By Columbian staff writer
Published: November 28, 2015, 6:01 AM
Even though it was mostly hidden behind a bush, Josh Boelter knew to whom that wagging tail belonged.
Boelter called for Luna, the puppy he found begging for food at a park in Romania, where he was on deployment with the Oregon Air National Guard. Luna came running around the bush to him. He reached in his pocket to grab a treat, but Luna’s mouth was already full.
“She turned around and had this huge dead rat in her mouth,” Boelter said. “I tried to get her to drop the rat, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to let it go. Eventually, she dropped it for a treat, and while she was eating the treat, I kneeled down and threw the rat away. Then she jumped up and licked my face.”
Boelter wasn’t too mad, though. He was more thrilled to find Luna, who had been released back into the wild after Boelter was briefly transferred to another base. They first met when members of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing were celebrating the halfway point of their deployment with a barbecue. Boelter, 38, noticed Luna looking around for food and bent down to pet her. She immediately jumped up and licked his face.
“I kind of knew right then I wanted to take her home,” he said.
Boelter came home to Vancouver in early October to a new life. In May, he had married Sara Boelter and they moved into their Vancouver home, and in June he had left for his first overseas deployment.
“I got out of packing,” he said.
When Boelter came back, he and Sara put the finishing touches on their new home and continued to acclimate themselves to Vancouver, after moving to the area about a year ago from Seattle. All that was missing was Luna.
Thanks to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International and Operation Baghdad Pups, Luna joined her new family on Nov. 5. The 5-month-old puppy is “mostly a yellow Lab,” Boelter said, although he’s not totally sure, since Luna grew up on the street.
“I’m excited to show her the life she deserves,” Boelter said.
After a day-plus of travel, Luna reunited with Josh Boelter and met Sara for the first time at Portland International Airport.
“I was nervous,” Josh Boelter said about the reunion. “I didn’t know if she’d remember me after two months of separation.”
When Sara Boelter opened Luna’s cage, she darted out of the cage and went right for Josh. Boelter said he was thrilled to see Luna, but also relieved that her long journey was over.
Before flying to Portland, Luna spent two months quarantined in a cage at a veterinarian’s office while making sure she was healthy. Then, she had to actually get here. She flew from Romania to New York, where she had an overnight layover. From there, she flew to Minneapolis, had another four-hour layover, and finally arrived in Portland. Through that entire trip, she had to stay in her cage.
Even with the long, smelly travel, Boelter knew Luna would be OK.
“She’s a fighter,” he said. “She’s a street dog. She’s a survivor. That’s what she knows.”
After taking Luna back to his base, Boelter was transferred for a few weeks to Germany. While there, Luna was released back into the wild. When he returned and Luna wasn’t there, Boelter said he was “heartbroken,” so he set out to find her. He went to the area where they fist met, and saw that wagging beige tail and rat-eating puppy he fell in love with.
Even as a domesticated dog on a healthy diet, Boelter said Luna’s hunter instincts are still there.
“Sometimes we’ll see her laying in the living room watching squirrels run around the backyard,” he said. “I just know if I could see her thought bubble, I’d see a squirrel on a dinner plate.”
With her rodent-free diet, Luna has grown two inches since coming to America. She also loves running around in the Boelters’ yard. She recently taught herself to jump, and likes to jump up and lick, or lightly gnaw, on visitors. Even growing up on the streets and having her life turned upside down, Boelter said Luna is well-adjusted, social and loves to be around other dogs or people.
“She’s a big old lap dog,” he said.
Sara Boelter said Luna is intuitive.
“It took her a day and a half to learn that outside is potty,” Sara Boelter, 51, said. “It was a messy day and a half, but she picked it up quickly.”
Sara Boelter said she was nervous about meeting Luna and bringing her home.
“Josh already knew her and knew her personality,” she said. “I felt like the expectant father out in the waiting room.”
She was also nervous how Luna would behave living in a house for the first time, but those fears disappeared as soon as that happy dog bolted out of her cage. Luna has already received multiple gifts from family and friends, and is well on her way to being a spoiled pet.
“She’s like this little celebrity,” Sara Boelter said.
After Luna arrived, there was a ceremony for Josh Boelter and the other returning service men and women, so they brought Luna.
“Everyone stopped by to see Luna and pet her,” Sara Boelter said. “They were all on the ground and being silly with her. It’s cool to see how dogs cross the boundaries of rank.”
Sara Boelter added that she enjoyed seeing how nervous her husband and the two other National Guard members reuniting with dogs from overseas were at the airport.
“It was a long time for all of them to see their loved ones, so I was excited for the service members,” she said. “It was like a role reversal, where now they’re the ones at the airport waiting, and you could feel the excitement.”
For the Boelters, the airport meeting not only helped to expand their family, but it helped them to feel at home in Vancouver. They moved to Vancouver about a year ago when Josh was hired full time as a munitions system technician at the 142nd Fighter Wing’s base in Portland.
“We were looking for a place to plant our roots and make a home,” he said. “We didn’t have family here, we didn’t have friends here. Now, with Luna, we have a family here.”