When National Guard specialist Bridget Burch returned home to New York from her deployment on St. Croix, she couldn’t stop talking about a puppy.
The two had met when Burch’s unit was on the island to assist the Virgin Island Police Department after Hurricane Maria. But almost as soon as she fell in love with the retriever-mix puppy she came to call Lily, the dog was gone. The ASPCA picked up the litter to take them off the island.
Burch was heartbroken.
“She missed her terribly,” said Burch’s mother, Keri. “It’s all she’s talked about.”
Never miss a local story.
But it wasn’t long after she returned to her upstate New York town of Hartford, that Burch found out where Lily had been taken – Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue in Bradenton.
And on Wednesday, nearly six weeks and a 20-hour road trip later, Burch reunited with the puppy she fell in love with thousands of miles away.
At the end of October the shelter received 24 homeless dogs and cats from St. Croix displaced by the hurricane, Associate Director Karen Slomba said.
Sixteen of the animals have been adopted, she said, including all of Lily’s siblings. Two of the puppies went home with two of Burch’s colleagues who had accompanied her on the deployment.
While the shelter had reunited rescuers and rescued animals before, Slomba said they’ve never had an international situation like this one.
“It’s amazing,” Slomba said. “It doesn’t take long to fall in love with an animal and it really does show that people, like this woman, will go to great lengths to give an abandoned puppy a home.”
For Burch, it was simple, there was just something about the dog.
Her unit had found the litter of puppies near an abandoned warehouse next to the station where they were staying, Burch said.
The puppies were in bad shape, and covered in mud.
“They were hit harder, it felt, than anyone else. The pets are kind of the forgotten ones on the island,”said Burch, 20. “Because the dogs couldn’t leave and people leave them, and they don’t know why they were abandoned. They’re just trapped.”
During the week the soldiers looked after the puppies before the ASPCA picked them up, Burch and Lily quickly formed a strong bond.
“She was just special. I don’t know, there was just something there,” Burch said. “She stuck out to me and would always keep coming back.”
It was after Burch returned home from her deployment when she discovered that Lily’s litter was at Nate’s. She already had her mind made up, Lily needed to be hers.
She immediately contacted Slomba to arrange the adoption.
And while the details were being set, Lily was placed in a foster home with Andrew Rowe, a Lakewood Ranch resident who had adopted Lily’s sister, Lucia.
When Rowe brought Lily to the shelter on Wednesday to give her back, he was broken up.
In just the two weeks he cared for the now 3-month-old puppy, he had fallen in love with her, too, he said.
“I just lost one, so this is hard,” Rowe emotionally choked out as he held Lily in his arms. “But I just want her to go to a good home.”
When Burch showed up, Rowe shook her hand and thanked her for her service.
And then she saw Lily.
With tears in her eyes, Burch walked up to the pup.
Lily looked up, and immediately bounded to Burch, who scooped her up and wrapped her in a tight hug.
Rescued pets at Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue
- Two dogs and 5 cats from St. Croix are still looking for homes.
- For information on how to adopt one of the remaining island pets, email email@example.com.