Cop-turned-pet detective Kat Albrecht risked losing all respect from her peers when she decided to become a pet detective. In 2001, she founded a national nonprofit organization to search for missing pets and ultimately trained over 125 pet detectives from across the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Ireland, and Italy.
But remaining passionate with her work isn’t always easy. Kat reveals the secrets to her commitment – and her thoughts on Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the job in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Title: Founder, Missing Pet Partnership
Based in: Seattle, WA
Job description in one sentence: I help minister hope to grieving and broken-hearted pet owners who have lost their pets.
In the industry for: 13 years
Previous jobs: 9-1-1 dispatcher; police officer; K-9 trainer for police bloodhounds and cadaver dogs in Santa Cruz, Calif. I’m also working on a romance mystery for teens, which features a 17-year-old girl using her bloodhound to score points with a guy she has a crush on.
Why she chose nonprofit work: I want my work to exist beyond just myself, long after I’m gone.
How a roadblock sparked the job: Back in 1996, my bloodhound, AJ, escaped in the woods. I couldn’t find him, panicked, and called the sheriff’s department. They told me that they only look for missing people, and that I was on my own. I called a friend whose golden retriever had been used to track missing people, and he tracked down AJ in 20 minutes. That changed my life. A little while later, I was injured in the line of duty and had to medically retire from police work, so I attempted to form my passion for animals into a nonprofit organization.
How did you expand the concept? Using my skills and experience in crime scene work and lost person behavior, I launched the first-ever pet detective academy to train others to help people search for lost pets. Training dogs takes a lot of time, skill, and effort, so we’ve shifted direction with the economic recession to focus on developing a base of volunteer search-and-rescue teams. We’ve partnered with local animal shelters in the Seattle area to train their volunteers, and would like to blueprint that plan at shelters across the country.
Was there a time you almost gave up? My first efforts failed, which was discouraging. I knew I was risking my reputation, risking looking like an idiot, risking getting scorned by my peers. That did happen.
What turned you around? One day, in 1998, I was driving down the road and saw a lost dog poster on a telephone pole that read, “please help us.” I started crying, and knew I’d never be able to forgive myself if I were to give up on the chance to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
How did you remain optimistic after initial failure? When you pioneer anything new, you end up making sacrifices. I made a decision and commitment that I wouldn’t give up, which has crossed over into other areas of my life, like losing weight. There are times when I may not be happy, but I’m committed.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? Drivers that tailgate. When I used to be a cop, I could do something about it, but now I’m so frustrated that I can’t. I can’t believe I got paid money [as a police officer] to drive fast, point guns at people, and frisk men.
Most important career advice? If you ever have a chance to be paid for your passion, then you’ve arrived. Lane Frost, a champion bull rider who died during a final bull-riding competition, once said: “Don’t be afraid to go after what you want to do, and what you want to be. But don’t be afraid to be willing to pay the price.”
Is your job anything like its portrayal in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? I love Jim Carrey, but the movie is nothing like what we do. We’re helping people that are afraid and consumed with grief and fear, and often they don’t have happy endings.
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Love pets and nonprofit work? Kat Albrecht offers insight into the business.
1. Don’t necessarily make a living around pet detective work – use it as a volunteer opportunity. It’s important to give back to the community, but make sure you have enough time to devote.
2. Stapling signs onto telephone poles isn’t the right way to go about finding pets. Check out these recovery tips, such as intersection alerts – standing near intersections with bright neon signs with the information and a number to call. That way, people who are driving will see them.
3. When a dog disappears, it’s not abducted; it goes somewhere. So it’s a matter of getting the word out there. Now more than ever, we’re trying to spread information through social media marketing. There are tons of opportunities for web-savvy teens to start their volunteer efforts that way.