A Pace woman hopes to be reunited with her nearly 8-year-old Yorkie, Toot, after he went missing on a trip to Elkhart, Indiana.
But posting fliers isn't good enough. Thanks to a group of Elkhart residents, she has a billboard begging people to help bring Toot (Toots on the billboard) home.
Leigh Bowden and her trucker husband, Brad, were leaving their hotel room in Elkhart on Feb. 3 to pick up a load. They left Toot uncrated in their hotel room at the Garden Inn, anticipating being gone for about an hour and a half, she said. But their trip took three hours, and while they were out the hotel staff accidentally checked someone else into their room. When the door opened, Toot bolted out to the lobby and out of the hotel.
"I got a phone call around 9 p.m. (from hotel staff)," Leigh said in a telephone interview from on the road. "I knew it was bad news. ... No one calls at that time unless it's bad news."
Surveillance footage shows someone getting out of a car and picking up Toot — short for Rooty Toot Toot — within just a few minutes of him running out of the hotel. Neither the color of the car nor the license plate seen in the footage.
"You can't see a darn thing," Leigh said.
Leigh and Brad searched all night but were forced to leave because they had a delivery to make. Leigh said she's worried because Toot is "a Florida dog" and not used to a Midwest winter. He also suffers from an auto immune skin deficiency and requires medication.
"I've had him since he was 4 weeks old when he fit in the palm of my hand," she said. "Brad and I are empty nesters looking forward to our new journey in the trucking business. We thought it was going to be the three of us. Toot is our traveler."
Even after they left Elkhart, they haven't stopped looking. Rallying behind the Bowdens is the Elkhart County Lost and Found Pets Facebook page, where members have been sharing photos of Toot and also have helped raise $800 to put toward the billboard.
"I only had to pay $100," she said. "It's going to run for four weeks. ... We actually have a load to bring back to Elkhart and will get to see it in person."
The Bowdens are offering a reward for the dog. Leigh hopes whoever scooped up her 5-pound pup gets him scanned and returns him. Leigh said she's had people tell her that she's over-reacting, that Toot is "just a dog,"
"He is part of our family and has brought immeasurable joy to us. We owe it to him to bring him home. Our life is no longer complete."