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From the course materials for Lost Pet Rescue
Chapter 1, Why I search for lost pets, and reasons why you might want to.
Why do I search for lost pets? I got started doing this because I wanted to work alongside my dog, Kelsy. From the moment I got her as a puppy, I had the vague notion that I would like to do some sort of search work with her. When she was three, we went to the off-leash park and saw a flier for training your dog to find lost pets. I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do with Kelsy. We worked together for eight years. I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and currently use two search dogs, Mu and Tino.
If you want to help lost pets, the best way to do it is not to spend your time on lost pet investigations. The way to help lost pets is to stop them from going missing in the first place. The best way to do that is to stop puppy mills, backyard breeders, and designer puppy breeders, specialty cat breeders (really, all cat breeders, because why in the world would you breed more cats when we are swimming in unwanted cats!), and cat owners who don’t spay and neuter. There are more than 10,000 puppy mills in the US. The only reason anyone should be breeding dogs or cats is for the best interests of the dogs and cats. It should be illegal, with heavy penalties, to breed dogs and cats for profit, or for amusement or for just plain ignorance. If you want to help lost pets, it is not very efficient to help them one by one, day by day. Helping individual lost pets is like attacking a forest fire of a million acres by saving one tree. It would be hard to stand next to the one tree that you saved and call it a success as you looked out across the charred landscape. The best way to help lost pets is to change public policies and perceptions. To help the majority of lost pets, we need to change human behavior and human values. If you really want to help lost pets, you should invent the next Facebook or Amazon or Apple, and become a billionaire, and use your wealth to support changes in public opinion and regulations. You could also fight to help lost pets by working to change laws. For example, for every dog sold by a breeder, there should be a 25% tax (at a minimum) to support the shelters where many of these dogs and their offspring will end up.
If you still want to help individual lost pets in your area, I certainly understand. I can’t not help. If I know of a lost cat or dog, I simply have to help if I can. I don’t have a choice. I wouldn’t be me if I stood by and did nothing about a lost pet. I imagine, what if this was my dog or my cat. I would want help. There is certainly a need for it. Every day, dozens of cats and dogs go missing in a typical city. In the 14 years that I have been helping lost pets, I have received an average of 800 requests for assistance every year. That’s 11,000 times I have helped lost cats and dogs with advice, search dogs, traps and cameras, or with information. I have never advertised my business, Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, because I have never been able to keep up with the demand for our services. My dogs and I have been on at least 600 searches, tracking scent trails of lost dogs and performing grid searches for lost cats. I have trapped or helped trap at least 1,000 lost dogs and cats. The nonprofit I started in 2013 helps at least 100 stray dogs each year. The Facebook group I started in 2014 helps at least 10,000 lost dogs every year. I have worked an average of 80 hours a week for the past 14 years, helping lost cats and dogs, and I haven’t come close to helping all the pets who needed help. If you want to help lost pets, in any capacity, there is definitely a need for it.
If you are going to train to find lost pets, your goal should be to do a better job of it than I have done. I want you to learn from my mistakes. Not only should you want to help a particular lost cat or dog, but hopefully your work and your experience will improve the process and techniques of lost pet detection. I certainly know much more now than when I started. I have experience with which techniques work frequently and which have a lower success rate. One thing I would go back and change, if I could start all over again, would be that I would keep better records of what happened, what we did, what worked, and what didn’t. You don’t have to make all the mistakes I made, and hopefully someday you will be able to inform the community of people trying to help lost pets about the ways you have discovered to increase our effectiveness. Your input to the body of knowledge about this work should be based on documented evidence, and it is very important that you keep useful records and documents of everything you do, not necessarily so that you can show all those documents to the world, but so that you can see for yourself what really works and what doesn’t.
There is a syndrome known as the Dunning-Krueger effect. This describes people who think they are experts in a skill or subject because they don’t accurately see the impact of their knowledge or work. These people are victims of confirmation bias, where they only look at feedback that says they are successful, and they ignore feedback which shows them to be ineffective. Because the search for lost pets involves something that is invisible, scent, it is easy for some people to build a narrative where they are great at their jobs, when in fact they don’t help much or might actually be hindering the chances of finding a lost pet. In order for you to truly be helpful in lost pet recovery, and if you hope to improve the science and art of finding lost pets, you need to be able to coldly evaluate whether or not you are actually helping, and for that you need honest data, complete data. One of my hopes in teaching this course is that I want you to do a much better job than I have of collecting and maintaining data. I have my memories of how a certain technique worked in a particular case and another technique failed. I have proven which techniques and approaches work because I have tried them and they worked, or didn’t. I really wish I could point to 14 years of comprehensive data and say a certain outcome happened a certain percentage of the time. This has been a failure on my part, and I hope you will do better.
At the beginning of this effort, you need to be aware that it may take over your life, as it has taken over mine. If you want to do it as a hobby or as a side gig, good luck with that. If you can manage to shut it off when you want to, tell me your trick. This work attracts people who are passionate about helping cats and dogs in need. At the beginning, you should sit down and examine why you want to do this. If you want to help lost pets, I don’t think there is a bad reason. You should just be aware of your motivations at the start, so you know what you hope to get out of this.
If you want to help lost pets in order to earn a decent living, I’m not sure I can really recommend this as a career choice. Theoretically, there is a great demand for help with lost pets. If you can find a way to make a great business out of it, while still helping a large number of missing pets in an ethical way, then I applaud you. If you go into this work with a motive of financial gain regardless of the impact on pets and families, you could probably make a lot of money in an unethical way. I certainly hope that’s not the case, and I would not knowingly help train someone who behaves unethically in this regard. It appears, although I don’t have irrefutable proof, that at least one person in Western Washington has been scamming people for decades. In case after case, he charges a large amount of money to take his dogs for a walk for twenty minutes, and then he says, “Your cat/dog was picked up here.” I’ve never actually witnessed this person working, so I can’t prove he is lying, but I can say from my own experience that it is not the most common thing for a cat or a dog to walk a quarter mile to a half mile, always staying on the sidewalk, and then get picked up. Sure, it could happen, but it can’t happen every single time over a period of decades. If your goal is to make money while scamming people, you can certainly do that in lost pet investigations. Please don’t. There are easier ways to make money as a scammer. Leave the dogs and cats alone.
I have several reasons why I want to train people to find lost pets. First and foremost, I want the lost cats and dogs to get competent help. Second, I realize I can’t keep doing this indefinitely, and I want people to carry on these practices after I retire. Third, as stated earlier, I want you to do a better job than I have done, to learn from my mistakes. My main reason for wanting to train others is: I love my dogs. If my dogs were missing, I would want someone to help me find them. Also, training others is a good excuse for me to talk about my dogs, and it seems that I never get tired of talking about my dogs. Ask anyone. If I have to talk to people in a typical social situation, immediately my mind starts thinking of excuses to get away. If I’m talking about my dogs, I will talk to people until they start trying to think of excuses to get away from me.
Currently, I am insanely busy. I have way more requests for help than I can possibly take on. Why would I take the time to teach a course for 8 weeks? The main reason is because I am so busy, and I want help. I get many requests from out of state, and I would like to be able to refer people to help that is closer to them. As many of you may know, there are many other lost pet recovery services available. It’s not as common as hiring a plumber or an electrician, but certainly there are professional and volunteer organizations that help with lost pets in every state. What I have learned about many of these individuals, companies, and organizations is that they do things wrong or unethically. There are some whose work appears to be straightforward and useful, from what little I’ve seen, but I don’t know them well enough to recommend them. The ones I have learned more about, I couldn’t recommend them to someone who came to me for help. I would really love to be able to refer people to others that I know have received proper training and have agreed to abide by certain ethical codes.
Why am I teaching this course if my teacher is still teaching much of the same material? I probably don’t disagree with her on very many things. I am teaching this course because my experiences have been somewhat different than what I was taught in the beginning. I have learned some things while working thousands of cases. Especially in regards to predators, I have learned new things just this year. I will probably be teaching many things similar to what she would say. In some cases I would emphasize or deemphasize a technique or tool. In other cases I would add more information to what I was taught. In very few cases would I contradict what she said. I know that I have much more experience doing the work, and certainly I have refined and expanded upon what I learned from her.
I think it is implied—just in the fact that I write books on this topic, I spend all day every day doing it, and I want to teach others how to do what I do—but I think it’s important to state explicitly that I love my job, and why I love it.
1. I get to work with my dogs.
2. I like cats and dogs more than I like most humans, and it is an honor to serve them.
3. My dogs are family, and I am their voice. All of my dogs were unwanted, disposable dogs in the eyes of their previous owners, but my dogs are the most important people in my life. It is my job to be their voice, to speak up for the unwanted dogs and cats of the world, to show their true value.
4. I seem to be good at it, as if my personality and history make me uniquely suited to this work.
5. It helps me see and understand more of the natural world, learning how things work, how dogs and cats behave, how scent travels and interacts, the language of birds, microclimates, the odd complexities of human behavior. A typical day working a case can give me insights into things I don’t yet fully understand.
6. I need to be moving, and I can’t sit at a desk all day. Working a case gets me outside.
7. The hard part of my job, telling someone their beloved cat or dog is deceased, is something that, if it must be done, it ought to be done by someone who cares as much about their pet as they do.
8. Although humans are not my favorite species, the people I do enjoy are the ones that also care for lost and found cats and dogs. It is a pleasure to work with people who share my passion.
9. Working with my dogs makes me more than I am alone. They extended my senses. They open up a hidden world to me. They can smell a history of who passed by a certain spot, and they can tell the health or the state of the creature who took that path. I am more, I live a larger, better life when I observe the behavior of my dogs and let them show me this hidden world. My dogs give me a kind of superpower, a window into a secret world. In other words, I get to work with my dogs!