War zone to South Florida: a puppy's Fourth of July journey

Saved from Iraq, Lucky reunites with staff sergeant in time for holiday
Lucky the war dog reunites with Staff Sgt. Jose Reyes at Miami International Airport
Posted at 4:43 PM, Jul 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-04 20:20:39-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — While serving overseas, Staff Sgt. Jose Reyes found comfort in the animals he met along the way. He would feed them bits of his lunch and pet them, finding a certain peace in their companionship.

While Reyes was visiting his team in Jordan, he met two puppies at a camp, but both passed away. Through a network of others serving, he then met more puppies in Iraq.

"From there we couldn't save those little two dogs, but I wanted to try my best to save these dogs," he said.

The effort to adopt one of them became a race against time before Reyes' deployment would end and he'd be heading back home to the United States.

"If it had 'puppies' and 'war' in the title, I contacted them and I Googled them," he said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals started working with him, but the timeline was quick. Reyes was sent back to the States before the adoption was complete. While his comrades tried to continue to care for the surviving puppies, they told Reyes several puppies perished or disappeared during a harsh winter. Reyes thought the window had closed on saving the animals with whom he'd fallen in love.

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"A month into my new job, back here in the civilian world, I get a text on my phone and he's just like, 'Hey, do you remember this puppy? And they sent me a picture of Lucky here, and I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah. He was the greatest. He was great I loved that little guy.' Past tense. He's like, 'Well, we found him. He's in a crate right now if you want to adopt him. The SPCA got their hands on him.' And I was more than excited," he said.

The weekend before the Fourth of July holiday, Reyes and his fiancé Kate Bell went to Miami International Airport and received Lucky.

"He needed a shower, he needed a little bit of coaxing, a little bit of encouragement, but he was super happy, and we are so fortunate to have him," he said.

The timing was meaningful to Reyes.

"Fourth of July, last time I celebrated was overseas when I was in Iraq and, you know, it was awesome to be out there with the guys and stuff, and celebrating the holiday, but now, being able to have this little reminder of, you know, truly the American spirit is, is like perseverance, accomplishments, making it happen," he said. "This is my little reminder to myself and my fellow soldiers. And a nonprofit organization was able to do a pretty astonishing feat, which is to save this little life."

Lucky is experiencing many things for the first time, with a soft couch, a noisy television, fresh green grass and Ziggy, the couple's first dog. The couple said while Ziggy is a huge personality packed in a smaller body, he's a perfect balance to Lucky, who is a more nervous and shy boy in a larger body. They are already getting along.

Reyes asks people to love their pets and consider the animals out there who need extra love, overseas and in the U.S.