DATE May 24, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Kathy Albrecht describes her work as a pet detective
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Kat Albrecht, is a pet detective who's written a new memoir called
"The Lost Pet Chronicles." She estimates that she's helped over 1,800 pet
owners locate their lost dogs, cats, snakes, turtles, ferrets, iguanas and
horses. Earlier in her career she worked as a police officer and detective.
She handled bloodhounds on search-and-rescue missions. The first time she
searched for a missing pet, it was her own bloodhound, A.J., who had
disappeared after he dug out of his kennel. She called a friend who had a
golden retriever. The retriever found A.J. in 20 minutes. Albrecht told me
how the golden retriever found the bloodhound.
Ms. KATHY "KAT" ALBRECHT (Pet Detective): My friend's dog Kaia(ph), we
scented her on A.J.'s bedding. And she's trained in scent discrimination,
meaning she understood, `Smell this toothbrush,' or, `Smell this pillow case
and find this person and ignore all other human scent out there.' When we
scented her, we didn't know whether she would understand, `Smell A.J.'s
bedding and find A.J.,' but we knew that she and A.J. loved each other, they
often played together. And so it was the only hope I had of being able to
know which direction he went because he could have been anywhere out in the
woods. She picked up the scent trail, and we worked behind her. And within
about 20 minutes she led us up to a cabin, where we saw A.J. up sniffing
around at some boxes on a porch. And we were able to retrieve him and bring
GROSS: Was he happy to see you?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Yes, he was happy to see me. I was a little angry at him, but
I had never felt that raw panic before in my life. Now as a police officer, I
for several years had worked many, you know, devastating emergencies,
homicides, sexual-assault cases where I had seen people at their worst. But I
had never experienced my worst until the day that A.J. was missing. For that
hour of my life, I was devastated.
GROSS: Now you were able to have a dog track A.J.'s scent and find A.J., but
you say that most search dogs are actually useless for finding other pets
because they're trained to ignore the scent of animals. Why?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Most search-and-rescue dog handlers spend much of their time
discouraging or disciplining their dogs if they get off on animal scent.
That's because it's critical that when you're working a law enforcement case,
that your dog is focused on finding the human scent and that it is trained to
ignore dogs, cats and other critter scent. So it's definitely not something
that you can call up the average search-and-rescue dog handler and ask them to
come and track your pets. So I knew this when I ventured into this territory.
And I knew that once that I made the transition with my police dogs, that I
could not go back and use them on law enforcement cases again. So it was a
GROSS: Was it hard to retrain them to search for animals?
Ms. ALBRECHT: You know, no. It was actually quite easy because they had
always, particularly Rachel, loved kitties. And, in fact, I would be
directing her to search for a gun or evidence, and she would lope off on a
bunny hunt. And I'd be yelling at her to go find the gun or, you know, to
search for the physical evidence. And so we always had these little tiffs
about what I wanted her to find and what she wanted to find. So the first day
that I presented a tuft of fur under her nose and told her, `Take scent. Find
the kitty,' she just looked up at me like, `Yes! Finally you understand what
I've wanted to hunt all along.' So I found it quite simple. And also with
my two bloodhounds, too, once I scented them, they just would take off and
just loved to track the animal scent.
GROSS: Now, you know, I always assumed that a lot of animals don't really
like other animals. A lot of cats are loners, and they don't care for other
cats or dogs. A lot of dogs don't get along with other dogs or other cats.
So do you need a particularly gregarious search dog to do this kind of work?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Yes. Actually I now have several dogs in training, and I'm
launching seminars on how to train your dog to find lost pets. And what I
look for in the dogs that I train to find cats are dogs that love kitties. So
we put them through a testing process and evaluation, and they have to show
the behavior that they want to be with a cat; they're not going to chase and
harm a cat because it's a search and rescue, not search and destroy. And the
dogs that we train to track the scent trail of lost dogs are the dog-park-dog
mentality, the dogs that want nothing more than to play with another dog. And
if they don't exhibit either of those behaviors, then they just don't pass
evaluation, and I don't spend the time training them.
GROSS: Is it easier for a search dog to trace the scent of an animal than a
person? What I'm thinking is that, like, dogs particularly, your average dog
is probably a little smellier than your average, although your average person
can be pretty stinky on certain occasions. But, you know, just kind of like
generalizing, are dogs smellier and easier to find?
Ms. ALBRECHT: You know, that's a good question, but I don't know and I
don't--I've just noticed that the dogs have been able to be successful at
both. And so I haven't been able to tell, and obviously they're not talking.
But what I do know is that it really depends on the motivation of the dog.
And if you have a dog that loves people, like my search dogs have, and they
love to eat cheese, and they know that the person hiding at the end of that
scent trail is going to give them a piece of cheese and going to pet them,
they will do anything they can to follow that scent trail to find them.
That's the basis of the training.
With the dogs that we train to find missing dogs, their reward at the end of
the trail, after they sniff the bedding from the dog that we have hidden out
there, is that they get to play with that other dog. So they have such a high
play drive that when they get there, they are rewarded, and they just
work--they use their noses and they just get there.
GROSS: And what if the dog on the other end doesn't really want to play?
What if that dog wants to attack?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, during training what we do is we--the only dogs that we
hide out there, that we lay a trail, as we call it--they're laying a scent
trail as they're walking along, and we call those target dogs. They are dogs
that love to play with other dogs, so they're always rewarded with that play
at the end. On actual searches oftentimes we never make it right up to the
dog. In a typical lost-dog case, we establish the direction of travel, and
that enables the owner to be able to place the `lost dog' posters and
interview witnesses in the neighborhood and get a positive sighting and
recovery of their dog.
GROSS: So how do you reinforce the reward if there's no dog to play with at
the end of the trail?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, when they work an actual case, just like in actual search
and rescue, it's different from training, so the dogs do get accustomed to the
fact that there is no closure for them or they won't make a find at the end.
Initially in training a search-and-rescue dog, there's always going to be the
person hidden there that they're going to find and be rewarded. But they
become accustomed to working, you know, trails that are actual scent trails
where they don't actually track up and find the person, and they become used
GROSS: So working dogs, they're just--they know life isn't just fun? I mean,
you know, they've got a job to do?
Ms. ALBRECHT: I'm not sure. I know that my dogs--when I would prepare to go
on a search, they would see me picking up my search pack and the harness, and
they would get just totally ecstatic because, you know, I think in their mind,
they thought, `Cheese!' because they're probably thinking, `We're going to
train and someone going to hide at the end with a piece of cheese.' Of
course, I always gave them cheese when we completed the trail or, you know,
either worked a missing person or a criminal case and didn't walk up and find
the person but got to a point where the scent ended and we believe the suspect
got into a vehicle. Then I would always give them the cheese reward and put
them in their crate, and, you know, they would be happy.
GROSS: You have two bloodhounds now. What makes bloodhounds so good at
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, bloodhounds were bred to hunt, to hunt animals centuries
ago, but in particular they were used to hunt people. And they're known as
man hunters. They just have an instinctive drive to use their nose to work
what's called a colder, older scent meaning they can track a scent trail after
it's been out there several days. Their bodies are built for hunting. They
have jowls that causes them to slobber, and that moisture will collect the
scent. Their long, dangly ears will ruffle scent particles that may be
dormant on the ground and enable them to, you know, enter the nasal cavity,
and they can process it.
They're just hunting machines. Other dogs can be and are trained to do what
bloodhounds can do. But what sets them apart, in particular in law
enforcement cases, is that their testimony is acceptable in a court of law.
When it comes to criminal prosecutions, what a bloodhound does on a case, if
it meets certain requirements that the courts have set up, is acceptable
GROSS: In addition to working with bloodhounds, you work with Weimaraners.
How would you compare bloodhounds and Weimaraners when it comes to tracking
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, Weimaraners are actually bird dogs, so they're actually
more of an air-scenting breed. They're bred to use their nose to detect
airborne scent particles and to freeze and point when they find a bird. So
the fact that I took one and trained it as a cadaver-evidence dog was a little
unusual, but, really, you can train any breed of dog to do cadaver-evidence
work as long as it has the right drive and interest and trainability.
As far as following or tracking a scent trail, obviously, that's what I had
spent 100 percent of my time using my hounds for, and they were very good at
it. And Rachel, my Weimaraner that I had trained--it was easy for me to shift
and use her to detect the airborne scent of cats as opposed to trying to use
her to track a scent trail, although I had several successful cases where she
did track the scent trail. So I did cross-train her for both. If she picked
up the airborne scent particle of a human, she would act differently. She
would throw her nose up high in the air, and her tail would lift about
three-quarters of an inch. And I could tell that she was scenting on a human.
She just looked different and behaved differently when she picked up the scent
of a live human vs. a live cat. So they were both effective but just very
GROSS: My guest is Kat Albrecht. She's written a new memoir called "The Lost
Pet Chronicles." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Kat Albrecht, and she's a pet
detective. She has trained dogs who search out lost animals, and, you know,
they're trained to find the scent of lost pets. And she's a former police
I'm sure you've witnessed a fair number of pet reunions between people and
their lost pets. You know, a dog will kind of run to see you and jump all
over you, you know, when the dog is happy to see you. But cats show their
affection in a less obvious way sometimes. You know, I mean, the cat will
come to the door and fuss to be petted, but they're not going to--they're just
different from dogs. Well, what have some of the cat-person reunions been
like? Do the cats rush over to meet the people after they've been found?
Ms. ALBRECHT: No. Actually most of the cats have been hiding in fear, and,
therefore, their owners--one of the primary tools that they've used to recover
their cat has been a baited humane trap, which is a tool that's used right now
by feral cat groups to recover unwanted, wild cats, and it's one that we
advocate using as a recovery tool for a missing cat. And many of those owners
are holding a panicked cat that's scratching and trying to get away from them
because the cat is so traumatized by the experience of having escaped outside.
But those reunions, you know, I'm looking at the--and what I really see is the
joy in the owner and just the, you know, `Thank you so much. I can't believe
I have my cat back.' Primarily what we hear is, `I can't believe he was this
close all along. I called him for three days. He never meowed, and he was
right here all along.'
GROSS: Right where usually, like...
Ms. ALBRECHT: Usually the cats that we are finding that are displaced,
meaning they're indoor-only cats that push out a window or escape out a door,
are either hiding under the owner's own home, under their deck or in a
neighbor--on either side of them. They exhibit what we call the silence
factor meaning they do not meow, and they will stay there. Some of the cats,
depending on the temperament--if it's a skittish, shy cat that has neophobias,
meaning from kittenhood experiences and genetics, it is just ingrained that
this cat will hide under the bed even when a stranger comes in the
house--those cats can remain outside for six to eight weeks without making a
sound. And the owner, if they do not understand that the cat is nearby, they
will give up searching, and that cat will be absorbed into the feral cat
GROSS: Hm. So do you think the cats usually recognize their people when they
Ms. ALBRECHT: I think that the cats recognize their owners, but their
instincts take over in a way that you don't see with dogs. Dogs--of course,
there's the happy licking, excited whining, `I'm so happy to be home,' whereas
with the cats, their instincts are to protect themselves from predators. And
they even see their owners as being a potential predator. That's why they
hide and they don't meow. And they can be three feet from the owner's front
door for three days and the owner thinks, you know, that their cat ran away
from home. Cats--they're just a different animal than dogs. And, you know,
I'm learning that myself with the cats that I have now. I try to treat them
like dogs and try to hug and kiss them, and they do not appreciate it as much
as I would like them to.
GROSS: Since cats see dogs as predators, if a dog is sniffing for a cat,
trying to find the lost animal, might the cat just run away, thinking that the
dog is a predator to be avoided?
Ms. ALBRECHT: That's a real valid point, and that's one reason why, when we
go out and search for a cat using the cat-detection dog, we keep the dog
tethered on a harness. And basically what the dog is trained to do is
wherever the handler points for the dog to sniff, whether that's at the vent
at the base of a house by a screen vent or under a deck or in heavy bushes,
that the dog is just trained to not go in after the cat but to sniff. And if
it detects the scent of the cat, it will let the handler know.
GROSS: You've described a little bit some of the cat patterns when a cat
slips out the window or door and runs away from home. What about dogs? Are
there any typical pattern of dogs who are lost?
Ms. ALBRECHT: With dogs it's different because dogs travel. Cats are
territorial. Their instinct when they are sick or injured or afraid is they
will hide and they will not meow. The first thing they do is look for
someplace to hide, and they make that their new territory. With dogs, they
will move if they are frightened, such as by fireworks. They will move at a
rapid speed, and they will run blindly. And they're at risk of being hit by
cars, but they oftentimes will run until they get to a point where they can
hide somewhere, like in a garage or behind somebody's woodpile in a yard.
But the distance that a dog will travel or will be found from their escape
point varies, and it depends on several factors, and some of those have to do
with human behavior. You can have a skittish, shy, mixed-breed dog, a
pit-bull mix, trotting down the road, and people will not pull over to try to
rescue that dog. But if you have an Irish setter or Old English sheepdog or,
you know, pure-bred French bulldog that's trotting down the road, people will
be more likely to pull over because they will think, `Lost dog,' or, `Valuable
pet,' or something of value that they want to keep themselves. And so they're
more likely to intervene if it's a pure-bred, highly recognizable dog. So
that's just one example of the human behavior. And if you have a dog that is
skittish and shy and will growl at somebody when they try to approach it, that
dog is going to travel farther than will a wiggly-butt golden retriever that,
you know, will run up to the first person that talks to it.
GROSS: Hm. You have chosen your dogs from litters, and you had to decide
from among the very cute pups in those litters. What are the traits you look
for when you're choosing a dog to put to work as a search dog?
Ms. ALBRECHT: You know, yes, it's true that when I was a police officer and
picking the dogs for my own use, I did pick them as puppies. But I'm shifting
away from that mode because what I know in the training of dogs to do this
work of finding missing pets that there are so many dogs at the animal
shelters that we can train to do this work.
One of the dogs that I have right now was heading to doggie death row. Her
name is Cody, and she's a whippet mutt mix. She was heading to the animal
shelter because she digs, she jumps, she chews. But she loves people, loves
dogs and loves kitties. And she has right now stolen my heart and is just a
fabulous cat-detection dog. She is going to find a lot of missing cats. And
I know that there are many Codys that are out there at the animal shelters
right now that we, our non-profit Missing Pet Partnership, plans to go and
evaluate these dogs, pull them from the shelters, train them to look for
missing pets and donate them to animal shelters and animal rescue groups
across the country that we plan to partner with and train to go and do the
same services that you read about in my book.
GROSS: Now I would have thought it would be too late to train an adult dog to
Ms. ALBRECHT: No, absolutely not. If you start with a young puppy, you can
start training the puppy at a very young age. But absolutely not. We have
dogs in the training program that are four or, you know, six years old. The
problem with taking an older dog is sometimes it depends on the training that
you do. If you choose to do the scent-discrimination training, it can take up
to over a year, sometimes two years of intensive training before the dog is
search ready. And then by that time, you know, the amount of years that you
have left with the dog, you know, are limited. So a year is a good age to
start with for training a search dog. You can start with a puppy, but our
preference is that we will evaluate dogs that are at least a year old.
GROSS: Kat Albrecht's new book is called "The Lost Pet Chronicles." She's
the founder of Missing Pet Partnership. She'll be back in the second half of
the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, training a cat to help train search dogs. We continue our
conversation with pet detective Kat Albrecht. Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews
"The Bone Woman," a memoir by forensic anthropologist Clea Koff. And Ken
Tucker reviews the new album by the trio Secret Machines.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Kat Albrecht. She's a
former police officer and detective who worked handling bloodhounds on
search-and-rescue missions. Now she's a pet detective who uses search dogs to
find lost pets, large and small, from dogs to cats and horses and turtles.
She's written a new memoir called "The Lost Pet Chronicles."
You train dogs, but you've also had to work with cats because you have at
least one cat that you've used as the target cat, In other words, you train
the cat to just kind of act as if it's lost, so that then you can teach the
dog how to find the lost cat. Are cats hard to train even to doing something
simple, like staying still and acting lost?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Oh, cats are great. And, you know, before I started training
my dogs to find missing cats, I had always pretty much owned a cat, but I was
not hooked into the cat lover, until my first experience with getting a great
cat, and that was with Myron. And when I got Myron and started training him,
I had to harness-train him to walk on a harness and leash, so he could lay a
scent trail. And I write about this in the book, how I had gone in to the
veterinarian and took Myron in there and told the vet tech how I was
harness-training Myron. Well, she thought that by harness, you know, that the
bloodhounds were harnessed. And she looked at Myron and looked at me and
looked back at Myron and said, `You mean you're training your cat to track
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ALBRECHT: And so it was pretty amusing. But the other cats that we use
now, including this obnoxious, orange cat name Cheeto, are kitties that love
dogs. Myron and Cheeto just--they're so accustomed to my dogs, and every
morning when I let Cody(ph) out, she'll find and lick them and play with them
and get all excited about, you know, washing the kitties' face. And the cats
just kind of like, `Yeah, yeah, whatever.' But these cats have a gregarious
temperament. They're ones that crate well. I've trained them by placing them
in a crate and setting them outside and putting bread and bird seed down.
They could sit--they learned to lie quietly in these crates because their
reward is because they get to lay and watch birdies come and eat. And so they
don't become fussy or upset while being in a crate.
So when we go to the trainings, we take these cats and the crate, and we will
hide them in some heavy brush. And we have the cat-detection dogs. We take
them one at a time and have them search around. And when they find the kitty,
they are trained that they will give the physical alert; typically they're
wiggling and wagging their tails. They will run back to the handler, jump on
the handler, go back to the kitty. And then we open the crate up, and the
kitty is let out. And they're on a harness and lead, and then the dog gets to
play with the kitty. And the cats are so used it. They love it. You know,
they look forward to the training dates. They run into the crate when they
see me pull it out.
GROSS: Now in addition to searching for cats and dogs, you've searched for
more unusual pets or at least smaller pets, from snakes to turtles and geckos,
iguanas, ferrets. Are they any more difficult to search for than cats and
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, yeah, because I don't have as much knowledge and
experience with these different animals than I do with cats and dogs. I mean,
with cats and dogs, just like with humans, you can predict behavior. That's
one thing that I have been experimenting with--is developing a system of
profiling lost-pet behavior. You can have a berry-picker, a backpacker and a
hunter that can be lost in the same area of the woods. But the strategy, the
techniques, the tactics that you use for these three categories are entirely
different. And so one thing that I've identified is the strategies, the
techniques and the tactics that you use to look for a lost dog are entirely
different than how you look for an indoor cat that has escaped outside. And
that's entirely different for how you would search for an outdoor-access cat
that vanishes. And that's different than how you would look for a box turtle
So understanding the behavior of the animals and how those will dictate the
distances that these animals travel and how soon people will intervene, it's a
science. And it's something that, you know, I'm working to develop, but it's
GROSS: You used to work with dogs for the police, and you used your search
dogs to help find lost people, clues, dead people. In your experience, did
the police have a lot of faith in search dogs, the police that you worked
Ms. ALBRECHT: It depended on the agency and on the individual investigator,
you know, that had called me out. You know, initially one of the first police
departments I worked for had no faith in bloodhounds. In fact, after spending
18 months there, they basically said that, `Bloodhounds will never be used
here. If you want to work your dog, you need to go elsewhere.' And so I did,
and I landed with a department that was supportive and in an area of
California that had previously used bloodhounds with great success and other
search-and-rescue dogs. So I found it much easier when I left Fresno County
and went over to Santa Cruz County. It was much easier for the agencies to
call me out with my dogs.
One of the first searches that I used my cadaver dog on was the Polly Klaas
search, and that case then opened the door a couple months later for Rachel to
work a homicide case, where the detective really was skeptical. He really had
never seen a cadaver dog work before. And in his experience with the police
patrol dogs that he had seen, he had not had much faith in dogs. But when
Rachel went out there and was finding the evidence that was right out there,
but it just wasn't visible, he was impressed.
GROSS: How did your dog do in trying to track down Polly Klaas?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, in the Polly Klaas case, we were deployed in the area off
Pythian Road, which, you know, was the area where Richard Allen Davis
had--his car was stranded. And then several months later the owner of the
property had found physical evidence and had pretty much made the connection
that the person that she had seen months earlier could likely be Richard Allen
Davis. So we were in an area that had already been searched, that the FBI was
just--well, Polly hadn't been found yet. So they were wondering if, you know,
he had disposed of her body in this particular area. And by the time that we
finished the search that evening, Richard Allen Davis confessed and then told
them where he had placed her body, which was actually north of our location,
up in Cloverdale. So we weren't even in the area where her body was.
Rachel did great. I mean, she searched with the team that I was with, and we
did a great job. But, you know, as in any case, when you're searching for
something, if you're searching in an area where the evidence, you know,
whether that be physical evidence or a person or a pet--if you're searching
and they're not there, then you're not going to find them. And, you know,
whether you call it a success or not, I'm not sure. I'm often asked about,
you know, our success rate, and there's just many cases where we searched for
a missing pet and we didn't find it, but we have no way of knowing if the cat
or the dog was, you know, even still in the area or not.
GROSS: What advice would you have for people who have lost a cat or a dog?
Do those posters on the trees or in the convenience stores help?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, the posters help primarily with lost dogs because
typically the dog is out there; it's traveling, and somebody's going to pick
it up. Invariably a lost dog is going to end up with somebody who finds it,
and they either self-rescue it or they turn it in to a rescue group or they
turn it over to a friend. Sometimes they take it to the animal shelter, but
don't count on it. You still want to search the shelter every day, if
possible, for your dog when it's missing. But, really, your focus with a lost
dog is getting the word out there that your dog is missing and, really,
focusing on getting the word out to a lot of rescue groups because oftentimes
many of the missing dogs end up there and are never taken to the shelter. The
one place where the dog owner is searching is often the last place that anyone
will take it because of the fear that it will be put to sleep.
With missing cats, cats will be close. Some cats are transported out of the
area. But if it's a displaced, fearful cat, it's going to be nearby and
hiding. And using a baited, humane trap as a recovery tool is a primary way
to get the cat back. We have a Web site that I would recommend that if you've
lost a pet, that you check. It's www.lostapet.org.
GROSS: You operate as a non-profit?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Yeah.
Ms. ALBRECHT: We operate as a non-profit organization and I founded Missing
Pet Partnership because I want to see lost-pet services developed on a
national level, and I want them to be around for years to come. I, at one
point, was a sole proprietor and pet detective that was paid for my services.
But I asked the question: Why hasn't anybody else trained a dog to do this?
And someone told me that there had been a man in Texas who had trained his
bloodhound to track lost pets. And when I asked what happened to him, they
said that he died back in 1984. And I realized, `Well, what happens when I
die?' These services would die with me. And so it helped to broaden my
vision for pioneering this service through a non-profit, so that this could be
available for pet owners maybe five or 10 years from now.
GROSS: Now your name is Kat, K-A-T...
Ms. ALBRECHT: Yeah.
GROSS: ...which is short for Katherine or Kathy.
Ms. ALBRECHT: Kathy. Short for Kathy.
GROSS: Are you intentionally using like a pussycat kind of cat there? I
mean, do you...
Ms. ALBRECHT: No (laughs).
GROSS: ...intend for it to have animallike insinuations? Yeah.
Ms. ALBRECHT: My nickname, Kat, actually came from the seventh grade when my
best friend's name was Kathy, and we just became Kat and Kat. And I never
knew that I was going to be a pet detective. I just grew up being Kat. So I
have had to suffer through the fact that, you know, I'm a pet detective with
the name of Kat and teased for it ruthlessly. But, no, it has nothing to do
with the work that I do. It's just a freak of nature, I guess.
GROSS: So did you have a lot of pets as a kid?
Ms. ALBRECHT: I always grew up with a family dog. I didn't have my first
cat until after my dad had passed away; he did not like cats. So I always
grew up with dogs and grew up with the love and fascination after reading
books, like "Old Yeller" and "Where the Red Fern Grows"--grew up with the love
of hunting dogs. So that's really where my basis and love for training dogs
came in--was reading as a child.
GROSS: What do you do with your search dogs when they're ready to retire?
How do they take to retirement?
Ms. ALBRECHT: Well, A.J. is retired. And, you know, they just still live
GROSS: Do they play golf (laughs)?
Ms. ALBRECHT: No. No. He just sleeps a lot and watches a lot of TV. You
know, they're just not working anymore, and they get used to seeing me take
off with the other dogs. So, you know, it's hard. A.J. is 12 now, which is
really old for a bloodhound. He's deaf. You know, he's gray. His body has
really changed a lot. And, you know, I'm not sure how much longer he'll be
around. But, you know, he was a wonderful search dog, and, you know, he's a
hero, you know. So he deserves to rest and play golf and watch TV the rest of
GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us about your work and
Ms. ALBRECHT: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
GROSS: Kat Albrecht's new book is called "The Lost Pet Chronicles." She's
the founder of Missing Pet Partnership. Their Web site is lostapet.org.
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Bone Woman," a new memoir by forensic
anthropologist Clea Koff. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Clea Koff's new book, "The Bone Woman"
TERRY GROSS, host:
In 1996, Clea Koff was a 23-year-old graduate student studying prehistoric
skeletons in Berkeley, California. Then she was sent by the United Nations
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to the site of a mass grave to help
exhume bodies and strengthen the UN's case against alleged perpetrators of
genocide. As a forensic anthropologist working for the UN, Koff spent the
next few years investigating other mass graves in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
She describes her work in her new book, "The Bone Woman." Book critic Maureen
Corrigan has a review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
A few weeks after September 11th, 2001, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of
The New Republic, wrote a column that should be required reading for any
aspiring or practicing writers. Wieseltier went after what he saw as
`excessively fine literary accounts of September 11th.' For instance, he
quoted from a piece published by John Updike in The New Yorker, in which
Updike described the destruction of the twin towers thusly: `Smoke speckled
with bits of paper curled into the cloudless sky, and strange, inky rivulets
ran down the giant structures' vertically corrugated surface.' `Such
writing,' Wieseltier commented, `defeats its representation purpose because it
steals attention away from reality and toward language. It is provoked by
nothing so much as its own delicacy.'
I thought a lot about Wieseltier's denunciation of pretty adjectives and
adverbs as a kind of linguistic armor against atrocity as I was reading Clea
Koff's book, "The Bone Woman." Koff is a forensic anthropologist, and she
writes with a restraint and eye for detail that you would expect of a
scientist. Perhaps because of that training, Koff avoids straining for big
meditations on life and death in her book. As a forensic anthropologist, Koff
knows that bones talk, and she simply lets the bones she exhumes give
In descriptions free of sensationalism or sentimentality, Koff recounts
unearthing skeletons and partially decomposed corpses of the victims of
genocide around the world. Standing sometimes waist-deep in groundwater, Koff
and other members of her UN team exhumed human remains thrown into mass graves
in rubbish pits and mines and latrine holes. Maggots and stench and all the
horrors that flesh is heir to were part of Koff's everyday working conditions,
a work she could only do, she says, by maintaining her anthropological stance
of seeing remains as a puzzle that she needed to solve. It's that same
emotional distance that gives "The Bone Woman" its pared down power.
Koff concedes that her odd profession grew out of being an odd child. The
daughter of a Tanzanian mother and a white American father, both documentary
filmmakers, she grew up around the world. From the time she was seven, Koff
says, she was collecting dead birds and burying them. By 13, she was burying
other dead birds in plastic bags and digging them up later to see how long it
would take them to turn into skeletons. Koff's weird hobbies were focused
into a career after she was inspired by a book called "Witnesses from the
Grave" about a group of graduate students, led by forensic anthropologist
Clyde Snow, who unearthed and tried to identify the remains of Argentines who
disappeared during the military junta of the 1970s and '80s.
Koff begins her account of each mission with a summary of the political
conflict that sparked these crimes against humanity in the first place. Then
she details how she and her team assembled the physical evidence necessary to
prove genocide. In Bosnia, in 1996, for instance, Koff recounts how she and
other UN workers dodged landmines as they exhumed the bodies of some 150 men
and boys. Surviving female family members had been told by officials that
their vanished menfolk had just run off. When the women were persuaded to
come look at the bodies, they identified their missing sons and husbands by
the individual sewing stitches they used to repair the worn-out clothing found
on the corpses.
Earlier that same year in Rwanda, Koff and her team worked outside a rural
church on the shores of Lake Kivu. It's an Edenic spot where, in 1994,
several thousand people seeking refuge were slaughtered over a period of days
by grenades and machetes wielded by militiamen. Koff and her co-workers
eventually exhumed over 500 bodies from a single mass grave, one section of
which they began calling `the nursery' because the remains of so many children
were found there.
Why does anyone, even a scientist, choose to witness such horrors over and
over? Koff admits to anxiety attacks and to being haunted by nightmares of
lying in bed with body parts. But she also says, `A dead body can incriminate
perpetrators, who believe they have silenced their victims forever. This is
the part of forensic anthropology that drives me, this kicking-a-bad-guy ass
when it's least expected.' "The Bone Woman" deals with gruesome subjects, but
it is not itself a gruesome book. Through its unpoetic vision of all those
piles and piles of exhumed bones, Koff's book testifies to our humbling,
common humanity that the perpetrators of genocide would deny.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Bone Woman" by Clea Koff.
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the first major-label release by the trio Secret
Machines. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Secret Machines' new release "Now Here Is Nowhere"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The trio called Secret Machines originated in Dallas, Texas. They've
relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and have just put out their first major-label
release called "Now Here Is Nowhere." Rock critic Ken Tucker says the band
constructs long, complex songs whose structures build to satisfyingly
(Soundbite of music)
KEN TUCKER reporting:
Secret Machines consists of brothers Ben and Brandon Curtis on guitar and bass
and drummer Josh Garza. Brandon says the music he's most been influenced by
was made between the years 1967 and '72. You can tell just from listening to
the audacious, just-under-nine-minutes track that leads off the album that
this means he and his brother are into the discursive, trippy sounds of
everyone from Pink Floyd and Can(ph) to the Jefferson Airplane and The
Grateful Dead. They layer their guitar and bass lines on top of each other as
though they're building houses of sound. And then Garza's drums come along to
give the edifice of good, rattling shake.
(Soundbite of song)
SECRET MACHINES: (Singing) Did you get your heartache and your head rush
confused? Have you been sleeping late because you've been abused? Are you
alone? Does it feel like those around want you to die? July...
TUCKER: I hear Texas as much as New York in Secret Machines' work. When
they're not building songs vertically, finishing each verse like another story
on an apartment house, they're working horizontally making the music
equivalent of vast, wide-open space across which drifts soft voices and
choruses that swirl and double back on each other like tumbleweeds or, in this
song, wind-blown leaves.
(Soundbite of song)
SECRET MACHINES: (Singing) The leaves are gone. They're lying on the river.
Hold my hand to your heart and breathe together. We won't...
TUCKER: Although they cite psychedelia as a musical touchstone, Secret
Machines is very much a band for this time in the sense that there's very
little countercultural open-heartedness or empty-headedness in their work.
Their serpentine melodies don't just slither off aimless or dribble away in
stone bemusement. These guys work hard and don't want you to miss that fact.
This approach can lead to a certain cold rigor that's not always particularly
appealing, but it can also lead to wonderfully focused jams like this one
called "Nowhere Again."
(Soundbite of "Nowhere Again")
SECRET MACHINES: (Singing) Cellophane flowers never happened for me. They're
sleeping the day off, watching the night fall, covering nowhere, filling my
time share. There's a woman in the mirror in a fiery state. As she motions
to me to start turning away, she's lifting her dress up trying to keep us--oh,
you'd be surprised how we race while our eyes erased. Another alone on a...
TUCKER: I don't have too much interest in trying to follow Secret Machines'
determinedly abstruse lyrics. After decoding a few closely, I don't find the
sentiments particularly original or their word play artful in any way. The
sound of their voices is, as often as not, a nattering moan that works better
as noise than verbal communication. And sometimes on a song like "Pharoah's
Daughter" they come all too close to achieving the sort of tremulous
kitsch that made Pink Floyd such airy twits.
I can't play a number of their best songs, like "You Are Chains," because the
music doesn't lend itself to being cut into snippets. Lots of times their
finest effects kick in two or three minutes into a song. And waiting for that
kick is half the--well, not exactly fun but a reward, a reward for following
Secret Machines down their secret paths to a fresh beginning.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
the new CD by Secret Machines called "Now Here Is Nowhere."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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