When Air Force Staff Sgt. John Cox, an air transportation specialist assigned to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, deployed to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Oct. 9, he assumed he would be helping Puerto Ricans recover from Hurricane Maria; he did not expect to bring home a four-legged addition to his family.
Cox said he had just returned from a six-month deployment in Kuwait when he volunteered to go to Puerto Rico, where he worked with heavy machinery loading and unloading cargo from aircraft.
"We were placed close to the airport in tents in an open field so we could hear the aircraft when they landed," he said.
Their main job was helping Defense Department personnel transfer water and Meals Ready to Eat from large aircraft onto vehicles and small aircraft for distribution to the people hard-hit by the hurricane, Cox said.
The destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo)
Beef Jerky Wins Hearts
While he was performing a security check of the area, Cox said he came across an abandoned building. Inside, he discovered a scared, emaciated, light-brown dog.
"I brought the dog some beef jerky from an MRE and some water every day, and pretty soon she started following me back to my tent and waiting outside," Cox said.
When the dog started following him to work every day Cox worried he would get into trouble and decided he should talk to the officer in charge.
Once he introduced the dog, which he'd named Maria, to his leaders, he was given a thumbs-up to having her by his side.
"That's when I realized I couldn't leave this dog in Puerto Rico when my deployment ended," Cox said.
"I drove over an hour to a veterinary clinic and had the dog completely checked and vaccinated, which was a condition I was given to keep her with me," he said.
Cox said the next hurdle was to find a way to get Maria home — a task that would not prove to be easy because he couldn't just put her on an aircraft without authorization.
"I researched all the regulations I could find and felt like I hit a wall until I found a local adoption agency that specialized in rescuing pit bulls," Cox said. "They were able to get her home."
"I not only made a positive impact on the people of Puerto Rico, but I was able to save an animal," he said. "I saw her go from near-death to super healthy in a matter of months."
Cox said he is looking forward to hiking the high peaks with his new hiking buddy once the weather is better.
"My advice to someone who plans on adopting a dog is to prepare to have your hands and your heart full," he said. "Having a dog is sometimes like having a child, but all the effort will be worth it when you see them waiting for you at the end of the day."