Homeless Dog Flies 5,200 Miles To Reunite With Army Major

OAK LAWN, IL — A U.S. Army major was reunited with a stray mutt he befriended while on a NATO mission in Romania. Pete the dog landed at O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday, where he had an emotional reunion with Major Dan Johnson, an Oak Lawn Army officer who has served nine missions overseas since 2002, four in combat. It was the first time the pair had seen each other since June.

Pete was already hanging around the Army base with a large band of strays in Cinco, Romania, when Johnson arrived last April with the 372nd Engineer Brigade. The dogs lived outside and congregated on the steps of the base office building, waiting for the soldiers to feed them scraps. Eventually, the soldiers started buying dog food. Among them was Pete, the result of a German shepherd and corgi romance. (SUBSCRIBE: Get Real-Time Alerts and a Daily Newsletter for Oak Lawn.)

“There are strays roaming the streets all the time. A lot of them — all mutts, big mutts,” Johnson said. “There’s rampant puppies being born all the time. None of the dogs are spayed or neutered.”

Johnson and Pete instantly took a shine to each other. The dog with the German shepherd head followed the major wherever he went on his stubby corgi legs.

“In the morning when we woke up, he followed me to the mess hall and sit outside. Then he’d follow me to my office where he’d sit outside until lunchtime,” Johnson said. “He’d follow me to lunch and then back to the office. At dinner it was was the same routine.”

Johnson doesn’t know why Pete chose him out of all the other soldiers. “I think Pete knew who was in charge, although I have no scientific knowledge of that,” he said.

In the middle of what was to be a six-month mission, Johnson was re-stationed at the Great Lakes Training Division in Fort Sheridan. The rest of his team that stayed behind in Romania began sending pictures of a forlorn Pete sitting under Johnson’s old desk and on the furniture in his office.

“I guess my scent was still there,” Johnson said.

It’s not uncommon for lonely service members to develop attachments to local companion animals they fall in love with on missions thousands of miles from home. A group of Romanian veterinarians worked to facilitate the adoptions of the local strays by U.S. soldiers who wanted to bring the dogs home. While several members of his old team were adopting puppies, nobody wanted Pete.

Pete spent Tuesday night in Amsterdam, before catching another flight for Chicago. | Provided

“After I got the pictures, that’s when I decided I should probably try to adopt Pete,” Johnson said.

Working with the local veterinarians in Romania, Johnson began wading through the red tape to bring Pete to his forever home in Oak Lawn. The dog had to be dewormed and vaccinated, then quarantined for 30 days in a kennel on the Army base before Pete would be allowed to fly to Chicago.

“I was told by counterparts that he was being well fed and loved during his quarantine,” Johnson said. “I was guaranteed he would arrive in Chicago alive.”

Pete boarded a cargo flight in Romania on Tuesday, where he spent the night in Amsterdam. In anticipation of Pete’s arrival, Johnson and his wife, Leslie, went to PetSmart where they spent $500 on food, rawhides, a fancy bed, and a handsome leather collar and leash with Pete’s own set of personalized dog tags.

On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson waited nervously outside the KLM cargo company, knowing that Pete was somewhere inside being processed for entry into the United States.

“I hope he remembers me,” Johnson said. “If he doesn’t I have a rawhide.”

Several minutes later, three KLM employees carried Pete outside in his crate where he had spent most of the last 32 hours. A dazed Pete stepped out of the crate into the sunshine, his first time on U.S. soil. His tail started to wag and he buried his head in the crook of Johnson’s arm. The two buddies were together again.

Watch the reunion

(Photos and Video By Patch Editor Lorraine Swanson)

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