups: magnet dogs. The idea is to deploy a “wiggly, friendly dog” to attract a wary dog so he can be captured. It worked like a charm for a dog named Mack in November.

After escaping from their yard in Federal Way, Wash., Mack and his buddy Rocco, a pair of blue Pit Bulls, went missing for almost a month. Their owner, who was serving in Iraq, was devastated. When MPP volunteer Ryan Gamache learned about them, he made it his personal mission to recover the dogs.

Unfortunately, he discovered that Rocco had been killed and Mack had fled. But the bad news at least gave Gamache a starting point. He posted giant, neon posters that read “LOST BLUE PIT BULL BLUE COLLAR” along the major roadway near where Rocco had died. Immediately, leads came in.


Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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Photograph by Jen Frooms

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