Photo by: Danny Fulgencio

The woman, and her hounds, who find lost pets

When a Dallas family lost their plus-size and aptly named cat, Chunk, they were worried sick.

Enter Bonnie Hale, a professional pet detective.

Though the cat’s owner was skeptical at best, she allowed her children to stay home from school and participate in the search. Hale uses tracking dogs who can catch the scent of a lost pet. Bodhi, her mixed-breed boxer, specializes in finding cats.

After giving Chunk’s bed a sniff, Bodhi led the search party into a neighbor’s backyard. He began pawing at the deck, as he’s trained to do when he finds something. Hale held back the dog while the owners used a flashlight to look for Chunk, who was spotted curled up in a dark corner. After a few minutes of coaxing, he was back purring in his human’s arms.

“I live for it,” she says of reuniting owners with their furry lost loves.

Hale has been a pet detective for nearly 10 years, aided by trusty sidekicks Bodhi and her black and tan coonhound, Idabel. She has a background in high-level dog training work with professional K9 units. You may have seen her mentioned on Nextdoor, where her $425 service has been spreading among East Dallas pet owners impressed with her results.

The recovery can be difficult because she rarely receives a call until the pet has been missing for several days, which limits her dogs’ ability to track the trail of a lost animal. She says that cats, which hide when scared, are easier to find than dogs, which tend to run when spooked.

The coonhound is the Cadillac of noses, but any dog can be trained to track a scent. Bodhi was a stray that Hale trained to detect lost pets. Hale travels all over Texas and the surrounding states if called into action, but sometimes she only finds an animal’s remains.

“I have carried dead dogs out of the woods in my arms, which is the most unpleasant part of my job,” Hale says.

Even when the ending is tearful, she knows an important piece of her business is providing closure.

“I have clients tell me, ‘This dog is our child,’ ” she says.

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