Mowgli and Murphy
It was mid-morning in August. I sat outside to enjoy my daily cup of coffee, but that particular morning I felt as though something was off. I looked around with my coffee in hand and realized that I could not find one of my cats, Mowgli, who usually enjoyed going outside. We lived in the home for months and months of Mowgli staring at the tall fence, knowing there was no way he could climb it. I guess he conquered his goal that day. I searched around and called his name, but he did not come. Days passed while I put up “missing” signs and made phone calls, but nothing came to fruition.
Fast forward to one week later when I was coming back from Dallas Animal Services to see if anyone had found Mowgli. It was my fourth time visiting that week. When I got home, my other cat, Murphy, who also liked going outside occasionally, was gone. I was heart-broken, angry, and confused. After spending hours on the internet trying to figure out what to do, I stumbled upon a Facebook page called Texas Pet Detectives Association, run by a woman named Bonnie Hale. I messaged her that night, and she was at my house by 7:30 a.m. the next day with her search dog, Bodhi. Before that day, I had no idea that pet detectives existed.
The Pet Detective
Bonnie Hale has been a pet detective for thirteen years. Before she started in the business of finding lost pets, she taught English at Saint Louis University, utilizing her master’s degree in English and creative writing. During that time, she also competed with her dogs in competitive agility trials. “I had done some high-level dog training, but mainly I was just a dog fanatic,” Hale said. It was not until she participated in a dog search in St. Louis, Missouri, that her life took a turn. Hale saw a story on the news that someone had left their dog in their car to run an errand, and the car was stolen with the dog inside of it. She called the people who were asking for help, and she and an organization called Missing Pet Partnership set out to find the car and dog. That day, Hale became entranced by the pet detective business and began to understand the concept of using dogs to find missing animals.
Hale found out that the leader of Missing Pet Partnership, Kathy “Kat” Albrecht, now the founder of the Missing Animal Response Network, was offering a training class a few states away. Hale chose her Australian Shepherd rescue, Murphy, to tag along with her to the training, but she had unclear expectations of where it would lead. “Murphy was the logical choice because he was a very smart, big dog,” Hale said. “I really got into this for the dogs, but Murphy ended up being a real cat fanatic himself. He was the poster dog for an ideal cat detection dog, and I was so proud.” After Murphy finished with his training, Hale was told that he was ready to start searching for missing cats.
Of course, one cannot jump right in and start using their dog to find other people’s missing pets. To become a qualified pet detective, Hale traveled to Fresno, California, to obtain her missing animal response (MAR) technician certification. In addition to the certifications, she also had to become a licensed private investigator. Now, after thirteen years in the business, she has worked with over 2,000 people to find their pets. She started with two cases per week. As her business grew, that number skyrocketed and she transitioned into a full-time lost pet specialist working in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and as far as Slidell, Louisiana.
The search process is not exactly glamourous. Hale goes door-to-door with her search dog asking neighbors for permission to check in their backyard. Some people are less than willing to let her do so, which makes her job a lot more difficult. Many times, Hale and her dogs have to track through dangerous ravines, rubble, trees, and overgrown alleys, and she has run into her fair share of snakes and even wild hogs. In addition to nature, there is always a possibility of finding the animal deceased. Unfortunately, she has come across this tragedy more times than she can count. “People go from feeling very hopeful to feeling very desperate to utter panic — this huge range of emotions,” Hale said. “It’s brutal.”
The search, of course, does not always end up negative. There are many situations in which Hale and her dogs have found the animal for which they are searching. Once her dogs get to their goal, they are heavily rewarded with treats and love. Hale worked with her dog Murphy for seven years until he passed away. With Murphy in dog paradise, she now uses Bodhi (her boxer/terrier/corgi/beagle/etc. mix) to search for cats, and Idabelle, her American black and tan coonhound, to search for dogs. The search goes beyond dogs and cats, as Hale said she has received phone calls about a lost pig, ferret, tortoise, miniature cow, and even an aardvark.
Hale arrived at my home on that hot August morning with Bodhi and got to work. She asked me to bring something out that the cats slept on so Bodhi could become familiar with both cats’ scents. Hale was honest with me and told me that because Mowgli had been missing for a week, there was not a high chance of finding him, because his scent trail was not strong anymore. I walked with Bodhi and Hale down streets and alleyways. We knocked on doors and searched in garages and under porches. Bodhi found a few cats, but they were not Murphy or Mowgli. After a few hours of circling the neighborhood, we arrived at the house next to mine. After receiving permission, Bodhi and Hale made their way back. Before doing so, Hale informed me that the majority of the time, the missing cat is directly next door, so I walked back there with them.
Bodhi went straight to the back of the yard, and there, lying on the ground behind the garage, was a gray cat with a purple collar. He had no visible marks on him and no injuries, but his heartbeat was gone. It was Mowgli. I fell to the ground and sobbed, and Hale came over to me with tears in her eyes to express her sorrow with me. I could see that she was hurting along with me, and I could tell she truly cared about what I was going through. Murphy and Mowgli were with me for twelve years, and then one day, they were both gone. I had never experienced the loss of a pet, much less two pets, and I do not think I could describe the feeling.
Life does not always go the way you want. It does not always end in a happily ever after or a glorious reunion with something that disappeared from your reach. We did not find Murphy that day, but Hale helped me and told me what to do next. She sent me signs to place all around the neighborhood and a detailed email with search instructions. She called me later to make sure I was okay and check in on the search. I had never held a pet funeral (and before, I even thought it was kind of silly), but because Hale and Bodhi were able to locate Mowgli, I buried him in a fuzzy pink blanket on my father’s land. My whole family even came to support me at his funeral.
I never found Murphy. To Hale, I will be known as one of the most devastating cases she has worked in her career, and the only person she has worked with who lost two animals.
Hale helps people find their missing animals and closure, as she helped me locate Mowgli. Although we did not find my cat Murphy, I like to think that he found a new home and is living his best life imaginable. Hale said that she and Bodhi find indoor cats 80 percent of the time, and she and Idabelle find the missing dogs very often as well. If a dog or cat is not found on her search, she does everything in her power to find the animals, even returning to search the next day for a lower cost if requested.
Hale and her dogs, Bodhi and Idabelle, have brought so much happiness to the homes of those who thought they would never see their furry family members again. They continue searching across multiple states to return lost animals into the arms of their loving families. Hale said she could not be happier with her work: “Taking my dog to work every day and putting families back together – what could be better than that?”