Dog lost 5 years ago in Jupiter found in St. Petersburg

Tula disappeared in Jupiter five years ago, but was found last week in St. Petersburg and returned to Jessica Namath.
Tula disappeared in Jupiter five years ago, but was found last week in St. Petersburg and returned to Jessica Namath.
Published Dec. 22, 2013

Jessica Namath believes in karma. She believes that good deeds beget good deeds. She believes that when something is lost, the universe replaces it.

Five years ago she lost her dog. On Wednesday her cellphone rang.

"Is this Jessica?" a man asked.

"Yes," she said.

"I've got a weird question for you," the caller said. "Are you missing a dog?"

It took a moment to register. Could it be?

Five years ago Namath, 28, daughter of football legend Joe Namath, was in the back yard of her former fiance's home in Jupiter. Tula, her brown Shih Tzu mix, wandered to the front, which wasn't unusual.

But 10 minutes later Tula disappeared.

Namath checked everywhere. Neighbors knocked on doors; she called the Highway Patrol and animal control; friends searched the canals in kayaks. Nothing. Namath posted a reward that climbed to $2,000. She called three psychics to help locate the dog. One told her Tula was definitely still alive.

Then came Wednesday's call. The voice on the other end was Michael Cecere, 42, of St. Petersburg. That afternoon he was running errands near 49th Street and 30th Avenue when the little brown dog ambled in front of his car. He scooped up the frightened animal and knocked on neighborhood doors, trying to find the owner.

When that failed, he took it to ParkView Animal Hospital to scan for a tracking chip. There was a name but six bad phone numbers. Then he found the owner's number on Facebook.

"I could hear her jaw drop over the phone," said Cecere.

They met Thursday in Yeehaw Junction, halfway between St. Petersburg and Jupiter.

When Cecere handed the dog to Namath he swore that Tula recognized her old owner.

Cecere needed a moment like that. It had been a rough year for the chef, who recently lost his restaurant. "To end the year on this note," he said, "you have no idea what it means."

The two had so many questions, the most important being: How did Tula end up 200 miles away?

Yanelys Miranda answered that. About a year after Tula disappeared in Jupiter, Miranda spotted a pathetic looking cur about 20 miles south, on a West Palm Beach street. The dog had missing teeth, sores, hair peeling off in chunks.

"She was almost dying," Miranda said. "The poor thing."

Miranda fed the dog by hand and squirted water down her throat with a syringe. She was too weak to drink. She named the dog Lulu.

"We didn't think she had a chip in her because of the condition she was in," Miranda said.

Two years ago, Miranda and her husband moved to St. Petersburg with their two children, ages 7 and 11. They must have left the gate open recently, Miranda said, letting Lulu slip away. She placed a "lost dog" ad on Craigs­list, and that's how she found out Lulu is really Tula.

Now Tula is gone, taken back across the state, leaving behind two crying children.

"It's a huge loss for us," Miranda said. "But what can we do?"