Pet detectives:the nose that knows

For millions of people, pets are more than just animals who share a living space – they are valued family members. And when beloved pets go missing, it is a nightmarish experience. Owners are often confused and do not know where and how to look for their pets. In US, Kat Albrecht runs PHI, which is the only pet detective agency. And guess who helps her find those four-legged friends? Her search dogs, of course! Read on to find more about them.

Holding the feisty terrier by her collar, Hardin Weaver gives the search command. “Susie, are you ready? Search!” Immediately Susie lurches forward, pulling hard in her harness as she sniffs the air currents in search of the scent that she is trained to find. But unlike most other search-and-rescue dogs, Susie is not searching for a lost child, a missing hiker, or even a confused Alzheimer’s patient—what she is searching for is a lost cat!

Susie is one of several search dogs that are currently being trained by pet detective Kat Albrecht, President of Pet Hunters International (PHI), US — the only pet detective academy that trains and certifies humans and search dogs to track lost pets.

PHI’s mission:

Based in Fresno, California, PHI’s mission is to certify professional pet detectives who will conduct aggressive, physical searches for lost pets using newly developed law enforcement-based techniques and technologies normally used to find lost people. Kat developed PHI in 1997 (while she was still a police detective) after her bloodhound A.J. escaped her yard and was lost. Kat used another search-and-rescue dog to track A.J. down, thus giving her the idea to train search dogs to track lost pets.

Techniques used:

Using investigative techniques such as probability theory, behavioural profiling, and searches with scent-detection dogs, Kat has helped more than 1800 pet owners locate their lost dogs, cats, snakes, turtles and horses. Kat believes that training professio-nal pet detectives who can assist pet owners in making aggressive attempts to recover a lost pet will have a tremendous impact on reducing the homeless pet population. Pet dogs and cats who escape from their owners’ care make up a large percentage of the “stray” and “homeless” animals.

MAR technique:

The MAR (Missing Animal Response) K9 certification programme is the most visible aspect of PHI. In order to be accepted into the training programme, dogs like Susie are evaluated to make sure they have the appropriate temperament and drive. Dogs who show fear, aggression, or a low level of enthusiasm will not pass the evaluation. Dogs who absolutely love cats are trained as cat detection dogs using methods similar to those used to train drug and bomb detection dogs. In Susie’s case, her training “reward” for finding the hidden crate that contains a “target cat” is the opportunity to lick, nuzzle, and play with the kitty.

Dogs who love to play with other dogs are trained to track the scent trail of lost dogs just as police bloodhounds are trained to track lost people. Dogs who love treats and are highly motivated by food are trained to search for reptiles, ferrets, cats, and other small animals using a training method known as “specific scent” where the dog is trained to “smell a scent, find the matching scent.” With specific scent, a search dog can be used to search for a lost snake one day and the next day she can be used to search for a missing cat, ferret, turtle or other lost pet.


There is a very basic principle in search-and-rescue work—you will have a higher probability of finding a lost person if you know how and where to search. In the case of lost people, the tactics and techniques that are used to search for a missing hiker are very different from those used to search for a missing deer hunter. Sadly, most people don’t know how and where to search for a lost pet. The methods that should be used to search for a dog who bolted in a blind panic due to a thunderstorm are very different than those that should be used to search for an outdoor-cat who has suddenly vanished. Various factors will influence the distance a lost pet will travel, the speed they will travel, and the likelihood that they will be found. These factors include the species involved (dog vs. cat vs. ferret), the temperament of the animal (gregarious vs. skittish), the circumstances surrounding the disappearance (dog that digs out to explore a scent vs. indoor-cat that escapes outside), the population density (a dog lost in the Sierra Nevada Mountains vs. a dog lost in New York), and the environment (a hot July day in the desert vs. during a snow storm). MAR Technicians learn how to analyse individual lost pet cases and develop a specific search plan that takes into account all of these variables, thus answering the critical questions of how and where to search for a particular lost pet. For example, dogs with friendly temperaments are likely to be found closer to their home (they will typically run up to the first person who calls them) than dogs with skittish, fearful temperaments (they will typically run away from people who call them). Also, people who find a loose dog who has a fearful, shy temperament will often misinterpret the cowering and shivering as “abuse” and will tend to keep the dog instead of trying to find its owner.

MAR Technicians certified by PHI are trained to use high-tech equipment including amplified listening devices and search cameras, humane traps with baby monitors to capture panicked lost cats who are hiding, how to develop a specific search plan, how to identify the high probability search areas for a lost pet, and how to collect and analyse physical evidence. In the past, MAR Technicians have even used a forensic anthropologist to analyse a bone to solve one lost cat investigation and a DNA test on a cat whisker to solve another.


One recovery method pioneered by PHI is “TAR” or “trap-and-reunite” services. TAR involves the simple use of baited humane traps and surveillance equipment to recover displaced cats and has already resulted in the recovery of several hundred “lost” indoor-only cats that had escaped outdoors. Most of these were cats with skittish, fearful temperaments that escaped into unfamiliar territory and responded just as the PHI behavioural patterns predicted: when cats are injured or afraid, they hide in silence.

Thus, the PHI dogs are offering a much needed service that is helping to reduce the homeless pet population, save the lives of companion animals, and assist people who have no where else to turn. Kudos to Kat Albrecht, the Sherlock Holmes of pet detectives, for doing such a wonderful job.

(Kathy “Kat” Albrecht is a police officer-turned-pet detective and President of Pet Hunters International (PHI), an international pet detective academy. Kat and her search dogs (Weimaraner search dog Rachel and two police bloodhounds, A.J. and Chase) have successfully located criminals, physical evidence, and missing persons. Kat lives in Clovis, California with her two search dogs and three cats. She has also published ‘The lost pet chronicles: Adventures of a K-9 cop turned pet detective’(Bloomsbury, April 2004) which tells the unique story of her transition from tracking criminals to tracking lost pets. For more information on Pet Hunters International, visit

HOLI HAZARDS! Too wet for Mr. wet nose!!!

This Holi, let’s colour the lives of our canine friends with love, instead of colouring their coats, which is very harmful to them.

Festivals are always an occasion to look forward to, and the general spirit is to follow “the more the merrier” path. And with Holi, the festival of colours, just round the corner, our enthusiasm is all geared up to welcome it with open arms. Known to usher in the summers, people go out of the way to indulge in frolicking with water, colours and balloons. While some prefer wet Holi, others prefer the dry roli or abeer to mark the occasion.

However, one aspect that people don’t give much thought to, is the effect the festival has on our canine members. For all dog-loving families, the Holi celebrations are incomplete, if their four-legged darlings are not included in the merry-making. And so, they get their dogs out where all the action is, and play with them just as with the other family members. While the intentions and the feelings behind involving these sweethearts is totally justified and understandable, the truth is that your dog must not really be enjoying it as much as you think he is. Says Dr Pradeep Rana, a well-known veterinary doctor, “Most dogs go through intense physical reactions during such festivities. Their heartbeat goes up at the confusion around them, which is not very good for their health.”

And indeed, there are a few things that dog-owners need to be careful about during Holi, so that their pets don’t have a tough time when we are in the throes of enjoyment.

Avoid water?:

Dogs, as is commonly known, are rather sensitive to water. Generally speaking, they are advised to have bath once in a month, depending upon their breed. And when during Holi, they are suddenly exposed to cold water, they tend to catch cold very easily. “As it is, most breeds are very vulnerable to change in temperatures,” adds Dr Rana, which is why it is advisable to keep them away from cold water, especially in this season.

Sweet tooth?:

What’s a festival without sweets! And for some traditional homes, people even indulge in cooking sweets at home. Delicacies such as malai pua, gujhiya, dahi bade, coconut burfi, are all, traditional food items that make this day so special. And most dog-lovers don’t really enjoy anything till they share it with their beady-eyed beauties. But we must take into account, that sweets does not go down very well with the canines. Food rich in butter, cream and sugar can give them loose stomach. And so, it’s better to refrain from feeding them festival delights. But feel free to overfeed them with love. It will never prove harmful!!!

Dry Holi?:

Most dog owners feel that as long as they use dry colours on their pets, there’s no harm. But they need to know that most dogs get paranoid when you rub colours on them, since it very often gets into their eyes and nose, making them very uncomfortable. They also tend to lick their body, and the taste of dry colours makes them prone to throwing up. Some breeds are so sensitive that their skin gets rashes because of dry colours. So, the best way is to just work towards colouring their lives, and not their coats!!!!

Walking the dog?:

I have often come across dogs who are totally terrified when a water balloon, out of nowhere, hits them hard, wetting and hurting them. It’s sad to see some children doing that on Holi, without realising that their fun can be a dog’s nightmare! But in view of the circumstances, dog owners must avoid taking their dogs at places and at times when they are likely to be the target of such insensitive play. Parents should also teach their kids about not using the beautiful festival to hurt these sweethearts, whether they are stray or domestic.

And last but not the least, on this day, make sure that your four-legged member is safe and secure in your house and has loads of comforting arms to still his racing heartbeat — so that he can also enjoy the festival. So what if they derive their joy from just watching you play! Believe me, if you are happy, so are they. And all of you with the angel-eyed canines at home, make sure that you give them one nice bear hug on this day and wish them a happy and safe Holi.

Winter warmth for the wet nose!

Winters can badly affect dogs if they are not properly cared. Some tips to keep your pets warm in winters.

There are many signs in the air that tell you that winters are setting in. But for me personally—as with all the others who have dogs at home—the clearest sign of the onset of winters is when your four-legged member begins to shift over to the carpet or mats that he can find. While there are many who are rigid about not letting their dogs into certain areas, I personally don’t follow that demarcation. And I think my dog knows that. So, every winter, when even the slightest of chill sets in, Mr. four legs trots over to my bed and curls himself in. For me, THAT is the sign that its wintertime folks!!!

As humans, we begin to prepare ourselves to brave the chill by digging out our woollens, our heaters and our hot water bottles. Once we are ready with our winter paraphernalia, we feel well equipped to enjoy the winter season. However, not many people realise that even our four-legged companions need certain preparations for them to be able to go through the winters. Nature definitely has equipped them to face different weathers, but sadly, its not enough sometimes. Most dogs succumb to the winter chill.

The worst part however is when the dog-owners have the resources but have still lost their dogs to the bitter season—only because they were not so well aware of how exactly to take care of their pets in this period. I know of a family who brought a Labrador home. Bozo, as he was called, had soon become a part of their family, and was loved by one and all. But it was during winters, that Bozo suddenly lost his appetite and would just lie with a lost look. Sleeping all night long on cold floor had brought him fever that finally went to his brain. He died within a week, and his family — or owners — still haven’t gotten over his death. To this day, they haven’t forgiven themselves for not being careful about their dog’s care during the winters.

I sympathised with them for the loss they had suffered. I also learnt a very important lesson from the tragedy—NEVER consider your pet different from humans as far as care, love and protection are concerned. They need as much—if not more, to be safe, secure and warm in winters—if only certain things are kept in mind.
Make sure your dog is always at a safe distance from the heaters and blowers. Place a bowl of water in front of the heater to prevent dehydration in dog, especially pups. While most owners intentionally keep such supplementary heat sources close to the dogs, it can sometimes be harmful. They could get severe burns, and often, the dog catches cold when he shifts from a very warm zone to a cold one, especially when he goes out for a walk.

Walking the dog

Much as your dog jumps at the idea of a walk, make sure he is as well equipped as you are, to brave the cold. It is important to get him a sweater or a coat to keep him warm during walks. Pet breeds like Dachshund, Beagle and Boxer, having thin hair coat, are more likely to catch cold especially in chilly weather. Also, if ever your dog gets wet in the rain during the cold season, make sure to dry him with a towel or a blow dryer. They sure will really be happy and healthy with your loving care.

Winter diet

Your pet’s diet needs to be taken care of, they need to be fed additional calories, since it takes more energy in winters to regulate body temperature. They should be fed more of non-vegetarian food since it provides heat to their body. Meat, chicken, fish and eggs are some of the food items that keeps them warm from inside. Also our dear canines need plenty of fresh water. For this, not only is it important to check if the water dish is full and fresh, but also see to it that he constantly has some of it.

Winter chill

The biggest threats that the pet dogs face in winters are wind chill, frostbite and hypothermia. Though we don’t have snow in many places in India, there are quite a few places, where temperature drops really low. While most people think otherwise, the winter chill can actually be fatal for some pets. In order to ensure your dog is safe, make sure that the place he usually sits on, is carpeted or at least has a mat. Tiles and uncarpeted floor usually becomes very cold and since the dog’s whole body has a direct contact with it, the floor needs to be covered. If that is not possible, put down a blanket or pads for him to lie on.

The happiest dogs in winters are those, who have doting owners to take care of their food, shelter and walks. And believe me, when you see them safely cuddled amidst the family, carefree and oblivious to the chill outside, snoring away to glory, winters will not seem so bad after all….For our pets, the best way to show your concern is to have them safe and warm in your home, with the entire family. And when all is said and done, the bottom line is that give them plenty of your love, care and company, and they will be just fine.