Paddy's no show dog. He's a mid-size, aging brown mutt; shaggy, with white eye rings that give him a worried look, and a smell that's hard to ignore.

Dogs such as Paddy abound at animal shelters across America. He was once a pound dog himself, back in Tennessee. But that was before.

Now he lives in California with a woman who saw him on the Internet and just had to have him. His 60-hour passage from east Tennessee to Orange County, Calif., involved a blues singer, a bartender, a retired orchestra conductor and 21 others who drove shifts across six states and four time zones to get him to what rescuers call a "forever home."

Most of those who transported Paddy never met his Tennessee rescuer, his new owner in California or each other. They were part of a vast, loose-knit movement known to animal rescuers as the "canine underground railroad." Linked by the Internet, cell phones and fervid love of animals, thousands of volunteers across the United States, Canada and Europe go to enormous lengths to save strays like Paddy.

"If you can get a picture of a dog online, there's a 90 percent chance you'll get a home for it. People see a certain face, and they can't resist," said Elizabeth Sescilla, 27, a North Carolina pharmacist who coordinated Paddy's transport.

While no one keeps official numbers, there are telling indicators of how widely the movement has spread. In late August there were 195,294 dogs, cats and other species up for adoption on, a virtual clearinghouse for unwanted animals funded by major dog food companies and others. While many will be adopted close to home, sometimes a Minnesotan falls in love with a Texas coonhound. That's when the underground railroads gear up.

On any given weekend, dozens of relays move animals from one region of the country to another. Sescilla says she has arranged more than 75 such operations in the past two years.

Some animal welfare organizations question the need for the marathon relays, noting that people can easily adopt from nearby shelters. An estimated 3 million to 6 million cats and dogs are still euthanized nationally each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Those numbers are down from 20 years ago, when about 17 million stray dogs and cats were destroyed annually.

They worry that it is stressful for animals to be hauled long distances, and wonder who monitors them during their journeys and afterward.

Paddy spent years in a cage at an outdoor pound before being brought home temporarily to the spacious, hill country back yard of Laurie and Issac Browder.

The Browders are avid animal rescuers who spent the last year -- and $40,000 -- running a "no kill" shelter in a county with no public animal control. Finally they couldn't afford it anymore.

Knowing she had to shut down, Laurie Browder e-mailed an urgent, mass appeal to dozens of rescue groups around the country in an attempt to place more than 130 cats and dogs.

People responded from across the United States. Browder made potential adopters fill out long applications, checked references and arranged home inspections when possible.

Paddy was the last to go. A photo of him gazing solemnly up at the camera was posted like all the others. The description was brief: "Breed: Irish Terrier Mix? Color: Brown. Age: Senior. Temperament: Very, very sweet, yet timid around strangers."

Finally, Browder heard from a woman in California. Sherry Meddick, an environmentalist and animal rescuer in Orange County, had already taken three dogs from Browder, and was now volunteering to bring Paddy out West too, "to keep his buddy Rusty company," she said. They had lived in cages next to each other at the pound.

Browder agreed to the adoption, and Sescilla, who had helped her move dozens of animals already, went to work.

She mapped out possible 60- to 120-mile legs, then sent e-mails to a contact list of more than 1,200 fellow coordinators and potential drivers. It wasn't easy.

One in four of her transports falls apart, Sescilla says, because of the lack of drivers in sparsely populated areas. For Paddy, the west Texas leg proved tough. But an Albuquerque woman finally volunteered to drive eight hours over two days.

"It's a crazy thing to do, and it's hard to do, but somehow it all happens," Sescilla said.

Day 1

Paddy's journey began before dawn one drippy October Saturday. Laurie Browder sat cradling the old dog like a baby in the front seat of her husband's Jeep.

"He looks so sad. . . . He doesn't know what's going on," she said, starting to cry. "I'm trying not to think about it."

An hour later, at 7:50 a.m., they arrived at the McDonald's parking lot where they handed over a frightened-looking Paddy -- along with his purple blankie, a travel crate, his vaccination papers and enough kibble for three days -- to Linda and Dan Knott.

Laurie hugged Paddy and kissed his graying snout. He raised his furry eyebrows happily, oblivious to anyone but her.

She shut the door gently, and the Knotts turned their Subaru Forester onto the interstate.

Linda Knott, a lifelong animal-lover, found out about canine underground railroads on the Internet. She and her husband have taken in all the animals they can handle -- 11 dogs, nine cats and two horses -- so the transports are their way of still helping.

Outside the Knotts' car windows, the rolling hills were blanketed in spectacular orange, gold and scarlet foliage. The route would follow Interstate 40, a trucker's favorite, all the way west.

An hour into the trip, it was time for another handoff. After refusing to get out of the Subaru at the Star Motor Inn in Cookeville, Tenn., Paddy had to be carried to the car of Lane Scarborough, a 21-year-old college student who does transports to earn required community service hours for her sorority.

"I think it's brilliant," she said. "Any way to get dogs a good home is great. It's no effort on my part, just a little bit of gas."

Paddy sniffed the back seat nervously. He wasn't the only one sniffing.

"Paddy, we need a vent, babe! You need a shower!" Scarborough said, cranking the window open wide.

But she had been warned. Sescilla puts a disclaimer on the bottom of all run sheets: "Dogs sometimes vomit, pee, poop, drool, shed, whine, smell and do other unpredictable things. . . . If you were not aware of this, now you are. If you are smiling at this, then you are a 'dog person.' . . . If you gasped while reading this, please do not take a chance that you will be a victim of these horrible atrocities."

Two hours later, it was time for Stop 3.

Deanna Trietsch, 44, a legal secretary in Nashville, waited for her charge wearing a leopard-skin top with matching umbrella, which happened to match Paddy's leopard paw print collar.

She leaned in to look at the woolly brown dog.

"You okay, sweetie?" she asked in a soft southern accent.

Trietsch allows herself to keep just two dogs and two cats, for the animals' sake.

She regularly gives last walks to strays about to be euthanized in public shelters, to "make their last hours feel like they were loved," she said.

By now she had Paddy happily licking drops of water off her fingers in the back seat as her husband drove.

In Jackson, Tenn., Paddy gained a companion. Whenever possible, Sescilla tries to move more than one dog per trip, and for this trip she arranged for a cruelty case named Buck to join the caravan from Tennessee to New Mexico.

A skinny white terrier -- or possibly pit bull mix -- Buck has nubs for ears, the result of a bad home ear-cropping attempt. He was taken from abusive owners and placed in a county pound with a high euthanasia rate.

Hearts of Gold Pit Bull Rescue in Memphis paid to spring him. They posted his story and photo on Petfinder, and an Arizona truck driver and his wife decided to adopt him as their fourth dog.

Julee Fleming, 46, who "fostered" Buck for three weeks in her home while waiting for a transport to be arranged, said she would miss him.

"He's sweet, sweet, sweet," she said.

The rest of the first day was a blur of strip malls and chain stores. As the hours and miles dragged on, Paddy and Buck were passed from one strange set of hands to the next, through Memphis and the Ozarks, and on into Oklahoma.

At 11:45 p.m., after 19 hours, 894 miles and eight cars, the bone-weary dogs arrived at the home of Jennifer and Doug Shultz, where they would spend the night.

Day 2

Day 2 began 90 minutes later than scheduled. The Shultzes had decided the dogs really needed more rest. Sescilla rejiggered the schedules overnight to make it all work.

At 7:50 p.m., after another long day of more kind souls and more handoffs in fast-food restaurants and parks, the dogs arrived at a McDonald's parking lot in Grants, N.M.

Buck's new owners, David and Holly Thomas of Phoenix, were waiting. David, a jovial, tattooed truck driver, and his wife, a billing clerk, were ecstatic.

"I love his black nose!" squealed Holly.

"Ooh, look at his ears," said David. "I hope the guy who did that was drawn and quartered."

Holly said that when she saw Buck online, she couldn't sleep.

"He broke my heart," she said. "His only crime was the wrong owner. He was on death row, death row for pit bulls."

Within three days, she'd convinced David they should adopt him, but it took months to put together a transport coming this way. Holly and David would take Paddy one more leg before cutting off for Phoenix with Buck.

David gave slobbery kisses to Buck before climbing behind the wheel. "I want my bonding time," he said. Buck rolled his eyes nervously.

After a grueling 250-mile push to Flagstaff, Ariz., Paddy was dropped off at midnight at the home of Laura Boe, an off-duty nurse who was volunteering for the first time. She coaxed him, trembling, into his crate. He'd gone another 900 miles in 16 hours. Her 125-pound English mastiff, Lola, watched disinterestedly from the sofa.

Day 3

At 8:30 a.m. the next day, the big green sign on I-40 said Los Angeles. Paddy didn't know it, but he was within reach. Another 860 miles to go.

At Stop 15 in Kingman, Ariz., retired Las Vegas canine cop Sandy Spruiell worked patiently with Paddy during a dog park break. She soon had him straining happily at the leash, behaving somewhat normally.

By 4:27 p.m., Paddy was in California. The last leg fell to Keri Hardyman, 54, and Kimberley Richardson, 13, of suburban San Bernardino County. Hardyman's coonhound pup was brought from Texas to California a few months ago. She wanted to repay the favor. At 7:40 p.m., they arrived at a supermarket parking lot in Orange, Calif. After a transcontinental journey of 2,260 miles in 60 hours, Paddy was about to meet his new owner.

Meddick pulled up with six empty cat crates in the back of her Toyota SUV.

"Can we have visitation rights?" Hardyman pleaded twice. Meddick didn't respond. She had eyes only for Paddy.

Crying, she whispered in his ear, "Hi, baby, you're home."

Paddy was unresponsive. Somewhere in the last several hours, his purple blankie -- his last familiar smell of Laurie and Tennessee -- had been left behind. He slid off the front seat and dozed on the floor as Meddick drove 20 minutes to Silverado Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest. She carried him up a dark flight of steps.

The acrid smell of dog and cat urine cut through the night air. Inside, a frenetic chorus of barking and hissing came from behind a closed door. Three sick kittens with rheumy eyes lay curled up in a fleece basket. Paddy was joining Meddick's menagerie, which already included 26 animals in the 900-square-foot house and back yard, including a litter of puppies.

Four dogs were in stacked crates covered with blankets. Meddick said she crates some of them when she is away on rescues and transports, which can take as long as 14 hours. The living room had little furniture or indoor lighting.

Paddy squeezed himself into a narrow hiding place between the front door and a stack of boxes. Meddick laid down next to him and talked softly.

Along with her unfamiliar non-southern accent were the familiar sounds and smells of many animals in a confined space.

"It beats the alternative. Being put to death at a shelter," Meddick said.

Within minutes of ending his transcontinental journey, Paddy was in a crate, his eyes peering into the dark.

Paddy hides behind a plant at his new home with Sherry Meddick in Silverado Canyon, Calif. Meddick already had 26 animals in her 900-square-foot house.Paddy is soothed by Gabrielle Gooch, one of 24 volunteers who transported the mixed breed from Tennessee to California via a "canine underground railroad."Laurie Browder, who had rescued Paddy from a pound, sends him on his way. Browder had to give Paddy up when operating her shelter became too expensive.Dan Knott carries Paddy to the car of Lane Scarborough, the second of many such transfers along the 60-hour, 2,260-mile trip.