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Lani’s Christmas Miracle

Making a “walk up find” on a lost dog using a tracking/trailing dog is one of the hardest types of cases that pet detectives work. Hundreds of hours go into training a dog to trail lost pets and it takes a special dog and patient handler to be able to effectively train a K9 pet detective.

K9 Pet Detective Kelsy

K9 Pet Detective Kelsy

Here in Seattle, week after week since the spring of 2008 we’ve  been training four trailing dogs: Zeke, Lucy, Rachelle and Kelsy. We only recently started actively using three of these dogs (Zeke, Lucy, and Kelsy) on searches, hoping that the success we have seen during training would repeat itself on actual lost dog investigations.

Earlier this week, Kelsy worked a six hour long search on a missing Terrier named Thelma who’d been lost for over a week in frigid temperatures in Woodinville, WA. I am so proud of Jim and Kelsy. They’ve worked so hard for so long. Jim has been selfless in the work he has done both in volunteering for Missing Pet Partnership and the hands on assistance he has offered to Seattle area pet owners.

Jim is a fantastic writer and he blogged about this search. My blog is easy this week because I am posting Jim’s amazing story (excerpted from his blog) and photos here (with his permission) but I encourage you to follow his entertaining blog about Kelsy and his other two dogs, Tess and Porter. Here’s a portion of Jim’s blog entry for the Thelma case:

“Thelma is a 10-pound Terrier who only lived with her new family for two days before bolting out the front door when something startled her.  For over a week, Lani and her family and friends searched for Thelma, sometimes for 12 hours a day.  Many people had spotted Thelma on the run, but each time they tried to catch her, they made her run farther.  Based on the sightings, this little girl ran for over five miles, and probably much farther if you count the circling and backtracking.  Last night, the low was about 15 degrees.

Lani called the Missing Pet Partnership, and I got the case because I’ve had a bit of experience with dogs on the run.  I told Lani that having Kelsy come out for a search might not be the final answer because we could end up chasing Thelma farther, even though we would take steps to avoid that if possible.  Given Thelma’s tiny size, and the forecast for lows in the teens and twenties for the next few days, we decided to try a search anyway, fearing that if we didn’t catch her soon, it could be too late. 

Kelsy and I started searching at the point last seen, a large industrial park by 522 in Woodinville.  Kelsy took a good long sniff at the scent article, and charged off on the trail, dragging me through blackberries behind the warehouses.  We made many circles of the complex, until we found a stream and a pond.  This was one of the few sources of liquid water because most ditches and streams had frozen.  We found food wrappers shredded under a large cedar tree, so it seemed some animal had foraged a meal there.  Kelsy fell in the pond, not realizing how deep it was, and I had to haul her out by her harness.  She shook the water off, but the cold water in the freezing air immediately turned to ice, giving Kelsy a frosting of small icicles for the next half hour, not that she cared at all.  We searched from 9:30 until about 3:00, checking likely hiding areas, but Kelsy never pulled as hard as she did at the beginning of the trail.  I was just about to quit for the day when Lani got the call of a sighting on the other side of 522. 

I started Kelsy on that trail, at the point last seen, with the scent about 20 minutes old.  Kelsy followed to a gap under a fence, and we had to ask permission to search inside the property of a mini-storage.  She showed interest in a covered parking area, where Thelma may have spent the night in relative shelter.  Then Kelsy followed the trail to another gap in the fence, leading to a swampy patch of brambles beside the freeway.  I didn’t want to follow because a tiny Terrier could slip underneath the brambles, whereas Kelsy and I would be torn up.  Also, we would make so much noise getting through that we would just scare Thelma further away if she were in there.  At that point, I had convinced myself that Thelma was out of reach for the day, and decided to call off the search until we received a new sighting.  We would work with signs to draw attention, and Lani could use a night vision scope to look around the area after dark.  On the chance that Thelma had doubled back again, or that Kelsy had followed the trail in reverse,  I took Kelsy for one last sweep of the perimeter of the storage lot, just in case.  She showed interest in the grounds of a manufacturing plant, but I didn’t have permission to enter the property.  Kelsy’s interest was not the urgent pulling I would have expected if we were hot on Thelma’s trail, so I had again decided to quit for the day.  It was just about sunset, and Kelsy had been searching for over six hours.

Lani asked us to wait a minute while she asked for permission to search the property of the business, and when she got the okay, Kelsy and I strolled up the back side of the plant, not really expecting to find anything.  Usually, when Kelsy gets close to her target, she pulls so hard I can barely stay on my feet.  I can’t restrain her, and I just have to concentrate on not falling on my face.  I don’t know if it was because she was tired, but she just trotted along as if she was casually interested in something, not about to make her first walk-up find.  We came to the corner farthest from the street, and Kelsy started to sniff about the landscaping very cautiously.  We checked around the back side of some large evergreen trees, and Kelsy pinpointed a spot under a branch that swept down to the ground.  I lifted the branch, and I was actually surprised to see two little eyes looking back at me. 

Now, I always tell people whose dogs are in flight mode: 1. Don’t stare straight at the dog.  2. Don’t call the dog’s name.  3.  Don’t grab for the dog.  The reason is that any of these actions can cause the dog to flee again, making your job harder.  So, I’m looking right at this dog, staring in disbelief that we’ve found her, and I realize I’m not supposed to be staring at her, but I can’t help myself.  Then, before I know it, I’m saying her name.  She still isn’t moving.  I’m just about to make a grab for her, even though I know it’s the wrong thing to do, and I feel like I’m fighting myself, trying to stop my arm from going forward.  But she still hasn’t moved a muscle.  She is just curled up in the dirt, staring back at me.  Finally, after what seems like years but is probably only a few seconds, I shoot out a hand and grab her.  I’m so relieved that I didn’t scare her away again that I don’t care that she’s nipping me.  I did everything wrong and got lucky anyway. 


As I walked back toward the street with Thelma wrapped in my arms, I tried to tell Kelsy what a good girl she was, and how proud I was of her for finding Thelma, but Kelsy’s expression seemed to say, “Why are you carrying her, the bad dog who ran away, when you could be carrying me in your arms?”  When I was finally able to hand Thelma off to an overjoyed and relieved Lani, I gave Kelsy her Victory Cheese, and praised her for a job well done.  After six and a half hours of hard searching, probably covering five miles of asphalt, swamps, and brambles, Kelsy got her man.  She slept very soundly on the ride home.”

I should also add the Missing Pet Partnership (MPP) volunteer Amy Adams assisted Jim on this case. Amy was able to secure permission from property owners and her assistance made Jim and Kelsy’s job much easier. Missing Pet Partnership needs more Seattle area volunteers to come out and assist on searches just like Amy did! If you live anywhere between Everett, WA to Lakewood, WA (or in Kitsap County) and would like to volunteer, please sign up here.

As a post script, I (Kat Albrecht) just called Lani to get her permission to use the photograph of her hugging Thelma. Lani told me that so many aspects of the Thelma search were miraculous that she told her children, “This (finding Thelma) is Christmas.”

Kelsy Naps After a Hard Day at Work!

Kelsy Naps After a Hard Day at Work!

2 comments to Lani’s Christmas Miracle

  • REALLY wonderful work, Kat (and all your team)! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone out west from the very snowy Washington DC area this year.

  • bonniehale

    I rejoice with you!! I’ve been working as a pet detective for over 2 years and my dog and I have had only 3 walk-up finds like this, but those 3 keep me going…through mud, chiggers, snakes, and grumpy neighbors who scream at you for setting foot on their property. Congratulations on this great find!