It is a pet owner’s worst nightmare. Their beloved four-legged child escapes out of the backyard, or the leash is accidentally dropped and the family dog takes off. What would you do if your furry family member went missing?
Companion animals become lost for many reasons. Just look at the flyers posted on street corners and the countless social media posts for lost and found pets. American Humane (formerly the American Humane Association) estimates that more than 10 million companion animals are lost each year in the United States. Often through no fault of their own, many pet owners find themselves in this heart-breaking situation. Where’s Fido? How do we find him? What would you do if your pet went missing?
Real-Life Pet Detectives
Thankfully, there are organizations that can help! Missing Animal Response Network (MARN) is a worldwide organization dedicated to helping pet owners find their missing pets. MARN was created by Kat Albrecht, a former police bloodhound handler, crime scene investigator and search and rescue manager. In 1997, Albrecht used her training in law enforcement and search-and-rescue to train her police dogs to track lost pets. She’s spent more than 20 years authoring books and developing lost pet recovery training courses.
MARN offers online resources (both scientific and field research) for pet owners on the behavior of lost dogs and cats. Trained professionals and volunteers help solve missing pet cases by providing services like flyer and poster design for optimal visibility, trapping, and the utilization of missing animal response (MAR) search dogs trained to track lost pets.
MARN has wonderful educational opportunities. MAR Field online courses are available for animal control officers, animal industry professionals, shelters, vet staff, and volunteer dog and cat rescue groups and individuals.
MAR Search Dog – Indy’s Story
I have been a certified and professional dog trainer for almost 20 years. I got my start in the industry by doing volunteer work – therapy dog work at a local psychiatric hospital. That rewarding experience led me to become a dog trainer. Soon after I became involved in a variety of dog sports, which quickly became my passion. I loved working with high-drive, food- and toy-motivated dogs. After 10 years as a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI), and years of successful competition with multiple dogs, I began looking at community-based work once again. I earned many ribbons and championships, but something was still missing. I wanted to go back to the rewarding job of helping others in my community.
In October 2019, my dog Indiana Jones (Indy) and I attended a two-day MARN workshop in Texas. At that workshop, Indy was evaluated for his potential to become a MAR search dog. He received a very strong green flag, and off we went on our training adventure in search and rescue work.
MAR Search Work
The training dogs undergo to learn to find missing animals is very similar to the training used to train search and rescue dogs to find missing humans. It requires about 12 to 18 months of scent discrimination “trailing” training, including MAR Field Course Work. Indy has logged over 250 training videos to date.
In addition to training a MAR search dog, human MARN graduates must pass a MAR Field Course which consists of studying lost pet behavior, physical evidence, predator behaviors, tracking, humane trapping, ethics, equipment, search theory and grief avoidance.
Dogs that are microchipped are 2.5x more likely to find their way home and cats who are microchipped are 20x more likely to find their way home. —According to a study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association
Can My Dog Do This?
Nearly any dog can do this type of work. It requires an environmentally resilient dog who is very food and/or toy motivated and LOVES to work. This type of work is not breed-specific, as one might presume. Dogs must also enjoy the company of other animals and have no major fear or aggression issues.
MAR Search Dogs Near You
My MAR Search Dog Indy is currently doing casework in Southern California, specifically Riverside and San Diego Counties. Indy is deployed through Lost Animal Resource Group (LARG), a non-profit organization based on the East Coast that recently opened a chapter here on the West Coast. These professional pet trackers can be reached at LARGcares.org.
For more information or to inquire whether the services of a MAR search dog is right for your particular situation, visit missinganimalresponse.com.
Jamie Bozzi of smrtdog.com is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant (CBCC-KA); Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI); AKC Scent Work judge; and MAR Search Dog Handler.