Strangers Across the Country Help Dog Missing for 3 Years Get Home

The pit bull was found in Florida three years after disappearing in California.

July 5, 2013, 3:05 PM

July 6, 2013 — -- A pit bull named Smoke is currently on a more than 2,500-mile journey home to California after disappearing three years ago and being found in Florida.

And it has taken a nationwide, metaphorical "village" to get Smoke on the road back home.

Smoke's story began three years ago when he was adopted by Eric Hough, a professional BMX rider who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. Hough already had a Chihuahua mix when he adopted Smoke and tried to change his name to Bayou, which never really stuck. Everyone just called him "Big Boy."

"For whatever reason, that dog and me bonded real fast and it was our family. It was the little dog, the big dog and me, and it was a more well-rounded family, at that point," Hough told "Suddenly, I was just some guy with a Chihuahua."

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About four months after adopting Smoke, Hough had to evict a problematic tenant subletting a room in his five-bedroom house.

The day the female tenant left, Smoke disappeared. Hough believed that the woman took the dog after also establishing a bond with the canine. He called the police and even followed the woman hoping that she would lead him to the dog, but he never found Smoke.

Fast forward to June 6, 2013, when authorities in Cocoa, Fla., found the black pit bull on the street and delivered him to a shelter as a stray.

The shelter found that the dog had a microchip that electronically pulled up the name Eric Hough when scanned, but neither of the two phone numbers listed for him worked.

When the shelter couldn't get ahold of Hough, Smoke was put up for adoption.

A local woman who ran a website that tries to reunite pets with owners posted about Smoke online.

One of the people to see the bulldog's story was Ryan Gamache, a Seattle-based "pet detective" who volunteers for a nonprofit group called Missing Pet Partnership.

"I love those hard cases, so I picked it up," Gamache told "It took quite a bit of effort to find Eric, and then it was even harder to get him to sit down and listen."

When Gamache couldn't get in touch with Hough directly, he tracked down people who know Hough.

"When they started contacting me, it was through my sponsors and friends," Hough said. "I'm, like, immediately thinking they're trying to get information for identity theft."

When Hough's sponsors told him that a man was trying to reach him about his missing dog, Hough initially thought about his Chihuahua, who was safe at home. He told the group to leave him alone.

When Gamache heard Hough wasn't missing a dog, he asked him about the previous addresses that were attached to Smoke and the microchip. Hough realized the addresses were his.

"I was like, 'Oh, wow. This is about me. Wait, is this about the pit bull?' And it suddenly just came back," he said, still shocked. "I was, like, two seconds away from losing the opportunity to ever get him back again.

"I was literally talking about the pit bull the night before," he said. "I probably talked about him every week."

From there, Heather McNally and a nonprofit volunteer group called Kindred Hearts stepped in. The group has volunteers across the country that help transport adopted and missing pets to their homes.

The volunteers participate "totally from the kindness of their hearts," McNally told

Hough said he volunteered to go pick up Smoke, but the trip would have cost him about $2,500 and the volunteers told him there was no need.

She quickly mobilized the network of volunteers and broke the 2,500-mile trip from Florida to California into four days and 30 legs of driving. Each volunteer drove about an hour and a half and some volunteers signed up to spend the night with Smoke in motels or houses.

Smoke's trip began on July 4 and he was scheduled to arrive home to Hough on Sunday night.

McNally said that volunteers from the road have been checking in with her and she has heard from them at Smoke is "really adapting" and "a real sweetheart."

"He cuddles up and goes on the next route," she said of his car-hopping.

"People from all over the country that I've never met are doing all the driving for him," McNally said. "It's almost addicting. Once you do it once, you just want to do another. It feels so good to be able to help a dog."

Gamache, the pet detective, even volunteered to drive a leg of the trip. He happened to be in California, so he cancelled his flight home in order to drive Smoke part of the way.

"This is amazing how people have come together all the way across the United States, and I didn't expect it to be like this," he said. "It's inspiring to watch. A lot of our cases don't always have happy endings."

Hough is at home eagerly anticipating the return of his dog so that his family can once again be whole.

"I'm very thankful for the people helping," Hough said. "It's just amazing that we're getting him back."

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