Shortly after the fire at the Holiday Farm in early September this year decimated the towns of Blue River and Vida, Oregon, Katie Albright went into the fire zone with an animal catcher and two firefighters. “There was still a big house on the river with a cat inside,” she says. “The power went out, it was dark and we had a curfew at 6pm. The house was huge and we couldn’t find the cat. Finally I said to the team, ‘Let me bring Franklin in. ‘“
Franklin is Albright’s three-year-old Dachshund / Beagle mix who was adopted from a Colorado animal shelter. With him, she completed a 10-week remote cat detection course through the Missing Animal Response Network, which trains dogs to recognize the smell of lost cats.
Amid the forest fires that blazed in Oregon in September, Albright hooked her pop-up camper to her vehicle and took Franklin into the choking smoke and ashes to rescue the people’s pets. He found the cat almost instantly in the big house by the river.
“It was under the bed, super scared and super stressed,” says Albright. Nevertheless, she and the trapper were able to catch the cat and give it back to its owner.
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The Missing Animal Response Network provides contact information for 31 pet detectives in the United States – dogs and owners who can track and locate both cats and dogs. At first, Albright hoped that Franklin would be able to track down and discover any lost pets. “But the reward for a dragging dog is playing with another dog,” she says, “and Franklin isn’t great with other dogs.”
Instead, he’s an expert in finding “target cats” – known disappeared pets – and wild kittens. She worked him on a 15-foot BioThane leash at burn sites so it wouldn’t get caught in bushes or debris. “I am in awe to watch him work,” she says. “He’s running around with the leash and I can step on it if I have to. His “tell” is that he becomes stiff. He’s that little tank. He will prop himself up and his little cock will curl up and he will just stop. It’s fun to see him. “
In 2016, Albright had been working as a pet sitter when a corgi went missing in her hometown of Nederland, Colorado. The owners put up huge neon posters and a detective came out with their dog to spot dogs. Albright asked if she could tail the woman.
“It was covered in snow, 8,500 feet up, and she had these dogs – everyone climbed over fallen trees to find this dog,” she says. “I was fascinated.”
When the fire broke out in Cold Springs near Nederland that same year, a firefighter / paramedic couple who worked on the site lost their St. Bernard. Albright took the opportunity to help. “The city allowed us to turn the middle school gym into an evacuation center for people and their pets,” she says. “We never found the dog, but my whole world has changed.”
She adopted and trained Franklin. Then she moved to Bend, Ore., To be closer to the family, and found herself at the epicenter of another state’s forest fires.
In the first few weeks after the Holiday Farm fire and the Almeda fire further south, Albright and Franklin found and captured several live cats and returned them to owners who had lost their homes, cars, and personal belongings. Late that night he found a cat – a tabby named Tigger. With no room for Tigger, Albright had to take her to the trailer in a pet carrier.
“Franklin lay trembling on the edge of the bed all night,” says Albright with a laugh. “It was like saying, ‘There’s a cat, mom!’ He shivered and the cat meowed until morning when the owner came to pick it up. “
These days, Albright and Franklin have the grim task of locating deceased cats in the rubble. “It’s terrible and sad and it’s important work,” she says. “Finding these cats brings the owners shut down. You can cremate or otherwise properly care for your pet. “
Albright does not charge any fees for Franklin’s cat identification services. Friends set up a GoFundMe website to raise funds for gasoline, food, and shelter, as well as traps, bait, and security cameras near night feeding stations. She’s out of money now, but dreams of buying Franklin a pair of kevlar ankle boots so he can work on the broken windows of burned-out cars where frightened cats are hiding.
On September 21st, she posted a picture of Franklin on her Facebook page for her third birthday. “He’s done a good job in the Holiday Farm fire field and we hope we can continue our efforts to rescue, capture and recover cats in Oregon as long as necessary,” she wrote. “Franklin says, don’t give up. There is always hope.”
Visit the Albright and Franklin GoFundMe website to help restore cats in Oregon.