Have you ever wished you could do more to help dogs and cats in your own community? Now you can through an innovative team pet detective training program called “MAR” which stands for “Missing Animal Response.”
The MAR “pet detective” training program was something I envisioned way back in 1997 after my police bloodhound, AJ, went lost in the woods. After using another search dog to track him down, I decided to experiment to see if other dogs could be trained to find lost pets. Here is a clip from those early years (1999) when I had my first small group of dogs in training (through Pet Hunters, before it became Missing Pet Partnership).
It wasn’t until 2005 that I launched the first 5-day MAR training course and ultimately trained over 125 pet detectives across the USA, Canada, and even from Mexico, Japan, Ireland, and Italy. Most of those who attended the course were individuals who’d read my memoirs (The Lost Pet Chronicles) and thought they wanted to become individual pet detectives. A few did, most didn’t. The few who did venture to offer pet detective services usually focused only on the use of tracking dogs. None of the students went on to develop any type of team concept.
Then came the recession in 2008. Growth of the MAR course came to a crashing halt due to the down economy. What MPP did was use that time (2008 through 2012) to focus on developing an operational community-based lost pet search-and-rescue team here in Seattle. We tested out new ideas and refined old techniques. Now that the economy is on the upswing, we’re ready to start training up teams across North America. While individuals are still invited to attend our training, our focus with our MAR course is teaching TEAM skills and recovery techniques to search for and capture missing dogs and cats.
Although I started out as an individual pet detective (in 1997), I’ve since learned that in many cases it is just not enough to hire an individual pet detective who’ll show up with a tracking dog, charge a fee ($12,000 in one case!), and then leave town because they’re off to go work the next case in another community. Pet detectives with search dogs are great tools, but what is also needed in many cases is A TEAM OF LOCAL VOLUNTEERS who can help with surveillance, trapping, intersection alerts, and other techniques that require several people and time. Thus MPP is looking to train up community-based teams of volunteers who can spend extended periods of time, however long it takes like the 7 weeks it took MPP volunteers to use surveillance cameras and drop net to capture Sophie or the truly remarkable case where it took our volunteer team 4 months to capture Bebe the cat.
To learn more about the specific skills and recovery techniques covered in our MAR course, click on each of the links below:
1. Scent trailing dogs used to track the scent trail of lost dogs, as this 1999 clip demonstrates of my bloodhound A.J. as he trailed the scent of a lost dog named Bubba.
2. Cat detection dogs used to search for and detect the presence of lost cats, as demonstrated on Animal Planet’s show “Must Love Cats.”
3. Surveillance cameras and operations used to detect and then humanely capture panicked, displaced cats, just like what were used in the searches for Lil’ Miss Kitty, Binky, Cookie the cat and Bebe (watch video footage of the Bebe case here).
4. Surveillance cameras and operations used to detect and then humanely capture panicked, skittish dogs who run from everyone, just like Bill did for over a year!
5. Drop net operations to capture dogs that just can’t be captured in a humane trap, just like how MPP caught Sophie.
MPP Volunteers set up "drop net" constructed with pop up tent, two nets sewn together, and magnetic hooks
6. Magnet dogs, snappy snares
, and calming signals used to lure and capture panicked, skittish dogs who run from people but readily come up to a friendly dog, like MPP did to recover Mack the pit bull
7. Intersection Alerts and “tagging” of cars to capture the attention of passersby in order to help mass market and recover a lost dog, like MPP did in the sad recovery of Lena, a dog who escaped her carrier at SeaTac airport.
"Tagging" Car Windows to Mass Market Lost Dogs
8. House as Trap and other unique capture techniques used to capture panicked dogs and cats when normal human traps do not work, just like MPP to recover Ruffles, Ike, and Vivian.
9. The development of animal shelter lost pet recovery programs, like 4th of July Lost Pet Recovery Booths and year-round animal shelter pet detective services like those currently in development through Missing Pet Partnership’s “Mission Reunite” program (in collaboration with the Regional Animal Services of King County shelter located in Kent, WA).
10. And finally, MPP educates students in the critical aspects of animal and human behaviors that often prevent lost pets from being recovered, like “The Silence Factor” that kills many lost cats like the sad case of Monet.
Our MAR team in Seattle receives 3 to 7 calls a day from pet owners asking for help in recovering lost companion animals. Last year we logged over 600 cases. Now that we’ve developed our team in Seattle and refined our team development, we’re ready resume our MAR training program! MPP is looking to partner with animal rescue groups, no kill shelters, animal shelters, and groups that want to form lost pet search-and-rescue teams in their own communities.
MPP Volunteers Captured Skittish Dog "Stryker" Loose for 6 Weeks (with Snappy Snare)
Currently, MPP is working to develop a 6-week Missing Animal Response on-line (webinar) training course that we plan to launch in the fall of 2012. To prepare for the MAR course and to learn more about how to train a MAR cat detection dog and/or a MAR trailing dog, get a copy of my book Dog Detectives: Train Your Dog To Find Lost Pets. For more details on how to sign up for the MAR webinar, go the MPP web site training page.
Well, it’s official. My cat Cheeto’s little pinhead has blown up to match the size of his big flabby BUTT!
Cheeto: Too Famous for His Own Good!
After appearing on the local KOMO 4 news the other night and King 5′s program Evening Magazine tonight, interest for Cheeto’s work as a “target cat” has grow nationally. He will appear on Animal Planet’s “Must Love Cats” show this Saturday March 17th at 8:00 p.m.
The great thing about Cheeto is that not only is he a valuable “employee” of Missing Pet Partnership with the work he does (he’s used to train Missing Pet Partnership’s ”cat detection dogs” to find lost cats for our lost pet rescue team here in Seattle), but he is a quirky cat with a boat load of personality! Here’s what I mean:
1. Cheeto is trained to sit up and wave “bye-bye” on command…of course, there must be a hunk of dried salmon involved.
Cheeto Waving (back when he was a skinny kitten!)
2. Cheeto is a true “drama king” in that he will take several steps and then, in the most dramatic fashion possible for a cat, he will literally flop down from the supposed exertion it took for him to walk five steps. You can see him do his drama flop in the Evening Magazine video clip. Of course, he has NOOO lack of energy when it comes to him racing around my house and beating up on my other skinny, sweet, elderly kitty Myron!
3. Cheeto is featured on the cover of one of the books I authored called, “Dog Detectives: Train Your Dog to Find Lost Pets.” I think this was when he ego began to grow out of control!
Cheeto "Kissing" Cat Detection Dog Susie on the Cover of My Book
4. Cheeto once owned his own pet, a mouse named Squeakers who I rescued from becoming snake food. Cheeto (and Myron) spent HOURS in front of Squeaker’s glass home (a fish aquarium) where they watched their pet. Squeakers was tame and let me hold him and even sniffed noses with Cheeto who, surprisingly, never made a grab towards the mouse. Sadly, Squeakers ultimately died of old age (he was 2 years old, I believe) and was replaced with a little brown mouse who proceeded to bite me, so I never really handled him again. When trying to come up with a better name than “Squeakers Number Two” I noticed Myron and Cheeto admiring their new pet and imagined Myron asking Cheeto, “Merrow…what do you think he TASTES like?” and Cheeto’s response was, “Like CHICKEN!” So the brown mouse was named “Chicken” and ultimately died of natural causes as well. I put my foot down after that point and told Cheeto, “No More Cat Pets!”
Cheeto & Karma Baseball Trading Cards
Cheeto actually has his own business card. It is a baseball trading card with a semi fuzzy photo of him with Squeakers. As a fundraiser for Missing Pet Partnership and since Cheeto is now developing a fan base, I am offering to send a Cheeto trading card (and/or a Karma the pit bull trading card) to supporters who sign up to become “Search Posse Pal” members of Missing Pet Partnership at the $100.00 membership level (or above, if you’d like to give more). Make sure that when you sign up that in the “Message Optional” section you type in that you “want a Cheeto Trading Card” (or Karma Trading card, or BOTH a Cheeto & Karma Trading Card..just tell us which cards you want). MPP will then snail mail you a free membership t-shirt (it says: “Missing Pet Partnership: Finding Lost Pets ~ Saving People!”) along with your trading cards as a thank you gift for your support.
Our vision at Missing Pet Partnership is to develop lost pet search-and-rescue teams just like what we’ve launched here in Seattle. We hope to rescue dogs like Karma and more cats like Cheeto (oh good grief, can there really be more cats like him?) from animal shelters, train them and use them to recover lost pets, and partner with animal shelters, rescue groups, and volunteer teams that we help to train in communities across North America. If you’d like more information on our Missing Animal Response training course (that will be held here in Seattle this June) or in how YOU can host a MAR seminar in your own community, click here.
Oh, and I should add that the Evening Magazine clip did not give correct statistics on our recovery rate! They said that “Cheeto and the dogs with Missing Pet Partnership found over 300 cats last year alone.” The reality is that our search dogs are only one tool that we use at MPP to help families recover lost cats (and lost dogs) and our search dogs only recover a very small percentage of the lost pets that we search for! What should’ve been reported was that last year, Missing Pet Partnership helped over 300 families recover their lost cats through all of the techniques that we use (advice on our web site which is linked to animal shelter web sites nationally, lost cat email consultations, lost cat telephone consultations, physical searches with our cat detection dogs, humane traps, wildlife cameras, and lost cat recovery tips).
Thank you for sharing the story about Cheeto with other animal lovers and for supporting Missing Pet Partnership with your membership. Life is too short to not live with a weird cat!
Cheeto's Eyes Hypnotizing Me to Feed Him Dried Salmon Treats
There is never a dull moment when you’re a pet detective. In my 14 years of tracking lost pets, I’ve assisted families in various circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a lost pet including the search for a cat who escaped his apartment after his elderly owner was bludgeoned to death by an irate neighbor, the search of an amusement park for an escaped giant boa constrictor, using my bloodhound to track a police dog who escaped from his handler, a request to use my bloodhound to track ”Skunk Ape” (Florida’s version of Bigfoot), and then the search yesterday for Wenty, a cat who escaped his cat carrier at SeaTac airport.
The search for Wenty was complicated yet amazing. It was complicated because it involved 4 different search areas: the Tucson airport where Wenty was loaded onto the Alaskan Airlines flight, the airplane itself that he traveled on, the SeaTac tarmac area since it was suspected he may have escaped while on the plane and perhaps bolted from the plane once the cargo door was opened, and the SeaTac internal baggage area in the event he escaped after being unloaded from the plane. No baggage employee came forward to say they witnessed Wenty’s escape. His owner simply went to claim Wenty and was given a carrier that was closed yet empty.
Wenty’s escape took place on Friday night and Missing Pet Partnership became involved in the case after Wenty’s guardian found our web site on Saturday, called our office, and asked if we could help. Myself, Jim Branson, and MPP volunteer Bonnie Beltz along with MPP cat detection dog Karma responded on Sunday. We used Karma’s nose, high power spotlights, a search camera, an amplified listening device, digital wildlife cameras (to see how MPP uses wildlife cameras to solve displaced cat investigations, read the story of Binky and the story of Burley) and a coordinated plan to conduct the same type of detailed “area search” that MPP typically uses when searching for a lost cat. Thanks to Alaska Airlines, we were allowed unprecedented access to the baggage area and the tarmac area.
Karma and Team Searching for Wenty at SeaTac (on tarmac)
Based on our knowledge of displaced cat behaviors, we knew that Wenty would be hiding in silence. We also knew that Wenty’s temperament under normal circumstances would influence his behavior when displaced. Wenty is what MPP calls a “catatonic / xenophobic” cat, so we knew he would be hiding. At one point, the Alaskan Airlines staff member asked, “Is it possible that he left the airport?” Our answer was that while that was possible, it was not PROBABLE. We reiterated that at the moment he escaped, Wenty would have bolted and would most likely dart under something, looking for concealment and protection.
We searched for 3 1/2 hours. While Karma showed slight interest at one of the Alaskan Airlines baggage conveyor belts, it was only a slight indication. We felt that it was likely residual scent of a cat but certainly not a strong enough alert to indicate that a cat was hiding under there. To their credit, Alaska Airlines was willing to disassemble the conveyor belt if needed. Trust me–if Karma’s alert had been a strong alert, we would have insisted that they do that!
I should also add that Alaska Airlines bent over backwards on this case. Our volunteers, accompanied by the Alaskan Airlines supervisor, were allowed access to any and every potential hiding place. We asked if we could see what the interior cargo pit of an airplane looks like and they walked us right up to a plane that had pulled up to a gate and baggage was being unloaded. We asked if they could find the same plane that Wenty escaped from and the Alaskan Airlines employee got on her cell phone. Within five minutes we were told this: Wenty’s plane had already flown to Mexico, San Diego, and was due to return to SeaTac later that night. It would have a one hour layover before flying off to Anchorage. We asked if we could get into the cargo pit of the plane to see if there was anyway Wenty had escaped into the belly of the plane. They not only granted that permission, but told us that they’d work to find a replacement plane for the Anchorage flight so MPP could have unlimited time and access to search the plane for Wenty.
Karma searches slabs of concrete hiding places on SeaTac tarmac
So at 8:58 p.m. last night, Jim Branson and Karma along with Amy Adams and her cat detection dog Harley stood by as Wenty’s plane arrived at SeaTac. They were able to enter the cargo pit area and determined that it was completely sealed with a thick plastic barrier that was designed to protect anything from cargo from entering any area of the plane. That search of the plane helped us eliminate the potential that Wenty could be on the plane, thus increasing the possibility that he was in one of the other three places: the Tucson airport, the SeaTac tarmac, or the SeaTac baggage area. Jim worked with Alaskan employees to help set humane traps and digital wildlife cameras and encouraged them to get the word out to ALL airport employees that Wenty was lost. A plan was put into motion to have a pet detective with a search dog respond to the Tucson airport on Monday morning to conduct a search there.
As it turned out, that was not necessary. We received a call early this morning with the BEST NEWS possible…Wenty was found alive! At around 1:00 a.m., a baggage employee from United Airlines spotted a pair of white paws sticking out from under a United baggage carousel (a distance from the Alaska Airlines baggage area that we searched). Having heard that Alaska Airlines had lost a cat, the United worker got down on his belly with a flashlight, saw Wenty, and was able to grab him! He immediately called Alaska Airlines who contacted Wenty’s guardian and transported Wenty to the emergency vet for a checkup. Wenty is greasy and was a bit dehydrated, but otherwise will be fine.
Wenty, Back Home Where He Belongs!
In spite of the fact that Wenty escaped, Missing Pet Partnership would like to give PRAISE to Alaska Airlines for their unprecedented help in getting Wenty back home. While MPP helped in the search effort, it was truly the staff at Alaskan Airlines who deserve the praise here. The fact that Alaskan Airlines (a) agreed to give MPP volunteers and our search dog access to every inch that needed to be searched and (b) they (Alaskan Airlines) notified all airport employees that a cat was missing at the airport is what made all of the difference. Thankfully, there ARE corporations who have compassion and who are willing to bend over backwards to do the right thing. THANK YOU ALASKA AIRLINES for being one of those corporations!