Kat Manning used to search for missing people, but now she looks for lost pets.
Manning, 52, of Ponder, started her side business Dog Gone Detectives in 2005 when she lived in Lewisville.
At the time, she had worked for about a year at Search One, a nonprofit volunteer search-and-rescue team in Dallas, where she was promoted to the dog handler position.
She said the team often received a stream of calls asking for help finding their pets that wandered away.
“After that, I thought, ‘Why can’t we train dogs to look for lost pets?’” said Manning, whose business serves the North Texas area. “People really, really love their pets, and it’s rewarding to help them.”
Paul Lake, founder and president of Search One, said the team still receives about two calls a month from residents looking for help finding lost pets.
“They just don’t understand. They assume because we can find people that we can find animals, too. But now, I have someone to pass the names on to,” Lake said of Manning.
Manning, who now works as a groomer at The Nosey Dog in Flower Mound, has traveled as far as Florida and New Jersey — travel fees apply — with either one of her chocolate Labradors, Godiva and Bosko, or her German shepherd, Banjo, to find missing animals.
The lost-and-found list has run from cats and dogs to ferrets, horses, a pig, a cow and an iguana she found hiding beneath the family’s house.
“I’ll do any pet, but once a guy called me to track a snake. I wouldn’t do that one because I don’t like snakes,” said Manning, who said she was intrigued by the search-and-rescue business when she saw teams find people buried under rubble in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
‘Called to it’
Before launching Dog Gone Detectives, Manning was known to call area shelters to inquire about lost pet posters she saw tacked on posts around her Lewisville neighborhood.
“I’ve always felt called to it,” said Manning, who moved to Ponder in September and now has three dogs, three horses and a cat roaming her two acres.
Manning said she implemented the techniques she learned during her time at Search One to train her three pet dogs, though Godiva, age 13, is now retired.
Training for Manning’s dogs relied on repetition and took about six months, she said.
And when she puts on their orange vests and trail harnesses, it’s their signal to begin tracking a pet’s scent.
Manning said knowing a dog’s personality is the secret to successfully trailing a lead, since every dog responds differently when he loses the scent.
Bosko, for instance, will perk his ears one way and his tail another when he’s hot on a trail, and will turn his ears and tail another direction when he loses the scent.
Similar to searching for people, Manning said owners only need a scented article such as a pet’s toy to find the animal.
At one point, Manning said she and her dogs were trailing about two cases a day and she lived off her pet-finding business for two years.
But when she took the grooming job in Flower Mound for a steady income, she shifted Dog Gone Detectives to a part-time business.
Trailing the scent
Nonetheless, customers continue to pay the $390 fee for her search service. Heather Williams lived in the same neighborhood as Manning for 14 years before she moved onto two acres in Ponder. She called Williams for help about a year ago when her cat, Fyd, hadn’t returned home for more than a day.
Williams, 47, said Fyd sometimes escaped out the backdoor when the family let the dog out, but usually returned by the next morning to eat. When the day passed and the cat hadn’t returned, Williams said she began to worry he’d been killed by a coyote.
She knew Manning had success finding others’ lost pets, so she gave her a call.
“People are willing to spend the extra money to find their pets,” Williams said. “I’m surprised more people aren’t doing this since you see so many missing pet posters.”
Within 30 minutes of Manning and Bosko tracking Fyd’s scent through the neighborhood, Williams found the cat at its perch by the backdoor when she returned. It wasn’t a coincidence. Manning said the cat had likely hidden in the neighborhood and returned when she saw the search team trailing her scent, knowing her owners were looking for her.
“It was remarkable,” Williams said. “It’s good to do just for peace of mind. I was worried because this wasn’t her pattern, and I knew we had a coyote problem.”
Although Manning often does not happen upon the animal when she’s out, her service helps owners narrow the search area to a specific location to tack up lost pet posters, she said. Manning said about 75 percent of the time the pet is found, usually confirmed by a call from the owner a few days later.
Now that she works her detective service part-time, she receives about two cases a week and will usually search in the evenings and weekends when she’s off work for about six hours total.
Last year, she raked in about $20,000 from her part-time venture, she said.
“I just love animals. I’d want someone to do the same for me if one of my pets were missing,” Manning said.
What to Know
Dog Gone Detectives