“I’m not the first person to use a dog to find lost pets,” Albrecht says. But she probably is the first to codify the training and to try to create a national resource. When she originally suggested using one dog to find another dog (an invention born of necessity when her police Bloodhound A.J. went missing in 1996), it was a heresy to her colleagues in the K-9 unit and her search-and-rescue peers. They considered the idea a misuse of a good dog and a waste of training. “I lost a lot of friends,” she says.
Currently, Albrecht has two scent-detection dogs at home: Chase, an 11-year-old Bloodhound once used in police work to track criminals, and Kody, a three-year-old Whippet-mix. Both can identify individual dogs, cats, snakes, turtles, ferrets, iguanas and geckos (and probably much more) by scent.
Albrecht and Brady start knocking on doors, asking for permission to check backyards. To my surprise, no one says no, although one homeowner looks at the search crew and says under her breath, “She must really love her cat.”
We quickly circle a well-kept yard that offers few hiding spots for a cat. Buchanan directs Susie to “check here” and “check here” along the fence and edge of the house. The dog sniffs eagerly but determines almost immediately that this yard is a bust. “We rely on their body language to tell us what they smell,” says Albrecht, who never doubts a well-trained dog’s nose. “They live in a world that’s different from ours.”
The next yard is a potential bonanza. There’s scrap wood, an upside-down stroller and lots of other domestic junk on the patio. As we peer under bushes and old mattresses, Albrecht is answering Brady’s questions. She sounds like counselor, explaining why the cats might not respond to calls of “Tinky.”
“A cat’s only protection from predators is to hide and be quiet,” she explains.
Why haven’t they returned home?
Because Tinkerbell and Pumpkin are indoor cats, they haven’t established an outdoor territory. Albrecht explains that the world beyond the threshold was new and unknown. There’s no reason to think that once they wandered off, they’d even be able to recognize home.
“My friend thinks they might be stolen,” Brady offers. “They are really beautiful.”
“Well, maybe,” Albrecht says, not terribly convincingly. “But this was the first time you ever let them out.”
She’s already explained to me that pet-theft is a common explanation. People often want to believe their animal has been stolen because it means closure. “They want to stop grieving,” she says. It happens, but it is rarer than you’d think.
At the next house, a woman gives a dead-on, uncoached description that matches Brady’s: a skinny, white-and-tan, gregarious cat, seen several times in the past two weeks. Pay dirt. Albrecht said the two cats would be nearby. Meanwhile, Susie pulls Buchanan behind a shed, and she sees tiny, muddy paw-prints on the fence. A frisson of excitement shoots through the group.
We follow the direction of the sighting. An elderly woman lets all of us, Susie included, tromp through her house to the backyard to check a garden crowded with tropical plants, bushes, a wishing well and outdoor bric-a-brac. The team is gleeful at the sight of so many potential hiding places. (After a few hours of this type of work, you never look at a yard the same way again.) Susie lets out a series of shrill barks and bolts for a corner. A fat gray cat leaps over the fence.