This is a Christmas story with a happy ending.
Several months ago, Tech. Sgt. Jose Garcia found my name on the AKC Breeders Classified list and inquired about a Brussels Griffon puppy for his family. He was most of the way through his Afghan posting and he’d promised his two kids that when he got home in November, it would finally be the right time for the family to acquire a puppy.
His answers to my standard questions made it clear he would be a good owner. He wanted a Brussels Griffon because he’d researched the breed and was drawn to their bold, quirky personality. Although he liked big dogs like the German Shepherds and Dobermans he’d been raised with, a small dog made more sense for the family right now.
He wrote that son and daughter Bryant and Yalexa, 10 and 7 years old, had been asking for a dog for a long time, but he’d hesitated because he felt that they had been too young. Now, he wanted a dog they would be able to take for walks.
As for care, Mrs. Garcia would be home. “The dog would have company for most of the day and would travel with us to the beach and on our walks on weekends and in the afternoons. Monterey is a very friendly city for dogs.”
Everything sounded great, except for that last line; I live in New Jersey, the Garcias live in California. I explained that I did not like to ship puppies that far; it would be better for him to find a California or West Coast breeder.
But this is not a popular, well-known breed, and there are not always litters of puppies available, as there might be with Yorkies or Dachshunds. Sgt. Garcia let me know that he only wanted to deal with an AKC breeder, and none of the closer ones he contacted had puppies. He would not be shopping at a pet store or from a puppy mill.
Relenting, I asked for references. I learned he is in the Air Force, and in Kabul he was part of a six-man team arranging transportation for officials, congressmen, foreign dignitaries, Afghan government personnel, and UN visitors between bases and airfields. When not in Kabul, he works at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, where military servicemen study 40 different languages, including Kurmanji, Pashto, Persian, and Tagalog.
His executive officer, Capt. Erin Mires, gave an outstanding review. When I asked her, “Would you sell a puppy to this man?” she thoughtfully answered that yes, she would. “I’ve met his kids, they are very polite,” she said. “It’s a lovely family.”
That sealed it. I would send the puppy to him if I could find someone to carry her. He quickly sent payment, possibly guessing that I might change my mind. We kept in touch, and I was even more diligent than usual in sending puppy photos as they grew. This puppy meant a lot to him. Being able to have the puppy with the family during his time back in the States was important.
The litter contained four puppies, all females. They were all lovely specimens of the breed. I was planning on keeping one for myself. It was no problem finding prospective owners who lived nearby for the other two.
Then, disaster struck, not in war torn Afghanistan, but right here, in New Jersey. Superstorm Sandy knocked down trees and power lines all over my town.
Two days after the storm, the dogs and I were out in the back yard when we heard a sudden BANG! and a huge tree limb crashed to the ground. None of us were close to it, but one of the puppies was lying motionless about twelve feet away. When I couldn’t revive her, I rushed to the vet, but she was dead. Autopsy revealed that a piece of branch had struck her skull, crushing it above the eye and killing her instantly, although leaving no outward mark.
There were three puppies now. A new owner came out from Manhattan and joyfully took her three-month-old baby home. One of the two remaining would be Sgt. Garcia’s puppy, and he would be home in two weeks.
Just as he got back to the States, disaster struck again. Although neither of the puppies had shown any sign of illness, one suddenly developed a cough. The vet prescribed antibiotics but only two days later the puppy had pneumonia. Two days after that, she was dead.
Nearly hysterical with grief, I rushed the remaining puppy to the vet, forcing him to check her over again and again to make absolutely sure nothing was wrong. He insisted that the puppy was fine. My brood gathered in the kitchen and slept with extra heaters warming them. Their overly nurturing caretaker watched each one for any sign of a cough, observing every morsel they ate or drank to determine if any of them was incubating an illness. They weren’t; they were fine.
By this time, Sgt. Garcia was home and expecting his puppy. The kids had seen the photos. They were eager.
On December 17, Chuck and Pat Trotter left the East Coast for their home in Monterrey, carrying a Sherpa bag with a little five-pound puppy inside. Sgt. Garcia gathered his family at the airport at 8 pm, but the Trotter’s plane was delayed in Denver. The kids had school the next day, so they were taken home and put to bed, although it’s doubtful they got much sleep.
Sgt. Garcia was waiting when Chuck and Pat came through baggage claim at midnight. The next day, December 18, Bryant and Yalexa had their puppy.
According to Sgt. Garcia, it was love at first sight, for Pala the puppy and all the members of the Garcia family. He has proven this in a number of photos showing Pala wearing a sweater, giving kisses, and playing with a toy.
This Christmas, the children had their puppy, and the whole family is enjoying having dad home. His next deployment is coming up soon. For now, he has the fun of seeing a little puppy grow up big and strong, along with his kids. After all the worry and hardship, it was a match made in heaven.