Laura Totis, who tracks lost pets, says: “I don’t see how anyone can do this and not get emotionally invested in what they’re tracking.” (Doug Kapustin/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Even if it’s not always a happy ending, you’re giving people closure, being able to help them find what they’re looking for. You don’t ever want to make an assumption. Don’t try to piece together a story. [Pets are] not necessarily stolen out of the yard. In one of my searches, [clients] had lost a cat in a snowstorm. The cat disappeared, and they assumed it had gotten out. It was the boyfriend’s house; it wasn’t even his cat. As a last resort, I bring the dog in. I thought, At least start in the basement, where the cat was last seen. So, we take the dog into the basement, and the dog’s like, “Yeah, the cat’s in the wall.”
I said, “The cat’s in the wall.” The man’s like, “Where in the wall?” I’m like, “Between this door frame and your fireplace is the best I can tell you.” The next thing I know, he gets an ax, and he just starts chopping a hole in this basement wall. I’m standing there with the dog, and all I can think is, Oh my God, I don’t think my dog trainer insurance is gonna cover this if there’s no cat in that wall. That was one of those moments when I think I was happier than he was that the cat was actually in there.

I don’t see how anyone can do this and not get emotionally invested in what they’re tracking. I’ve had conversations with people where they can’t stop weeping through the telephone. I remember one time we were looking, it was a cat. I got a call, and I get up to the house, and it’s a bunch of young adults — your classic shaved heads and stuff pierced that shouldn’t be pierced. I’m thinking, I don’t want to get out of my car here. They all wanted to follow me into the woods. I was like, “No way — just one.” So the young man whose cat it was followed me into the woods, and we run a track. It turned out [the cat] went into a storm drain, and we found it in another neighborhood. [When] I said goodbye to him, the next thing I know this guy is weeping. He’s bawling; he’s hugging my dog, he’s hugging me. He was like, “You have no idea what this cat meant to me.”

Laura Totis, 49, of LJT Pet Tracking. (Doug Kapustin/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

I always tell people: “Don’t give me a lot of information. Let me give you the information.” You don’t want to influence the person tracking. Show me where you want me to start. I’ll start the dog there, and I’ll work her. Even though we try not to cue the dogs, whatever message is going up and down that leash is still going up and down the leash. If you’re gonna pay a tracking dog to come in, don’t waste your money by telling it what to tell you.