On a sunny morning in Walnut, California, private investigator Stephanie Hart received an urgent phone call. “Can you and your partner go on a stakeout in Tustin, California?” asked the defense attorney. “My client thinks her ex-husband is taking their son to his girlfriend’s house, and if the man’s mother or sister isn’t accompanying them he’s violating the supervised-custody agreement.”
No stranger to digging up the facts of a case, Hart realized the job could mean spending long hours dogging the father’s every move and photographing and identifying every female companion with him. For this undercover assignment, Hart needed a good partner—one with patience, an eye for detail, and super sniffing skills.
Who’s she gonna call? Lynley. He’s loyal and loves a speedy ride-along, but this shoeless gumshoe is no Bloodhound. Lynley, aka Laughing Hart To Hart, is a 4-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who often goes undercover with Hart.
Think Sherlock Holmes in a small-dog suit. All that’s missing is a tweed cape, a deerstalker hat, and a calabash pipe. Lynley possesses a sixth sense for keen observation and logical reasoning of the canine kind, but this tail with a real feathered tail is sometimes clueless about the forensic science.
Three years ago, when Hart began her career she didn’t envision adding a four-legged partner to her business plan, but the tricolored Cavalier King Charles Spaniel flaunted his charm and good looks and wormed his way into the operation in no time.
“I brought Lynley home when he was about 9 weeks old, and right away he focused on me and never left my side,” remembers Hart, who named the dog after the classy Detective Thomas Lynley of the BBC’s Inspector Lynley Mysteries.
The spy’s junior status kick-started about a year later. “On my first day on a case, I didn’t want to leave my dog home alone, even with an indoor pet monitor, so I asked him if he wanted to go to work with me and help collect intel on a woman’s boyfriend as to whether he was cheating on her or not,” says Hart, assuming her Cavalier comprehends complete sentences.
She spelled out the who, what, when, and where of the day’s probe, but when Lynley gave his boss lady the ‘hungry eyes’ look, Hart added food onto the deal. “OK, we’ll probably drive through El Pollo Loco for lunch.”
With a humph and a shrug, Lynley sashayed after her into the command center, which doubles as Hart’s kitchen. After packing the legal paperwork, a gallon of fresh filtered water, some pet treats, a few plush toys, and Lynley’s red tartan collar and leash, the sleuths headed to the scene.
“Fast-forward years later and it’s the same routine,” Hart says. “But one day it’s entirely possible he might tell me, ‘Uh, sorry, can’t go with you today. I’m on dig holes and mail demolition duty.’”
What exactly does this canine cop with long, silky ears and a perky personality do on these once-a-month outings? “When my investigations call for physically identifying a suspect, interviewing witnesses, or conducting lengthy surveillance, Lynley is an asset,” Hart says.
While some Cavaliers like to woof to the max every time a door opens or a stranger approaches, Lynley is no yapping fool. As a watchdog, he simply watches. Whether he’s catnapping or comfortably perched in the passenger side of the detective’s Lexus convertible, Mazda MX-5 Miata, or Ford Explorer SUV, this rookie maintains his aura of peace and tranquility.
“He never jumps around crazy or barks, which would draw too much attention to us, so he’s the perfect partner—almost as good as my sister, who’s also a private investigator,” says Hart. “If he sees me staring at someone or something, he’ll stare too, and if I seem stressed or nervous, his ears go up.”
The pretty little dog also serves as a great decoy for concealing Hart’s identity.
Hart needs to prove what she witnesses, so her photography must show the date and time before the evidence is admissible in court. She opts for waiting in the car with her fingers poised on her camera and high-powered lens only until she sees activity in a house under scrutiny—either a light comes on or someone leaves or enters. That’s when she activates her body camera and takes Lynley out of the car. From his many espionage trips, the dog knows he may walk for blocks and relishes the opportunity to relieve himself and get his steps in, even without wearing a fitness monitor.
“Picking up his poop in sweat pants or bending down to tie my shoes makes me seem like any woman who’s out exercising her dog,” Hart says. “I’m only five feet tall, friendly, and I pack a dog, so no one ever thinks of me as a private eye who wears a body camera.”
Lynley’s manners (he was trained as a show dog to stride politely on the leash without pulling), sweet temperament, and good looks make him a suspect magnet.
“Thanks to him, one job was so easy it was like taking candy from a baby,” recalls Hart. “The person I needed to identify suddenly came out of his house, walked right up to us, looked directly at me and said, ‘Oh, what an adorable dog. Can I pet him?’”
Unlike therapy, service, police protection, or other canine jobs requiring training and qualifying exams before the dogs can work for their handlers, Lynley never needed to learn anything before snooping around as a dog detective.
“It takes a special personality to perform well in this field,” Hart says. “Female dogs are often too bubbly and not stealthy enough, but Lynley naturally comes by his unflappable attitude.”
Who will step into his paw prints someday? Hart looks to Lynley’s two sons, Roy and Patrick, who possess the same temperament as their father. “I plan to continue taking Lynley with me as long as he’s healthy and enjoys what we do,” says Hart. “Now if I could only teach him how to hold a camera he would be magical.”
Originally appeared in AKC Family Dog Magazine