Monday, April 22, 2013

Calming Signals

Calming signals are behaviors exhibited around an at large or stray dog, with the objective of calming the dog, gaining its trust, and subsequently containing it with a leash or a crate. If it's possible to avoid trapping a dog by using calming signals, this will always be preferable.

Background: the work of dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas has taught us about the behaviors that dogs exhibit to calm other panicked and stressed dogs, as well as humans. She coined the phrase "calming signals", and since we humans mimic those behaviors when dealing with stressed, panicked and at large dogs, we use the same term to describe our behaviors.

Of course, exercise judgement when dealing with an unknown stray dog as opposed to a known lost dog. And remember - patience!

Here are some behaviors to remember to use, or avoid, when face to face with an at large dog, whether it is the lost dog that you have been looking for, or one you happen to encounter. What suggestions can you add to these lists?

Behaviors to avoid
  • Facing the dog directly
  • Speaking directly to the dog
  • Making eye contact
  • Advancing directly toward the dog, even slowly
  • Making sudden or quick movements
  • Speaking loudly or making any kind of loud noise
  • Continuing to stand tall over the dog
  • Displaying any stress or panicked feelings of your own, or impatience

Behaviors to establish that you are non-threatening to the dog
  • Sit or otherwise put your body low towards the ground, closer to the dog's level (remembering to avoid the above behaviors)
  • Lie down on the ground and whine softly
  • Yawn; lick your lips; cough; sniff (loudly enough to be heard)
  • Turn your head and/or your body away from the dog (slowly)
  • Do normal things that demonstrate self interest as opposed to an interest in the dog, such as applying lip balm

Behaviors to lure the dog towards you (after establishing that you are not a threat)
  • Do call attention to yourself if the dog doesn't see you
  • Crinkle a bag, that might sound like a snack bag, with smelly bait in it - like cooked & dried cut up hot dog
  • Eat something while making "yummy yummy" noises, dropping bits of the food around onto the floor; a crumbly muffin is a good example
  • Toss treats to the dog, slowly; if possible, over the shoulder and while facing away
  • When you have more than one person to participate in the luring behavior
    • Play frisbee or catch with each other (props required)
    • Speak conversationally to each other, showing a lack of interest in the dog
  • When you have another dog to participate in the luring
    • Lavish attention on the other dog
    • Play fetch with the other dog
  • If you are at a distance, not in close physical proximity
    • Call out the name of a familiar or companion dog

What else can you add to these lists that have worked for you? There must be plenty more!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lost Dogs Really Don't Recognize Their Humans

When encountering a stray dog that you want to contain, even when it's your own dog, the advice is always to avoid calling out to it, making eye contact, etc. Dog owners often have a pretty hard time grasping the idea that their own dog would not come to them or even recognize them. Consider this excerpt, paraphrased from the Loudoun Times on 1/6/11

“She didn’t recognize me or my voice,” Reilly-Greiner said. “The wind was blowing against me, so she couldn’t pick up my scent, either. There was no recognition. I was a stranger to her."

While patrolling the area 32 days after her dog went missing, Carrie Reilly-Greiner spotted Sage feeding on a deer carcass. Despite gentle calls to her dog, Sage did not respond to her owner. Hours later, after the dog was humanely trapped and reunited with her, Carrie made this observation:

"Once I was in front of her, a very strange thing happened. You see, dogs have serotonin in their brains, which makes them act domesticated. And when that serotonin dissipates, as it does very rapidly when a domesticated dog is out in the wild, they revert to survival mode. Once I was reunited with her, I could literally see the serotonin kicking back in. She began to lick me and cry and wag her tail. It was quite a remarkable moment.”

What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a hormone found naturally in the body which acts as a messenger between nerve cells. It regulates a number of key physiological processes, including short term memory, sensory perception, sleep, mood and depression.

What are the effects of depleted levels of serotonin?
When levels of this crucial hormone are depleted, the body's natural rhythms are disturbed. Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression, while normal levels lead to a state of calm. Chronic serotonin depletion significantly impairs short term memory, but not long term memory.

What causes depletion of serotonin levels?
There are several causes for reduced levels of serotonin, many of which are environmental factors that people face on an everyday basis. Since dogs also have serotonin and are similarly affected, consider each factor listed with a dog on its own in mind.

Poor Diet
Our bodies produce serotonin while digesting foods which are healthy and contain the amino acid L-Tryptophan. Serotonin deficiencies may cause a chemical imbalance which can be the result of poor nutrition. Serotonin levels can be affected by an unbalanced diet, as an adequate protein supply plus specific vitamins and minerals are necessary to build neurotransmitters. Protein contains tryptophan, an amino acid that turns to serotonin in the brain. Some specific vitamins and minerals are known as cofactors, and when too few cofactors are present in the body due to poor nutrition and low protein intake, a neurotransmitter imbalance arises.

Whether brought about by everyday life as a dog on the run or by a significant traumatic event, prolonged or intense stress has been found to cause changes in the brain's chemistry, including the depletion of serotonin. A1989 study revealed that chronic stress caused by ongoing problems or a specific stressful incident likely contributed to neurochemical changes in participants, leading to episodes of depression.

Low levels of serotonin are directly related to stress, especially long term stress. We are becoming a “serotonin deficient” society due to chronic stress, lack of exercise and a proper well-balanced diet, and poor sleeping habits. Managing stress through support systems, exercise, relaxation techniques and adequate rest will also replenish serotonin levels. These strategies will further promote the refueling of serotonin.

Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep negatively affects our brains' neuronal signaling, including how it responds to serotonin. Sleep deprivation has been shown to desensitize serotonin pathways, meaning that consistent lack of sleep has a negative impact on our brain’s response to serotonin in general. This means that consistent healthy sleeping patterns are key to maintaining healthy serotonin signaling in our brains and likely our bodies in general.

Chemical Substances
Certain substances in our environment can be to blame for cases of depleted serotonin levels in the brain. Exposure to harsh chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals can lead to permanent damage to the nerve cells responsible for producing serotonin.

Lack of Sunlight
Increasing research has revealed a link between lack of sunlight and depleted serotonin levels. When the body's internal clock does not receive signals from the sunlight to release certain energetic hormones such as serotonin, levels of this nerve transmitter are lowered. A study conducted at the University of Toronto shows that sunlight controls serotonin transporters, which are proteins that prevent nerves from receiving serotonin. The study found that higher levels of serotonin transporters were found in the brain during darker autumn and winter months, leading to depleted serotonin levels.

Lack of Exercise
Exercise boosts blood and brain serotonin levels immediately, and it helps regenerate neurons. Increased neuron production gives our brains better ability to utilize the serotonin boosts. Exercise also allows our brains cells to function better by making them more flexible, leading to better responses to all neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

For those (people) found to have inherited a genetic defect in the brain's serotonin receptors, it is difficult for these receptors to absorb the brain's circulating serotonin. This defect makes serotonin receptor sites shorter than they normally would be, hindering their ability to both receive and release serotonin in the brain.

Impacts on serotonin levels in stray dogs
  • Poor diet and stress are the most significant serotonin-related risks for dogs on their own
  • Exercise and sunlight are probably not risks for most stray dogs
  • Since the sleep habits of stray dogs v homed dogs is an unknown, it is harder to discern its effect on serotonin levels in dogs on their own
  • Exposure to chemicals such as pesticides is likely not a high risk for most at large dogs

Impacts of depleted serotonin levels in stray dogs
  • Stress typically contributes to at large dogs avoiding help offered by humans.
  • Dogs with bonded owners often fail to recognize their own human family members due in part to stress and short term memory loss as it relates to compromised serotonin levels.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mapping Sightings and Fliering Online

An interactive lnline map is a tool that should be used in any organized search for a lost dog. This is particularly true where a ot of people are actively involved in the search. Well, actually, good maintenance of an interactive online map can make it possible for more people to be actively involved in the search!

Here's a sample of a very simple map used for a lost dog search from 2011.

The obvious use of a map, most typically using Google Maps, is for sightings. When a lot of sightings exist, and someone (or better eyt, several people) are assigned to plot each and every sighting, and timely as they are called in becauese the mappers are kept in the loop when sightings are called in, then the map can really boose interest in the search if it is shared somewhere that it will be seen by supporters and people with an interest in the search. This may be done in Craigslist postings, listserv emails, Facebook groups or pages, or blogs, to name a few.

Another good use of the map is to plot flyering. I've used it to shade fliered areas in one color, and areas yet to be fliered in another color. At times I've even done things like set up several priority areas -- like 1st, 2nd and 3rd priority -- and given each priority a different color. then after the dog is found and it's time to unflier, you can remove shading as volunteers report to you that they have unfliered areas.

If the search has its own web presence such as a blog or a FB page, you can provide the URL to that site in the map description area. That will get some traffic to that site since there are some people that will find the map VIA Google Maps.

I find that the biggest problem with getting volunteers to accept responsibility to maintain the Google map is simply that they feel they will find it too difficult to do. It's SOOOOO easy to use Google Maps! You can find many Google Maps instructional videos at YouTube.  Or click on Help at the Google Maps opening page.

If the dog and its family are lucky enough to be in an area with trained missing pet scent tracking dogs, the handler should provide a map of the track. We have often re-created the track on our sighting and fliering maps.

Remember to suggest to the lost dog's people that maintaining the map is something that can be assigned to friends and family that don't live nearby, but really wish they could find a way to help with the search. As long as they are receiving communications, people unable to flier or search on the ground can be valuable assets to the search by helping maintain the map.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Postcard Mailing Services

In only the rarest of lost dog cases is it not critical to spread the word! This is how sightings are generated, and sightings are needed to locate the dog.

Then only if one is lucky can the dog be contained easily once found, or better yet, will the dog come when called once spotted. This is most often limited to when the dog hasn't been lost for long - yet. So even when a sighting comes in that shows a new location for the lost dog, that can be just the beginning. There may still be a lot of work to be done to condition the dog to stay in the area long enough to be trapped. This will mean that continued sightings will almost be essential to keep the dog's owner informed as they prepare for trapping.

So, say that it's been a while since there has been a sighting, and all of a sudden, a sighting comes in from a neighborhood where there has been no searching so far. As far as you're concerned, all the neighbors need to be told about the dog, and to have their own photo of him (or her)! Best if an army of people are available to rush there and flyer or deliver fliers to every household! But if that's not a real option, which it typically is not, consider recommending postcard mailer services.

There are several that exist expressly to help with missing pet searches. Everyone has heard of Sherlock Bones, right? That is essentially what Sherlock Bones does -- postcard mailing.

Then if you know about Pet Harbor, you probably know it as a site where you can view the animals at LOT of animal shelters, right?  Look more closely -- they also have a postcard mailer service.

I first discovered the concept when I visited the Lost Pet Cards website. Here's a sample postcard from this site:

Now, you can always produce your own cards, trust me. I've done it. Here is a resource offered by the USPS that isn't there only for missing pet guardians:  Every Door Direct Mail

Also look at, and search on Google to find the many more options that I'm certain exist! You may be required to provide the addresses for that one, and in another blog update, I will give you a way to do that.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lost Dog Recovery Guide

Annalisa Berns has been helping people find their lost pets for years. She was initially trained by the Missing Pet Partnership in 2005, and has had tons of experience since then. She has written her own set of books on how to recover lost dogs and cats. I doubt that what she wrote is a re-hash straight from the MPP training materials; I expect it comes mostly from her considerable years of experience.

Her books have been around for a while, and now they are available from the HelpFindLostPets website, which looks to be very informative. I haven't read Annalisa's books, but in looking over the table of contents, I'd have to say it looks to be well worth the investment if you want to help people recover lost dogs. Like this blog, it's not for people looking to find their own lost dog; it looks like it would be information overload for that. But give it a look, and I'd love to find out your assessment of it as a resource for learning to be a pet detective.

Here's the table of contents:

Checklist of Techniques - A quick reference checklist to use in your search.

Chapter 1 – Common Myths
·         Some people don’t find their pet because they believe these myths!

Chapter 2 – FAST Search
·         If your dog just went missing.
·         Checklist of places to search for your dog and how to conduct a FAST search for your dog.

Chapter 3 – Supplies & Regroup
·         If you don’t have your dog back yet – preparation for search tasks including shopping lists.
·         Checking at the shelter – issues and information.

Chapter 4 – Witness Development
·         Critical tasks for witness development.

Chapter 5 – Trapping & Lure Techniques
·         Detailed directions on different types of trapping and lure techniques.

Chapter 6 – No luck? Move On!
·         Keep up your search momentum –  over 30 lower probability tasks, but important too!

Chapter 7 – Hiring a Pet Detective & Search Dogs
·         Information about using Search Dogs and Pet Detectives in your search for your dog.
·         Information about the authors of this guide and their references. Definitions of common terms.

Chapter 8 – Dealing with Sightings & Calls
·         Dealing with sightings can make or break your search!

Chapter 9 – Confirmed Sighting! Now What?
·         What to do to find your pet from a sighting.

Chapter 10 – Coyotes and Other Predators
·         Detailed information about predators and your missing pet.
·         How to keep predators out of your area and away from your pet.

Chapter 11 – Studies of Lost Pet Behavior & Missing Pet Recovery
·         Information and studies on lost dog behavior and how missing pets are recovered.

Chapter 12 – Breed Specific Tips
·         Resources and specific tips on some popular breeds.

Chapter 13 – I Think Someone Took My Dog!
·         Information about pet theft.

Chapter 14 – Dealing with Grief
·         What to do if the emotional pain of searching for your beloved pet is too much.
·         How to cope with the pain if you found your pet deceased.

Chapter 15 – Facts & Frequently Asked Questions
·         Common questions about finding lost pets and scent.

Chapter 16 – Your Dog is Home!
·         You found your dog safe – what to do next.
·         What to do to keep your dog safe.

Chapter 17 – References, Resources & Suggested Reading
·         Books, magazines, websites and newspaper articles referenced for this guide.
·         Where to go next if you want to know more.

Chapter 18 – Forms
·         Forms for services like Search Strategy Consultations with Pet Detectives and Forensic Testing.

By the way, one of the things I favor about this resource, and Annalisa Berns I guess! -- is the use of the term "Lost Dog Recovery". That's exactly how I think of it; I don't really think "pet detective" even when I say it just because it's quick and easy. To me, it's all about Lost Dog Recovery.

And here's where you can find it:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pet Detective Training from HomeAgain

HomeAgain -- you know, the microchip company -- presents basic pet detective training that was developed for them by Kat Albrecht with the Missing Pet Partnership.

It's an overview, not in depth training, but I would recommend it to anyone. If you have no experience and are thinking of getting started in lost pet recovery, look at it as an introductory class that you take to figure out if it's something you want to pursue.

If you've been at it for a while, take it as a kind of a refresher. If you are seeing brand new stuff, it will have been worth your time, right?

So give it a go!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

How Messages Influence Our Behavior

Part of the Missing Pet Partnership's "Think Lost, Not Stray!" message is a discussion of how messages influence our behavior, and you will find this on their website at:

Missing Pet Partnership Copyright © 2009
Think Lost, Not Stray!TM

The phrase "THINK LOST, NOT STRAY!” was developed by Missing Pet Partnership as means to send out a new message designed to reunite more lost dogs and cats with the families who love them. Our message to the animal welfare industry and citizen rescuers is this: Many of the "stray dogs" and "feral cats" that come into your care are actually lost pets with families who would do anything to get their companion animal back home. Before you work to give a found dog or found cat a new home, THINK LOST, NOT STRAY!TM

HOW MESSAGES INFLUENCE OUR BEHAVIOR: The messages that we hear through marketing, advertising, and other sources influence our thought processes and, ultimately, how we behave. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of BLINK: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, a good portion of our decision making comes from an unconscious level. Gladwell says that we make unconscious "implicit associations" that influence our decision making process and, ultimately, our behavior. These implicit associations, which typically lead to snap judgments, are the opinions we've developed based on the things we've previously seen or heard.

According to Gladwell's research, people "make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us." He went on to write that, "The giant computer that is our unconscious silently crunches all the data it can from the experiences we've had, the people we've met, the lessons we've learned, the books we've read, the movies we've seen, and so on, and it forms an opinion." THE "HOMELESS" MESSAGE: Some of the primary messages the animal welfare industry have sent out in the past years have promoted the words "homeless," "abandoned," "dumped," and "feral." People (usually private citizens) who have heard messages that millions of "homeless" animals are "abandoned" and "dumped" every year tend to leap to the conclusion that the dog they find wandering along a road was "dumped" and is "homeless" rather than considering that it could be a beloved lost pet.

Someone who believes that a dog was dumped is more likely to self-adopt that dog rather than attempt to find its' owner. Are some dogs dumped? Yes! Are most of the loose dogs running around in our neighborhoods there because they were dumped? NO! In order for most of the loose (found) dogs to be unwanted (dumped or abandoned), we'd need to have hoards of people lining up every day just to dump all of these dogs! How likely is that? In reality, we have many people showing up at our animal shelters every day to report that their dog escaped and is lost. The number of loose (found) dogs that end up in shelters, rescue groups, or that are self-adopted is comparably less, compared with the number of people who "dump" or "abandon" dogs and more comparable to the number of lost dogs that are never found by their families.

THE "ABUSED" MESSAGE: A secondary message that the animal welfare industry has sent out in the past years is that many dogs and cats are "abused." Are dogs and cats routinely neglected and physically abused by a sick segment of our population? While the answer, unfortunately, happens to be yes, these sick people are actually a rather small segment of the entire pet owning population. More importantly, the physical appearance and the behavior of a found dog or cat is not the best indicator of whether or not an animal was abused! A dog that is thin, has cuts, burs, fleas, ticks, and is limping may appear this way because it has been running loose for two weeks. A cat that is thin, emaciated, and full of fleas might appear this way because they have been hiding in fear for six weeks under a neighbor's deck after escaping from their owner's home.

Many dogs and cats are at risk of permanent separation from their families simply because their appearance
and their behaviors are misinterpreted as "abuse." The two groups of companion animals that are at the
highest risk of permanent displacement are dogs and cats with xenophobic (fearful, skittish) temperaments.

THE XENOPHOBIC DOG: Xenophobia means "fear or hatred of things strange or foreign". Dogs with xenophobic temperaments (due to genetics and/or puppy hood experiences) are more inclined to travel farther and are at a higher risk of being hit by cars. Due to their cowering, fearful behavior, people assume these dogs were "abused", and even if the dog has ID tags, they will refuse to contact the previous owner.

Some of these panic-stricken dogs will even run from their owners! People who find xenophobic dogs often misinterpret the dog's behavior: they assume that the cowering, fearful dog was "abused" when in fact the dog has a fearful temperament and has been shy and fearful since it was a puppy.

Dogs found in rural areas are often assumed to be "dumped" and/or homeless; many rescuers never think this could be a dog that was lost. Some people who find a stray dog that does not have a collar automatically assume it is "homeless" and therefore they immediately work to place the dog rather than attempt to find the dog's owner.

THE XENOPHOBIC CAT: One of the most tragic misinterpretations of feline behavior occurs when rescuers observe a cat with a xenophobic temperament and assume, based on the fearful behavior, that the cat is an untamed "feral." Xenophobic cats are afraid of EVERYTHING that is new or unfamiliar. Their fearful behavior is hardwired into their character; it is caused by genetics and/or kitten hood experiences (nature or nurture). These cats will hide when a stranger comes into their home, and they typically will not come out until well after the company has left. They do not do well with human contact (being held, petted, etc.) and they are easily disturbed by any change in their environment. When displaced, they bolt and then HIDE IN SILENCE. They tend to remain in the same hiding place and become almost catatonic, immobilized with fear.

If they are found by someone other than their owners, they are typically mistaken as being untamed or "feral cat." While it is true that feral, untamed cats who are unaccustomed to human contact will hiss, spit, twirl, lunge, and urinate when humanely trapped, this "wild animal" behavior is also common in cats who have xenophobic temperaments! We know this because we've talked to owners of lost, xenophobic cats that had to be humanely trapped in order to be recovered; the owners verified that their cats exhibited wild behavior while in the humane trap. These "wild" and "aggressive" behaviors are a reflection of a cat with a fearful TEMPERAMENT, not a lack of TAMENESS.

WHY WE SEND THIS MESSAGE: Every year, millions of dogs and cats escape from their homes and are never reunited with their rightful owners. The entire burden of finding and recovering a displaced dog or cat rests solely on the shoulders of the owner, who, in most cases, is not trained in how or where to search. They are not equipped with or trained in how to use animal capturing tools like catchpoles, snappy snares, and humane traps. We offer every imaginable service under the sun for our companion animals but when they become separated from the families who love them, we leave it up to grieving people who are discouraged, overwhelmed, and usually working alone.

With everything working against them, people who lose their beloved dogs and cats need all the help they can get in order to achieve a successful reunion. Lost dogs and cats that are not returned to their families take up valuable space in our animal shelters, no-kill shelters, rescue groups, and feral cat colonies. So, the next time that you find a loose dog or an unattended cat, assume that someone loves and is looking for that particular companion animal. Ideally, you should post a FOUND poster in the area where the animal was found, place a FOUND Ad in the paper, have the animal scanned for a microchip, and report the animal as found to your local shelter (or transport it to the shelter where the owner can find it, but place a hold on it so you can adopt it if the animal is not claimed). With your support, Missing Pet Partnership can put out the message that STRAY DOG MAY MEAN LOST DOG and STRAY CAT MAY MEAN LOST CAT. By doing this, we know that rescuer behaviors will change and more found dogs and found cats will be reunited with the families who love and are searching them!

Copyright © 2006, Missing Pet Partnership. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lost Pet / Lost Person Comparative Analysis

The Missing Pet Partnership developed this comparative analysis years ago, and presented it at a Best Friends conference in 2009, making it available as part of an audio presentation you can listen to at:
As someone that helps people find their lost dogs, you want to be equipped with as much background understanding as you can have about missing pets and searching for them. This is a pretty good overview, well worth your time. Be sure you see the previous post on this blog before you begin listening to this audio presentation.

Missing Pet Partnership Copyright © 2009
How We Look for Lost People vs. Lost Pets
By Kat Albrecht
Copyright 2007© All Rights Reserved

1. LOST PEOPLE: Central clearinghouse consistent across nation (9-1-1)

LOST PETS: There is no central clearinghouse -- there are massive locations where a found (stray) could end up (local pound, humane society, rescue group facilities, volunteer homes of rescue groups, self-adopted by independent rescuer, etc.).

2. LOST PEOPLE: Typically the family receives sympathy and support (especially in child abduction or high-profile cases)

LOST PETS: Typically pet owner experience "disenfranchised grief" (grief that is publicly unacceptable) where they are shunned by friends, co-workers and family who have a weak (or non-existent) human-animal bond and who tell the pet owner to "just get over it," "you'll never find your dog," "it was just a cat" or "just go to the pound and get another one."

3. LOST PEOPLE: Typically the family is not openly blamed, even if accident resulted in death of a child.

LOST PETS: Typically, the pet owner is blamed and considered "irresponsible" for their dog or cat running loose, even if it was a clear accident beyond their control.

4. LOST PEOPLE: When a lost child is found, rescuers do not consider keeping it and in most cases, it is not turned over to child protective services so that "a better family" can be found.

LOST PETS: When a lost dog is found, it is quite common for the rescuer to self-adopt the dog or turn it over to an organization that will find the dog a new home (without ever attempting to return the dog to the original owner).

5. LOST PEOPLE: When a child is lost, trained resources will respond immediately to the location, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

LOST PETS: When a pet is lost, there is no one to call, no one to respond to assist in the search efforts—you can call a pet sitter, mobile veterinarian, and even a dog poop scoop company to come to your house but when your pet is lost, sorry, you are on your own.

6. LOST PEOPLE: The burden is on the police agency to take action, not on the family member (to find their lost family member).

LOST PETS: Burden is on the pet owner to take action to find their lost pet—and relying on people who are untrained in lost pet behavior or in the differences of how to search for a missing dog vs. a missing cat is a major contributing factor to the homeless pet population.

7. LOST PEOPLE: Assistance offered whether it is asked for or not!

LOST PETS: Assistance is typically refused (by animal shelters, the local police, even TNR and rescue groups) when a pet owner calls and asks someone to come out and help them search for their missing pets…even when pet owner pleads for it!

8. LOST PEOPLE: In many cities across the USA there are three levels of services available:
(a) law enforcement officers conduct an investigation
(b) volunteer search-and-rescue teams are deployed to assist in the search
(c) outside nonprofits are used to supplement investigation (Polly Klaas Foundation, Child Quest, etc.).

LOST PETS: Pet owners are very lucky if they can even find a pet detective in their area, let alone afford the current fees charged for their services.

9. LOST PEOPLE: Research has been conducted to analyze lost person behavior and search managers use the data from that research to strategically deploy the proper resources during search-and-rescue operations.

LOST PETS: No research has been conducted on the behavioral patterns of missing dogs and cats (even though the data is readily available)

10. LOST PEOPLE: Search-and-rescue managers use principles like "Search Probability Theory" and "Deductive Reasoning" to develop conclusions on how and where to search for lost people.

LOST PETS: Reasoning is seldom used when searching for lost pets -- untrained pet owners instead are following gut instincts and using NO reasoning (when they should use deductive reasoning!) and they do everything from stapling dirty underwear to trees to leaving “a scent trail for their pet to follow" and other acts of desperation

11. LOST PEOPLE: National nonprofit exists exclusively for purpose of missing children education and assistance (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, founded by John Walsh).

LOST PETS: Before Missing Pet Partnership was developed, no nonprofit existed exclusively for purpose of missing pet education or in helping to develop community-based lost pet services.

12. LOST PEOPLE: System in place and aggressive attempts will be made to positively identify people -- even DEAD people (dental records, finger prints, driver's license, social security card, tattoo records, etc.)

LOST PETS: Microchip systems are in place that could be used to positively identify pets but is only used by a small fraction of pet owners.

13. LOST PEOPLE: The problem of "Homeless" people is not being addressed through aggressive birth control education or adoption events for unwanted babies. There are many reasons why people become homeless (depression, mental illness, drug or alcohol addictions, loss of income, tragedy, etc.) and services have been developed to deal with each of these issues that contribute to the problem of humans who are homeless.

LOST PETS: The problem of "Homeless Pets" is primarily being addressed through aggressive spay/neuter education or adoption events for unwanted dogs and cats. However, there are many reasons why dogs and cats become homeless, including lost and displaced pets that are never found.

Homicides, burglaries, robberies, and many other crimes stem from the prolific drug trade and individual drug addiction problems. Gangs and drug trafficers will commit murder over drugs and many thieves are either users or suppliers of drugs. Measures used to cut back on burglaries include aggressive enforcement of drug laws (federal, local, and state funding and programs), cross checking databases of known drug abusers to solve burglary and armed robbery investigations, public education of crime (theft and robbery) prevention programs, and public use of burglary and robbery alarms. The problem of murders, burglaries and robberies is addressed using preventative measures (drug enforcement, crime prevention) as well as reactive measures (investigating a homicide, cross checking databases, etc.). If homicides, robberies, and burglaries were never investigated with one of the primary roots of their cause (drugs) in mind, we would have far fewer cases solved and crime rates would soar. Attacking the pet overpopulation problem by strictly focusing on spay/neuter issues while ignoring one of the primary root causes (lost dogs and cats that are never recovered) has resulted in a drastically low “return to owner rate” of lost pets as well as a pet overpopulation problem that is out-of-control.

This comparative analysis can also be found at:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Think Lost, Not Stray!

This post is one for when you really have the time to invest in learning about the Missing Pet Partnership's "Think Lost, Not Stray!" message. It's an important message, and if you are helping people find their missing pets, you should know all about it.

This presentation runs almost 1 1/2 hours; it was presented by Kat Albrecht at a Best Friends conference in 2009. Below the link to the conference, I'm providing the outline for a significant part of the presentation. My next blog entry will present the remainder of it -- the comparative analysis of lost pet/lost person searches

Click to start the presentation whenever you are ready, and you can follow below in a separate window if you want:

Missing Pet Partnership Copyright © 2009
Presenter: Kathy “Kat” Albrecht
Founder, Missing Pet Partnership

Every dog and cat that escapes from the care of its guardian is a "stray" that contributes to the overcrowding of our shelters. A great majority of the stray dogs that end up in shelters were not born in the wild nor were they living in wild packs. Most escaped from a home where they were cared for by someone who simply failed to keep the animal contained. You’ll learn how behaviors contribute to drastically low RTO rates of shelter cats and how shelters can reduce euthanasia rates of unclaimed strays (dogs and cats) through innovative lost animal services, education, and prevention techniques.

A. Brief History / Background
B. Why Lost Pets? (Industry focus is currently on spay/neuter and forever home adoptions. Sadly, there’s very little effort invested in returning lost companion animals to their original homes)


A. To wander about without a destination or purpose; to be loose and roaming.
1. A stray dog or cat DOES NOT mean it is a “homeless” animal or an animal without a guardian…it simply is a companion animal who has escaped custody of his caregiver.
B. STRAY DOGS: In most cases, a stray dog is a missing/lost dog that has not yet be found by his guardian.
C. STRAY CATS: A stray cat can be an untamed feral cat, an escaped house cat, or a displaced cat whose guardian is not known. All three categories can exhibit the same “feral like” behavior (hissing, spitting, growing, twirling in case). Sadly, mistakes on determining whether a cat is “feral” vs. a panicked domesticated cat are common (ZEKE story + VIDEO)


A. Lack of a Central Clearinghouse (see “Lost Pet / Lost Person Comparative Analysis” handout)
B. Shelter logistics (hours, location)
C. Shelter policies (fine involved, must come down to shelter)
D. Physical limitations (disabled, elderly, no transportation)
E. Emotional limitations (grief avoidance, shelter phobic, hopeless)
F. Discouragement (from untrained professionals)
G. Cultural limitations (language barriers, cultural ignorance, fear of uniforms)
H. Searching at wrong location (multiple shelters, timing of the entry into the shelter)
I. Human and animal behaviors are a major contributing factor to permanent the displacement of lost companion animals! (Refer to “The Lost Pet Triad”)
J. Tunnel Vision (cat owner believed animal communicator instead of standard search advice – even with previous experience of a cat taken to a shelter!)
K. Expecting grieving, broken-hearted people who have no hope to continue a sustained search effort without offering assistance contributes to high euthanasia rates!


A. The moment a dog or cat escapes from his guardian’s care, the terminology used for that animal and how people (rescuers) respond to that animal DRASTICALLY CHANGE
B. Vernacular used by rescuers (“I found a dumped stray” instead of “I found a lost dog”) influences their behavior and ultimately what happens to the dog (i.e. re-homed with no efforts to re-unite)
C. Lost companion animals viewed as “sad” by shelters but not as a serious contributing factor to the amount of unclaimed strays they hold in their cages and then euthanize
D. Pet Detectives viewed with suspicion or as a joke (or not even heard of at all)
E. THE FIRST PLACE that guardians are told to “search” for their lost dog or cat is typically THE LAST PLACE where a found dog or cat will be taken (i.e. the city pound). Compare this to lost/found people (central clearinghouse called “9-1-1”).
F. Cats that are panicked, sick, or injured will hide in silence (behavior called “The Silence Factor”) to protect themselves from predators. These cats will not be found by their guardians unless they physically search their neighbor’s yards and/or utilize baited humane traps. The fact that these specific techniques are rarely taken contributes to low reclaim (and high euthanasia) rates of stray cats in our shelters.
G. What a rescuer THINKS and BELIEVES about a found dog or cat influences HOW THEY BEHAVE and WHAT ACTION THEY WILL OR WON’T TAKE. We make “implicit associations” and make snap decisions automatically based on what we have been led to believe such as this dog was dumped or this skittish cat is feral (see “Think Lost, Not Stray” handout).


A. Physical Searches by professionals (MAR Technicians) with trained search dogs, hightech
equipment, and training in how to solve investigations
B. Lost Dog Protests using volunteers with LOST DOG signs near escape point (VIDEO)
C. Reverse investigation/efforts (posting giant FOUND DOG florescent flyers, interviewing
neighbors) by volunteers to solve the mystery of WHO LOST THIS (caged) DOG?
D. Tagging vehicle windows (see photo example at home
page slide show) to mass market a lost dog
E. Refer Guardians to lost pet resources
1. – species specific lost pet recovery tips and network of trained volunteer and professional lost pet recovery resources
2. – social network for posting lost/found pets
3. (sustained search for ADOPTABLE DOGS weeks or months after escape)
4.,,, etc, etc.


A. Microchip / Tag / Containment System Education
1. Cat Fence In Products – Coyote Rollers
2. Most obvious and common effort
B. Referral to Pet Detective Services and Web sites
1. – national directory of pet detectives and behavior/species specific recovery tips
2. Testimonials (SUHKI CASE / ODIE CASE)
C. Establish a Volunteer Trap-and-Reunite (TAR) Program
1. Displaced cats do NOT “run away” – they hide in silence (often near their escape point)
2. Volunteers use humane traps, baby monitors, and surveillance methods to recover “lost” cats who are hiding
3. If not captured, these cats ultimately end up in feral cats colonies or shelters (months later, long after family has stopped searching)
4. The failure of cat owners to recover their displaced cats IS A MAJOR REASON WHY OUR NATIONAL RTO RATES FOR CATS ARE DISMALLY LOW (2%)

D. Lost Pet Search-and-Rescue Teams
1. Physical searches for lost companion animals (service fee or to foster new donors)
2. Proper Posters (ODIE CASE)
3. Counseling/assistance (even transportation) for those who have lost an animal
4. Shelter Cross checks (volunteers in distant communities)
5. LOST DOG protests
6. Network of Taggers to mass market lost dogs
7. Craig’s List and other web site cross checks
8. Night Patrols to recover displaced cats (requires a car, a spotlight, and someone who loves cats!)

E. Missing Pet Partnership’s Vision for the Future
1. MPP will rescue dogs from shelters, train them to locate lost pets, and issue them to partnering shelters and rescue groups
2. Through partnerships, MPP will facilitate the development of volunteer Missing Animal Response teams in communities across the USA
3. Ten years from now, guardians will know they can call on resources that include professionally trained volunteers and search dogs to help them search for their lost pets
4. The reality, however, is that this vision will take TIME and FUNDING. Please support Missing Pet Partnership. Visit our web site and become a MEMBER!


Experience has shown that there are many reasons why people fail to show up at their local shelter in time to claim their lost animals. So what would happen if shelters referred guardians to reliable lost pet recovery services? What would happen if shelters developed a program where volunteers did everything within their power to find the guardians of stray dogs and cats within the 72-hour holding period? What if instead of passively waiting for a lost dog or cat to show up in the local shelter, volunteers and guardians went into the community and aggressively searched for lost dogs and cats?

How much would shelter euthanasia levels drop and how high would return-to-owner rates soar if instead of immediately looking for “forever homes” for strays, we instead slowed down and worked to find the “original home” where that dog or cat escaped from? The answer is that we will never know until we try!

Here is a PDF of the presentation:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Flier Distribution Services

If you're like most people, you weren't aware that some locations have small business services that will perform flier distribution services. This means that if you're in such an area, you can refer lost dog owners that you help to such services.

Of course professional door-to-door flier distribution services certainly will bring up the cost of the search for a lost dog. But it's so very common for people with lost dogs to be unable to pull together enough people to help by volunteering to do this kind of spreading the word about the lost dog. That lack of available volunteer labor is such a huge problem that most people that can afford to employ such services, they would be lucky to have them in their area.

Here are a few such services that I found by Googling the term "flyer distribution service". It may be that none are available in your area, but continue searching the internet and talking to people to see if this type of service is offered by anyone in your area:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Scent Inhibitors

In difficult cases where the dog has basically been found but won't allow himself to be captured, trapping can be the only way.  Traps need to be checked periodically, and while it's normally most advisable to allow traps to do their work alone, often people want to stage stakeouts.

I think that often this is more to satisfy themselves that they are doing something, or if done by the dog's owners, because they are just dying to see the dog. Usually there's not some real plan for how to respond if the dog is seen. Many times I've recommended not infiltrating the dog's area with the presence of a lot of people, all their energies focused on that dog.

At any rate, if there will be humans sneaking around in the dark of night, whether just to check traps and replenish feeding or just to stare in the hopes of generating a sighting, there's a problem worth putting some effort into addressing. That is the human scent that the dog will pick up, and know that he's not alone! Any dog can recognize human scent.

Through research mostly on hunting websites, I've found that hunters know something about reducing the strength of their scent while they are out there in their hunting blinds. Here's an overview that might be worth a look. It's intended for hunters, and they are more likely to go to the extents that the author suggests than most people that would participate in a stakeout or check traps and feeding stations for a lost or a stray dog. But the education isn't bad to have.

Then I've also learned that there are many scent inhibitor products on the market. I found a product comparison website for anyone thinking of investing in such products. And I also found a recipe to make your own.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Missing Pet Voicemailing Services

One of the greatest thing to hit missing pet searches was automated voicemailing!  Find Toto service was probably the first one and most certainly is the best known.  But there are competitors in Lost My Doggie and in Pet Amber Alert

Lost My Doggie logo

To make it work, you do need to have a good reason to believe that the dog is in a certain residential area and will be seen by people receiving the voicemail message at their home landline phone. That can be the biggest problem. The services don't deliver (voicemail messages) to businesses or to cell phones.

With a growing population of people that either don't have landlines or, like me, never check the voicemail on their landline phones but every few weeks, these voicemailing services may not always work so well. But today, when they work, they work GREAT! Possibly, because cell phones can be texted to, some day a lost pet texting service idea will work. I have found one,, but I don't know anyone that has ever used it and I don't think the site does a good selling job.

Also to my knowledge (and I'd love to be wrong about this), the messages are in English, so that can be another drawback if the messages are delivered to a large number of homes with no English-speaking residents.

I've found another service that looks interesting, but I know of no one that has ever used it -- Called Everyone.  It is a service that allows you to record the message, and provide the phone number list of who to be called. If the lost dog's people have a good source of a lot of numbers -- maybe including cell phone nu;mbers? -- then this might be a good method for getting the word out to whoever might be seeing the dog. Or it can be used to request help in the search!