As a white car pulled to a stop in the middle of a Huntington Beach street, Eric Hough said to no one in particular: “He’s here. He’s really here.”
Twenty-one individuals and pairs volunteered to drive the dog from a shelter in Titusville, Fla., where he was brought by local police officers a month ago, to his owner’s home in Huntington Beach.
The Sunday evening reunion unfolded quickly. Hough immediately knelt in the middle of the street as the 65-pound, grey-blue pit bull ambled from the car.
“Yeah, you remember, don’t you?” he said to his pet, stroking him and speaking to him in low tones.
One of the dog’s three drivers passed Hough his leashes, and Hough led him through the white picket fence into his new front yard.
The dog, originally known as Smoke, smelled the mailbox, left his mark on it and reacquainted himself with Hough’s other dog -- and his old friend -- a Chihuahua named Molly.
“Are you happy to be home, buddy?” Hough asked his pet.
Smoke had disappeared three years before from Hough’s previous home in Echo Park. He went missing the same time a roommate was asked to leave, Hough said.
Hough said he filed a police report and attempted to confront the former roommate about allegedly stealing his dog but had not seen Smoke since.
Everything changed several weeks ago, when Ryan Gamache, who volunteers with Missing Pet Partnership, began trying to link the dog in the Florida shelter to his California owner.
An implanted microchip listed him as belonging to an “Eric Hough,” but the contact information for Hough was outdated, Gamache said.
Gamache ultimately reached the correct Hough, a 30-year-old professional BMX rider, through Facebook.
Then a question arose: How would Smoke get home?
Heather McNally, a transport coordinator for a nonprofit called Kindred Hearts, has been the mastermind behind Smoke’s trip. She began working with the organization, planning similar trips, in April.
When McNally read on Facebook last week that Smoke's owner had been discovered in California, she offered to help Smoke get home free of charge.
McNally divided the drive into 30 shifts and solicited drivers for each.
Smoke's 2,784 mile journey began Thursday at 7 a.m., when Florida shelter staff were just arriving to work.
“He loaded up into the first vehicle, no problem,” said Tracey Breen, rescue coordinator for Brevard Animal Services.
Described as calm and gentle, Smoke settled into the back seat of the first car with his head in the lap of a passenger riding along, Breen said.