Frequently Asked Questions

My pet is lost and I’m looking for a bloodhound or search dog that is trained to find lost pets. Can you help me? Top

In 1997, Missing Pet Partnership founder Kat Albrecht began using her police bloodhounds and cadaver dog (a Weimaraner) to track lost dogs, cats, reptiles, and other pets. Through Missing Pet Partnership Kat has since trained several Missing Animal Response (MAR) technicians, some with trained search dogs who offer lost pet services in various areas of the country. You can find a listing of these technicians on our National Directory page.

My pet has been missing for a month. Can a search dog still pick up a scent and help me find my lost pet? Top

It depends. If the lost pet is a cat, turtle, snake, or small animal that does not tend to travel too far and you have a specific area where the search dog can be used to conduct an “area search” then, yes, a search dog could potentially be helpful. That’s because instead of attempting to track a scent trail that was deposited by the lost pet, the search dog would be searching for a “scent cone” or the cloud of scent that would be coming off of the animal where it is hidden. This is how MAR Cat Detection dogs are used, which is the same manner that bomb and drug detection dogs are used. MAR Cat Detection dogs are not specifically trained to follow a scent trail (which is likely only viable for up to two weeks, at best). Instead, they are trained to detect (not track) the scent of a cat. Our MAR technicians have found cats that have been missing six weeks because they were not attempting to track (follow) the scent trail. MAR Cat Detection dogs are also crossed-trained in decomposition scent so that even if your cat is no longer alive, they can assist in the recovery and bring closure. If on the other hand the lost pet is a dog that has been missing for a month, the chances are that the scent trail (that your dog deposited when it left the escape point) is probably no longer there for a search dog to pick up. In fact, the oldest known scent trail that a search-and-rescue dog has tracked was 13 days old.

To learn more about how long a scent trail can survive, read an excerpt from MPP Founder Kat Albrecht’s book DOG DETECTIVES on the topic of scent. Heat and direct sunlight will destroy scent and wind will disperse it. The best scenting conditions are cool, damp, even wet (rainy) areas with an abundance of vegetation. The worst scenting conditions are hot, dry areas that offer nothing moist for scent to cling to. For more information about the viability of a scent trail, visit the Warning page.

Keep in mind that just because the scent trail might be too old (for a search dog to track) does NOT mean that a pet detective can’t help you retrieve your lost pet! A MAR Technician’s search dog could be utilized if you have a potential recent sighting of your lost pet or the search dog is a detection dog. The MAR Technician can also help with shelter checks, Internet research, posting fluorescent posters, and developing leads weeks, sometimes months after your pet has disappeared. Although the passage of time does diminish the chances of a recovery, pet detectives have successfully recovered pets that were missing for several weeks, even months.

[Note: Be warned that there are pet detectives not affiliated with Missing Pet Partnership who market their K9 tracking services as being “the answer” to finding your lost pet. Sadly, a few have attempted to disparage Missing Pet Partnership for our efforts to tell the truth about search dogs and scent. Search dogs have their limitations, especially in hot, dry climates and when scent trails are weeks or months old. Missing Pet Partnership promotes the development and philosophy of community-based volunteer lost pet search-and-rescue teams so that K9 pet detective services can be affordable and readily available in all communities. In our opinion, pet owners should not have to pay large sums of money (in one case, $12,000 for a “self-proclaimed dog tracker”) to travel from several states away. Our efforts to train teams across the nation do not sit well with a few for-profit pet detectives who see our mission as being a threat to their livelihood. While this is unfortunate, please be assured that our mission and purpose remains to use the highest ethical standards and innovative techniques to reunite lost companion animals with their owners/guardians through training, education, and partnerships.]

What exactly does Missing Pet Partnership do? Top

Missing Pet Partnership works to reunite lost pets with their families through education and partnerships with animal welfare agencies. We are working to achieve our goals through various means. First, we offer the most comprehensive website of lost pet recovery tips based on our cutting edge knowledge of lost pet behavior. Since 2001, our website has helped thousands of pet owners recover their lost pets as is evident in our Testimonials page. MPP has also partnered with several animal shelters to help them develop lost pet services, and our future plans include creating online training to help even more shelters adopt MPP lost pet recovery practices so that animals can be reunited with their owners before entering the shelter system, freeing up space for other animals in need. In addition, we plan to develop community-based lost pet services through a partnership with a pet detective academy developed by MPP founder Kat Albrecht.

I want to help. How can I volunteer for MPP? Top

Missing Pet Partnership is an all-volunteer, national, non-profit organization. We are currently seeking volunteers in a wide variety of roles, most of which may be done from anywhere in the U.S. Please visit our Volunteer page to see what opportunities are currently available and to contact us about volunteering. For ideas on other ways to support our mission, visit the Support Us page.

What is your success rate? Top

This is not a simple question to answer because success can have several definitions. In general, people who contact us end up getting their pets back at least 70% of the time. This is not necessarily due to our assistance; some cats and dogs just come home on their own, or they may have gotten a call from the local shelter, for example. We do know, based on records of over a thousand cases, that following our methods increases your odds of successfully finding your pet.

The success rate of the search dog is similarly difficult to quantify. In general, search dogs for humans are only successful about 5% of the time. Data is not readily available to give a precise number. Dogs searching for pets are not any more successful than dogs searching for humans, in terms of the dog following the scent to the exact location where the missing pet is at this particular moment. Other than that, our search dogs are quite successful in generating useful information. For one thing, we can tell you where your pet is not. By establishing a direction of travel for a missing dog, we can help you focus your search efforts in the proper direction. When looking for your cat, if we don’t find her after a thorough search of yards of about twenty of your neighbors, then you can say with a high degree of confidence that your cat is not in those areas, allowing you to focus your attention outside that zone. Also, the presence of a search dog can prompt people to take an interest in your missing pet, generating new leads.

A search dog is not the only answer, and she might not even be the best tool for your situation. A search dog is only one avenue of investigation, and it should be pursued in conjunction with all the other investigative techniques. If you sent out post cards to 100 of your neighbors, maybe only one or two would have information about your missing cat. The odds of a particular neighbor having knowledge of your cat might be quite low, maybe one or two percent, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them all. Similarly, even if a search dog might only have a five percent chance of finding your pet and a fifty percent chance of generating a useful lead, it is still an avenue of investigation you should pursue if you want to give your pet the best chance of being found.

My neighbors say that my cat (or small dog) has probably been killed by a coyote. Is this true? Top

It is very unlikely that your pet has been killed by a coyote. Of all the possible reasons that your pet is missing, predation by a coyote is one of the least likely. It does happen, but it is much less common than people think. In fact, the myth that most missing pets were taken by coyotes is responsible for more missing pets than the coyotes themselves: people believe there is no hope, they stop looking, and their pets are not found in a timely manner. Of the 676 pets we helped in 2011, only 13 were proven to have been taken by a predator. Over 450 of those pets were found, one way or another. In nearly 100% of the cases where we have provided assistance, someone has told the owner of the missing pet that their cat or small dog was taken by a coyote. We know that is not true at least 90% of the time, possibly 98% of the time. We don’t currently know why the myth of coyotes killing pets is so widespread, but it doesn’t help people get their pets back. If your cat or small dog is missing, be prepared that someone will tell you it was killed by a coyote, and also know that what they say is probably not true.

How are Cat Detection/Dog Detection search dogs trained? Top

A Cat Detection dog is trained for 3 to 6 months before certification. A Dog Detection dog is trained for about 18 months initially, and then needs further training and reinforcement continually after she begins working cases. In either case, the trained dog would not be of much use without a trained handler. The dog’s handler must know everything about the search process, the personality of the dog he’s working with, and the techniques of lost pet investigations, in order to make proper use of the information discovered by the dog. Dogs who find cats are trained much in the manner of dogs who find drugs or bombs. They are trained to find any cat they can within a given area, and they are rewarded for giving the proper signal. Dogs who find dogs are trained in a manner similar to the way bloodhounds trail escaped criminals. Missing Pet Partnership uses techniques that have been known and proven for centuries, but we have adapted them to the particular behaviors of missing pets. With both types of dogs, the training is entirely positive, and the dogs are never coerced into performing. Often, the dog and handler are trained as a unit, and they work as a team.

Why shouldn’t I call my dog’s name when I’m looking for him? Top

Usually, before people contact us for help, they go out calling the name of their missing dog. In rare instances, this can work. However, most of the time, it does more harm than good. If a dog is not coming home on his own, it is probably because he has had some sort of frightening encounter. When a dog enters the “flight mode” state of mind, he will either remain hidden or run away when anyone or anything focuses attention on him. Even if it is his favorite human, who he has known for years, intense focus on the dog will heighten his anxiety and force him to run. We have witnessed many occasions where a missing dog was located by the owners. At that moment, the dog stood prepared to run away. By using calming signals, owners can reduce the anxiety of the “flight mode” dog and help him overcome his fears. Our Lost Pet Consultants can coach you on the alternatives to calling your dog’s name.

How likely is it that I will ever see my dog or cat again? Top

You have at least a 70% chance of recovering your pet, possibly higher. If you made no effort at all to find your pet, he still might be returned to you via a microchip, a collar tag, or a helpful neighbor who recognized him. Millions of pets go missing every year, and at least half of them are found one way or another, according to some studies. According to the records we keep, at least 70% of the people who contacted us for help eventually found their pets. The actual number may be higher, but not everyone responds to our follow up inquiries. When someone has lost a pet, he or she is likely unaware of all the different methods available to find a lost pet. Our goal, as an organization, is to increase the chances of successful recovery by helping the owners of lost pets to investigate every avenue by which their lost pet may be recovered. Perhaps more importantly, we can explain which actions actually reduce your chances of recovering your pet, and help you avoid them. We know that one of leading reasons that people don’t find their pets is because they think it is hopeless and they stop looking. Almost all owners of missing pets have reached a point where they thought it was hopeless and there was no point in looking. Those who have persisted are most often rewarded for their efforts.

Some of the actions you suggest are too time consuming. If I don’t have the time to make posters or conduct an intersection alert, can I hire MPP to do this work for me? Top

We are a volunteer organization focused on education and training about lost pet recovery, and we do not have teams for hire to help search for pets. We have trained many amazing lost pet recovery technicians across the country, however, and we have them listed in our National Directory. These are MPP trained Missing Animal Response (MAR) technicians in good standing with MPP. There may not by a technician in your city or state; however, some technicians do travel so it is worth following up with the technician closest to you for advice and perhaps even recommendations of resources closer to your geographical location. Each technician sets his or her own rates, so please enquire about the cost of a consultation when you first make contact. We strongly recommend requesting references from past clients before hiring any pet detective.

I am going out to look for my dog or cat. Can you tell me where to look first, to make best use of my time? Top

Missing Pet Partnership’s Lost Pet Consultant volunteers can probably help you prioritize your search based on our experience with hundreds of cases involving lost pets. By asking you a series of questions, we can learn about your cat or dog’s personality, health, and experiences, and then we can compare that information to how similar pets have behaved in the past. For example, most people who are missing a cat will try to search for blocks while driving in a car. Based on our experience, and based on where most missing cats are found, driving for blocks to look for a cat is not an effective approach. We can help you narrow your search, but we need to do a full, in-depth consultation to do this effectively. Time spent talking to a Lost Pet Consultant can save you time out searching, and increase your chances of success. Please visit the Lost Pet Consultants page to learn more about what they do and how to reach out to them.

Can you recommend someone in my area? Top

Our National Directory lists individuals who have taken our Missing Animal Response (MAR) training. We are not a governing body, and we don’t oversee the actions and methods of those who have received our training. A few people have been removed from our directory after we investigated complaints about them and found those complaints to have merit. As far as we know, the individuals in our directory are competent and caring professionals. However, in most cases, we don’t have much experience working with them and we can’t recommend one individual over another. It would be up to you to evaluate the suitability of anyone listed in our directory. We strongly recommend requesting references from past clients before hiring any pet detective.

Are there pet detectives or lost pet searchers that I should avoid? Top

We have received complaints about certain individuals (none of which is currently listed in our directory), but we don’t have the resources to investigate all claims of fraud or incompetence. There certainly are individuals you should avoid, but we don’t have the authority to tell you not to use them. Also, as a non-profit, we cannot afford to be sued by someone who disagrees with our assessment. There are also scammers out there who collect a fee and never have any intention of doing a search for your pet. Before hiring anyone to help you find your lost pet, you should have a clear understanding of what they can and cannot do. You should also ask for references from past clients.

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