Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Chris Grimes was missing his family while deployed overseas in Jordan when a dog showed up at his camp and gave birth to 11 puppies. Within about a day of them opening their eyes, Grimes lost his heart to one puppy in particular, a floppy-eared boy he would later name Tucker. Grimes and Tucker developed a strong bond over the next two months, the puppy providing comfort to the airman who was missing his wife, three kids, and four dogs back home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
When the deployment ended in October, Grimes had to kiss his little buddy goodbye and leave him to an uncertain fate in a country where dogs can be viewed as pests more than pets.Luckily for both Grimes and Tucker, a nonprofit called Guardians of Rescue got involved and orchestrated an emotional reunion that involved months of paperwork, canceled flights and a near-death experience.Grimes knew Tucker was the dog for him once the puppies’ personalities started emerging at camp in Jordan.He noticed that Tucker loved being petted one-on-one. But when his brothers and sisters butted in, he’d slink off and lie down by himself.
“I’m an introverted extrovert, so when I’m not having to be around a lot of people, I like to just chill just like he does,” Grimes told USA TODAY. “Everybody else said he had a personality of a grumpy old man. So I guess I’m that old man, too. “He captured my heart that way,” Grimes added.Grimes said his fondest memories of his time with Tucker back in Jordan are the cuddles. “He would sit in my arms and just be happy and content,” he said. “It made the time being gone from my wife, my kids, and my four-legged kids a little bit easier.”By the time Grimes left Jordan in October, he and his family were desperate to adopt Tucker.
Grimes had told his family so much about him and theirs is the kind of home where animals outnumber people. But because of U.S. military regulations, Grimes couldn’t just bring Tucker with him. There was a mountain of bureaucracy to climb.That’s where Guardians of Rescue came in. The Long Island-based nonprofit reunites 40 to 50 dogs and cats every year with the service members that fall in love with them overseas, said Robert Misseri, founder of the group. In Tucker’s case, there were several challenges the group had to overcome to make a reunion possible after Grimes asked for their help. First, Tucker and three of his siblings got parvo, a highly contagious virus. Tucker’s siblings all died and he was in intensive care for days before he beat the virus, Misseri said.On top of a pile of red tape that followed, Tucker had been scheduled to fly to the U.S. about a dozen times, but each flight was canceled by airlines at the last minute, he said.
Once he finally got onto a flight on Feb. 9, Tucker had to make it in a cargo hold on two planes for more than 16 hours, pass a health inspection by the Centers for Disease Control once he landed in New York, and then spend about 24 hours being driven down to Florida by a volunteer.The whole process “is pretty difficult” and costs about $7,500 per animal, Misseri said. But it’s so worth it. “It’s way beyond just a dog and a soldier,” he said. “It goes much deeper.” Because of the trauma that service members go through, they can develop particularly intense bonds with animals in a short period of time, Misseri said. Without Grimes, Tucker likely would have ended up on the streets of Jordan, fighting other dogs for scraps, avoiding hostile humans and enduring intense heat, he said. “They needed each other.”Grimes waited anxiously at a dog park near his home last week.
He was worried that Tucker wouldn’t recognize him after their four months of separation. Tucker was nervous, too. Angelique Ruiz, the Guardians volunteer who drove Tucker down from New York, guided the now 6-month-old pup out of the back of her car.Tucker lowered his head and hesitated to take a step, looking uncertain and a little scared. Ruiz knelt down and gave him some encouraging rubs before leading him to the fenced-in park, where Grimes was waiting with his back turned.Not knowing his old friend was waiting inside, Tucker hesitated even more to walk in before Ruiz gently nudged him forward. “Tucker! Tucker!” Grimes shouted as he turned around and knelt down. “Hey buddy! C’mere!” Tucker ran to Grimes’ open arms. Grimes hugged the pup, who promptly licked his face. “You got so big,” Grimes said as he cuddled Tucker and gave him treats. This time, Tucker didn’t hesitate at the fence. Grimes led him out, saying: “C’mon, buddy
. Let’s go home.”Since arriving to his new home, Grimes said Tucker has adjusted well. He immediately took to Grimes’ wife Shana and the two kids who still live at home, 15-year-old Gwen and 13-year-old Dylan. Tucker was slowly introduced to the family’s 10-week-old kitten and four other dogs, first the three girls and then the male husky.”They’re starting to get along and I think Tucker is finding his place among the pack,” Grimes said the day after their emotional reunion. “It’s just great to have him here and be part of the gang.” Tucker took to Gwen in particular, sleeping in her bed on his first night, Grimes said. “He’s comfortable,” he said. “He knows he’s home. His forever home.”