Missing Pet Partnership has emerged principally from the efforts (and struggles) of its founder Kat Albrecht. Kat’s perseverance in pursuing her dream of a national nonprofit dedicated to reuniting lost pets with their owners/guardians is a testament to her indomitable spirit and will. As this history illustrates, MPP is worthy of your monetary and in-kind donations. Help make Kat’s dream a reality!
In 1996 Missing Pet Partnership founder Kat Albrecht was a police officer at the U.C. Santa Cruz Police Department where she worked as an investigator (detective), field training officer, search-and-rescue manager, and Bloodhound and cadaver dog trainer/handler. In May of that year, Kat’s Bloodhound A.J. escaped and was lost in the woods. Kat used another search dog to track him down. This sparked the question, “Why aren’t we training dogs to find lost pets?” By November of 1996, Kat had trained her dog Rachel to detect and trail lost animals. (For full details of Kat’s transition from police officer to pet detective, read The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures of a K-9 Cop Turned Pet Detective).
In May 1997 Kat launched a side business, “Pet Pursuit,” and started using her search dog Rachel to track lost pets. By September 1997, and due to her success on lost pet cases, Kat realized that lost pet services needed to be developed across the nation. When she learned that a man from Texas had trained his Bloodhound to track lost dogs, Kat asked what had happened to him. She was told that the man had died in 1984. Kat then asked, “Then what happens when I die? Will these services die with me?” This, and the fact that Kat watched an episode of Oprah about “volunteerism” where Oprah launched the “Angel Network” convinced Kat that she needed to take her small business idea and develop it into a national nonprofit organization. In November 1997 Kat formed The National Center for Missing Pets (NCMP) which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. The Board consisted of animal lovers but was inexperienced. When Kat was injured while arresting a DUI suspect in December 1997, all searches and work on developing NCMP came to a sudden halt.
In January 1998, the NCMP Board was preparing to pitch a reality pet detective series to Animal Planet but instead connected with a feature film producer who showed interest in Kat’s unique life story. He said the first step to pitching a feature film was to publish Kat’s autobiography. Kat then attended several writing conferences and began work on two manuscripts: her memoirs (The Lost Pet Chronicles) and a book about how to train dogs to locate lost pets (Dog Detectives). In May 1998, with the help of a CPA working pro bono, NCMP filed a 1023 application with the IRS and filed for tax exempt status with the State of California. In October 1998, the IRS said it needed more information before making a determination but that since NCMP performed services for pet owners, it did not fit within a charitable class. Unfortunately, the application failed to articulate how NCMP’s work would help alleviate the suffering of animals. On October 27, 1998 NCMP withdrew its IRS application for tax-exempt status.
As a result, the California State Franchise Tax Board revoked NCMP’s tax exempt status in April 1999 and charged NCMP $3,400 in back taxes and penalties. Thus, Kat’s first attempt to launch a national nonprofit failed and the organization was dissolved. Undeterred, in September 1999, Kat launched her own pet detective business and trained a group of four pet detectives from Half Moon Bay, California.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding and a series of expensive veterinary bills, Kat’s pet detective business failed in May 2000. She needed a job so she accepted a position with the American Humane Association (AHA) as Manager of Emergency Animal Relief in Los Angeles.
In January 2001 Kat’s primary MAR search dog was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was euthanized. To make matters worse, after Kat had trained up a team of 16 volunteers and had several search dogs in training in Los Angeles, she was notified in March 2001 that her job had been cut from American Humane Association’s budget. Homeless and jobless, Kat relocated to Fresno, California and moved in with family to regroup. In September 2001 Kat traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak at the AHA Annual Conference and was three blocks from the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 when the terrorists struck. Kat reasoned that this certainly was NOT the time to launch a new nonprofit organization. All focus was on our nation’s tragedy–who would care about an issue like lost pets?
After so many losses and setbacks, Kat felt like she had hit rock bottom. She rebounded, however, and after assisting an elderly woman find her lost cat in December 2001, Kat realized that there will always be a need for lost pet services. After Kat was interviewed for an article in the Fresno Bee a donor stepped forward and fronted the fees to incorporate and form a new organization. Thus, Lost-A-Pet Foundation, Inc. was formed on December 18, 2001 and Kat’s shattered dream was revived!
In May 2002 the Board for Lost-A-Pet Foundation held its first meeting and elected to do business under the new name Missing Pet Partnership. In July 2002 Kat was contacted by a literary agent who was interested in reading the manuscript of her memoirs. This was the beginning of the journey for Kat’s first book, The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures of a K-9 Cop Turned Pet Detective which was ultimately published in April 2004. However, despite the formation of the new nonprofit organization and the interest being shown in Kat’s life the donations needed to fund her dream remained elusive. A snippet from Kat’s personal journal dated August 18, 2002 sums up the financial hardships:
“Yesterday I learned that one of our Board members failed to raise the $5,000.00 he thought that a donor was going to give. But because we don’t have nonprofit status yet, the donor is not willing to give. This donation would have helped sustain MPP and me, since they would have reimbursed me for my previous expenses. So it’s clear now–I will need to go get a job. I’m just deeply depressed. There are thousands of people who could benefit from the knowledge that I have about lost pet behaviors but I have failed to develop an organization that can share this information. Every day I receive emails and phone calls (from pet owners who have heard about my work)–people who are BEGGING ME to help THEM when I want to scream, “NO, PLEASE HELP ME!” But I don’t want to beg for money. And when someone is in a state of fear and grief (because their pet is lost) I certainly don’t want to give them advice and then turn around and ask them to make a donation. There are plenty of pet owners who have the ability and desire to financially support us–I just need to find a way to reach them. And worse of all, I will no longer have the time to help people like this because my time will now be spent working a 9 to 5 job. It’s not that I am opposed to working at a job–it’s that I know that my destiny is to develop Missing Pet Partnership and any time spent working on any job other than that is truly a waste of my time. I am just so sad.”
In December 2002 Missing Pet Partnership was granted nonprofit status by the State of California. However, Missing Pet Partnership was notified by the IRS that its application for federal tax exempt status had been forwarded to Washington, D.C. for further review. Because the organization was not able to raise donations (it did not have tax exempt status yet), Kat paid most of the organization’s initial bills. But because money was tight, Kat was forced to take on two part-time jobs: she worked part-time for a local animal coalition and she delivered newspapers. Kat elected not to attempt to make a living herself as an individual pet detective because this would have left no time to develop the nonprofit organization. She never lost her vision or her passion for training other human and canine pet detectives who could ultimately offer lost pet services in their own communities.
By February 2003 Missing Pet Partnership began to recruit local (Fresno, California) volunteers and search dogs. The plan was that once MPP obtained nonprofit status, and secured insurance and funding, it would launch an all-volunteer MAR team that would search for lost pets in Fresno. MPP began to hold once a week dog training events and once a month team meetings and training seminars. In March 2003 Missing Pet Partnership contacted the IRS to get an estimate on when the IRS would review MPP’s application for nonprofit status. MPP was told that it would not be reviewed for at least six months. Six months passed so Missing Pet Partnership contacted the IRS in September 2003 and was told it would not be reviewed for at least another two months. In December 2003 Missing Pet Partnership was told that MPP was “number 22 in a stack of 50 applications” and that the IRS did not expect to review the application until March 2004.
In February 2004 Missing Pet Partnership requested that the IRS expedite the review of their application due to the pending publication of Kat’s memoirs (in which she requested donations for MPP). The IRS representative said he would get started on the application and would call MPP back within the next two weeks. After not hearing back from the IRS as promised, MPP filed a complaint with the National Taxpayer Advocate program in March 2004. Within three weeks of filing the complaint, Missing Pet Partnership was FINALLY granted 501(c)(3) tax exempt status!
Kat’s memoirs, The Lost Pet Chronicles, were published in April 2004 and she embarked on a national book tour. Media interest increased and several producers contacted Kat with pitches for TV series. Several pitches over the next year were made to Animal Planet but all were rejected. In November 2004, when the development and funding for Missing Pet Partnership lagged, Kat decided to develop the first-ever pet detective academy as a for-profit business. She formed Pet Hunters International and worked on developing the training seminar that she had envisioned for years. All work on Missing Pet Partnership slowed down.
In June 2005 Pet Hunters International launched the first Missing Animal Response Technician course in Hagerstown, Maryland. Twelve students attended and were the first official certified MAR Technicians from MAR Class #001. Shortly thereafter, most of the effort to train and launch a local team of volunteers in Fresno, California was scrapped in favor of Kat focusing on the national training program and developing pet detective teams across the USA.
In July 2006, Missing Pet Partnership collaborated with the Valley Oak SPCA and Love of Animals, Inc. to launch the first-ever Loose Dog Recovery Project. A temporary animal shelter was set up and teams of volunteers along with magnet dogs and snappy snares rounded up loose dogs panicked by Fourth of July fireworks. By this time interest in the MAR Technician program was growing while Kat’s desire to own and manage her own business was dwindling! Kat was overwhelmed and realized that the MAR program would experience faster growth and development if it was managed by Missing Pet Partnership. She therefore agreed to donate the MAR Technician program to Missing Pet Partnership. In September 2006, Kat was contacted by HomeAgain, a prominent microchip company, and asked to assist in the development and promotion of a new program. (Visit HomeAgain to learn more about The New HomeAgain!) Then, in October 2006, Animal Planet decided to develop a reality pet detective series. Missing Pet Partnership was filmed by a production company and was considered for the program. However, by this time MPP had already trained and certified several other pet detectives who were out tracking lost pets. As happens in any organization, a division occurred. Thus there were now two different pet detective entities competing for a reality TV show on Animal Planet. Ultimately Missing Pet Partnership was not selected for the program.
New Board members were added to MPP in January 2007, and the new Board agreed to merge Pet Hunters International and its MAR Technician seminar into MPP. Kat then dissolved her business and focused on her continued volunteer efforts (along with the MPP Board) to further develop the organization. In February 2007 Missing Pet Partnership formed a partnership with the Central California SPCA with plans to recruit volunteers and launch the first-ever all volunteer MAR team. This was the same vision that was previously interrupted when Kat branched off to launch national MAR seminar training. MPP participated in several local events in an attempt to recruit local volunteers. Unfortunately, after further failed attempts to find local support, donations, or enough volunteers to launch a local volunteer MAR team, Missing Pet Partnership made the difficult decision to relocate.
In April 2008, Missing Pet Partnership relocated their training operations to Seattle (Federal Way), Washington. Recruitment of volunteers and the training of several Seattle-area MAR dogs began almost immediately. MPP submitted a proposal to the King County Animal Care and Control to partner in developing a revolutionary Shelter Missing Animal Response pilot project. This program would have used volunteers to help the animal shelter recover lost pets in order to reduce shelter euthanasia rates and reunite unclaimed strays with their owner/guardians.
In May 2008, MPP began responding on a limited number of lost cat investigations utilizing cat detection dog Sadie on searches. In July 2008, MPP hosted a LOST PET RECOVERY booth at the Kent Animal Shelter where volunteers handed out free lost pet posters and recovery advice to families whose dog or cat took off due to fireworks. Over 14 animals were recovered as a result of MPP’s work, including a dog named Sophie who evaded capture for seven weeks.
Also in July 2008, MPP was forced to cancel nearly all of their 2008 out-of-state MAR seminars due to a lack of registrations. With gas prices rising and the economy dropping, MPP was only able to offer a total of two MAR seminar in Seattle, Washington.
In August 2008, MPP suspended all lost pet search services in order to pursue funding to develop and launch the Shelter MAR program. In order for the program to succeed, funding for equipment and an office staff was needed. Sadly, due to the rapid decline in the economy opportunities for grants and corporate funding evaporated by November 2008.
In December 2008, MPP made one last effort to launch the innovative Shelter MAR program after pitching a partnership with a fellow national animal welfare organization. The concept of the partnership was that MPP could provide the knowledge and training of MAR dogs and human searchers and the other organization could provide the funding and network of volunteers to expand the program on a national level. Sadly, the other organization declined the offer due to the unstable economy.
In January 2009, MPP’s Board made the difficult decision to suspend the Shelter MAR program until a time that funding sources can be found. Instead, in March 2009 MPP will launch lost pet services in the Seattle area through the first-ever lost pet search-and-rescue team. Our hope is that we can ultimately find the funding to provide training to animal shelters in order to duplicate the development of similar teams and establish community-based lost pet rescue services.
Stay tuned as our journey continues!
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