K9 Deputy R.H. Stockman with 10-year-old Natalia Perez, left, and 6-year-old Ashley Perez with the puppies that were returned to them. (Photo submitted)

K-9 officer tracks down missing pups for little girls after reuniting service dog with owner and family

It won’t go on Deputy R.H. Stockman’s resumé as the biggest case he’s ever worked. But there haven’t been many that were more satisfying.

Ashley and Natalia Perez’s pit bull puppies had been stolen from their residence in the Louin area of northern Jasper County. When Stockman arrived to investigate, a crying Ashley, 6, told him, “I’ll never see my puppies again.”

Stockman leaned down, looked into her tear-filled eyes and said, “I’m going to go find your puppies, OK?”

That was just before 2 p.m. last Wednesday. A few hours later, the puppies were back at home, safe and sound, just as Stockman promised.

Stockman, who is a K9 officer with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department and a former Jones County deputy, took the case personally. He saw it as an opportunity to change the youngster’s perception of law enforcement. That’s because the little girls’ mother was recently sentenced to serve time in prison on drug charges.

“She saw the law take her mom away from her — at least, that’s the way she sees it,” said Stockman, a law-enforcement veteran of 12 years. “I wanted to make the point that the law works for everybody and get those puppies back for her.”

So he got to work, checking out video surveillance that the homeowner had.

“You could see the momma dog run up, trying to get her puppies,” Stockman said.

He could also see the vehicle, which was equipped with distinctive wheels. A little more work, and he tracked down the owner of the vehicle, 26-year-old Henley Pugh, in the Smith County community of Sylvarena. Stockman notified the Smith County Sheriff’s Department and soon confronted suspects Pugh and 23-year-old Terrence Robinson.

Stockman told them they were on video stealing the dogs, and he made it clear that their best chance for leniency was to give him the puppies.

“They said they sold them to a guy in Louin,” Stockman said. “I said, ‘You better hope he’s got them still.’”

So Stockman began following them, and they turned off and went down a side road in Smith County.

After trying to give him the runaround for a while longer, they finally fessed up and the puppies were retrieved from a residence at the end of Smith County Road 52A. While Stockman transported Pugh and Robinson to jail on the charge of stealing of a dog, Smith County Deputy Cody Blakeney returned the pups to the Perez girls.

Stockman was able to visit with Ashley the next day. 

“That little girl was so happy,” Stockman said. “I’m glad we were able to get them back for her. When you steal someone’s dog, that may be all they’ve got. Especially a little kid. When I was a little boy, my dog was my most prized possession.”

It’s not the first time Stockman has helped reunite a pooch with its owner. Back in December, when 41-year-old Tony Whitehurst of Houston, Texas, crashed his car on Interstate 59, his service dog Chili escaped and was lost. A multi-agency search and thousands of people on social media began an extensive search that lasted several hours.

Stockman, who understands the bond of a service dog and owner better than most because of his work as a K9 officer, was just as determined to help Whitehurst find his dog.

“I told him, ‘I hope you like me because I won’t drop you off until we get your dog,’” Stockman said at the time.

When a motorist called and said he was looking at the 5-year-old German shepherd on the side of the interstate, Stockman took Whitehurst there and helped them reunite. Stockman also took Whitehurst home with him for dinner and dropped off Chili at the veterinarian for a checkup and a bath. He then arranged for a couple of friends to get Whitehurst’s car back in running condition while he stayed in a motel.

“Since then, we’ve become friends,” and they talk regularly, Stockman said. 

He learned that Whitehurst had grown up in foster care and had a long-lost brother and sister. 

“The sister saw the video,” Stockman said. 

She contacted Stockman and that led to an unexpected family reunion.

“They’d been looking for (Tony) for 30 years,” Stockman said, “and it turned out, they just lived about 40 miles apart.”

As Whitehurst said back in December, “I couldn’t have wrecked in a better spot.”

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