Reuniting the pack: it took 16 months and a journey through six cities to bring our dog Luna home

2021-10-05

In the drab uncertainty of Sydney’s lockdown, silver linings can be hard to come by. But you never know. Ours arrived on our doorstep a few days ago in the form of a wet nose, an irrepressible appetite for walks and the uncanny ability to sniff out discarded food scraps at great distance. Enter Luna.

Luna is not a pandemic puppy and she is no lockdown stopgap. But we haven’t seen her for a long time. Sixteen months to be exact.

We moved to Washington DC early in 2016, when Barack Obama was president and the world still seemed to spin on a predictable axis. The first few months adjusting to a new country were tough; my middle child missed her friends and bawled her eyes out almost every night, convinced that she would never be able to feel at home in the US without a dog. She made it sound like an ultimatum. We succumbed.

We found a rescue – a feisty, one-year-old, jack russell-beagle mix with soulful brown eyes and a rough past on the backroads of South Carolina. Luna came home with us on a summer evening bright with fireflies, and we never looked back. Every day after dropping my daughter off at our local elementary school, I walked Luna at the nearby dog park. It was there I met a motley crew of other mutt-loving mums who would become my best friends and rock-solid community throughout our posting. With Luna by our side, we survived the Trump years, explored our new home, and had the adventure of our lives.

The end of our time in the US coincided with the unleashing of Covid. Kids stopped going to school and everything closed down. We hoped it would all be over in a few months, but there was dread in the air. Not knowing whether we would have to shelter in place or return to the motherland made our imminent departure even more stressful. Luna had been through months of vet visits to comply with Australian requirements and was booked on a plane so that we could retrieve her soon after our arrival.

That was not to be. Mere days before our departure we got the phone call saying that all pet travel on flights had been cancelled.

We were gutted.

Our children were beyond distraught. Who could take Luna? Would we have to let her go … for ever? We seemed at a dead end. Unbelievably, our DC community, those dog-park mums, came to the rescue, generously offering to look after Luna for as long as it would take. We figured a couple of months. We were way off.

I remember our last walk with Luna; the sense of disbelief, the city awash with April cherry blossoms. Leaving our adopted home during Covid was unnatural and disassociating. There were no farewell parties, no last, loving hugs. The primary emotion was a sort of numbness, shot through with moments of sudden grief. I remember standing in our garden with Luna and our friends at a distance as they offered parting pandemic gifts: plastic gloves and hand-sewn face masks. Our eyes reached for each other but our arms could not.

Unable to say a proper goodbye to the city or our friends, our departure felt open-ended. We left Luna behind, and with her a part of ourselves.

After quarantining in Sydney, we had to find a place to live and schools for our three kids, so we patched up the hole as best we could and fell to the work of settling in. As time passed, we started believing that maybe we weren’t so attached to her. And anyway, there seemed to be no easy way to get her back. Only our youngest kept crying bitter tears, longing to be reunited with her dog. The rest of us surrendered to reality. We thought the distance would temper our fondness. We were wrong.

When the bureaucratic wheels of her return finally started turning, the excitement began to bubble up again, but there were also nerves. Would she recognise us? Would it all work out?

On the day of her departure, a blistering heatwave hit DC and the airline would not risk taking her as cargo. The pet company drove her to New York instead, but the traffic was so bad, she missed her flight. And so began Luna’s odyssey, including a stay in a tatty New Jersey cargo hold until she boarded a plane bound for Los Angeles, a week in its urban airport pet lounge with multiple carers, a long-haul flight to Singapore for another stayover, before she finally arrived in Melbourne for her obligatory 10-day quarantine. We wondered what state we would find her in after such a journey. We counted down the days and readied ourselves for an epic family reunion drive.

And then, boom, lockdown two! We were trapped in Sydney days before Luna’s release from quarantine. We couldn’t believe it. It all seemed doomed. Family in Melbourne were able to retrieve her and kindly took her in. Luna had made it safely across the ocean but could she cross the state lockdown divide? I harboured illicit fantasies of breaking her out of Melbourne, but eventually discovered a pet transport company that could do it legally.

The van arrived outside our house on a warm and breezy Sydney day and as soon as the doors slid open and she caught our scent from her crate, she started to make little moans of recognition. After all this time, she still knew who we were. She all but knocked us over with a tail that did not stop wagging while we lavished her with love. Right there and then, my son promised her we would never leave her again.

With Luna home, lockdown life has changed. We feel more energised, the world seems broader. She has literally grown the love in our home. Our sullen teens make multiple daily declarations of adoration as they bury their faces into her warm body. And our youngest finally has a playmate again – you can feel the joy bouncing back into her. I, too, appreciate Luna’s comforting presence in ways that I didn’t foresee before lockdown and let myself forget while she was away.

She hasn’t just come home to us, we have come home through her. She closed a circle of unsaid goodbyes and carried with her the imprint of friends and loved ones far away, who took her in. Her odyssey through pandemic and lockdowns and quarantines, through fire and flood, far from the place she knew, was also ours.

A few hours after the initial tumult and excitement of Luna’s return had subsided, I spied my eight-year-old daughter deeply ensconced on the couch with her long-lost dog and asked how she felt. Without skipping a beat, she patted Luna’s head, looked me in the eye and said: “I feel complete. The pack is back together.”

theguardian.com, 5 October 2021
; https://www.theguardian.com