By Jason Koestenblatt
Long Valley, New Jersey – By the way he acted, one would think Chico hadn’t seen his best friend in nearly a year.
His tail wagged hard enough to shake a body made of muscle and he couldn’t even muster a bark from his level excitement. For the first time since April 2013, Chico, an 18-month-old Pit Bull, could jump on his best friend David De Los Santos.
Lance Corporal De Los Santos has spent the last four and-a-half years in the United States Marine Corps, and spent seven months on a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2013. He’s been on duty at his base since December.
Before being deployed last year, De Los Santos found himself a new friend, a puppy Pit Bull he named Chico. When the Marine learned he was going to be gone for close to a year, he knew Chico needed a home to stay in.
That’s when Dogs on Deployment came in, a non-profit organization that matches dogs and other domesticated pets owned by military personnel with foster homes while service members are away.
“It’s kind of like computer dating,” said Donna Muccione, whose family stepped up to help De Los Santos find a home for Chico. “When we saw Chico we thought, ‘we can do him.’”
Long Valley residents of 14 years, the Mucciones consider themselves “savvy dog owners,” but learned quickly that a puppy Pit Bull was going to take some time – and energy – to keep under control.
The family – which has six children, a dog and a few cats – is always on the go. Three of the Muccione children still live at home, and everyone played a role in keeping Chico occupied.
“He’s really high energy,” Muccione said. “We’d have to take him out on walks and runs up to 10 miles per day.”
Muccione’s husband, Steve, had proof. After just two months, his new running sneakers lost all traction, with the soles wearing through.
“The pack leader,” as Donna Muccione called herself, said she received great support from the community when they learned about her fostering a dog. Local dog trainer Leslie Curtis came by on a few occasions to help show the Mucciones techniques and methods to teach Chico, and residents were quick to assist with a large dog cage for the growing puppy.
The Muccione household is no stranger to fostering, either. One weekend each month the family takes in a dog that belongs to a member of the Army reserves, and each summer hosts an inner-city teen as part of the Fresh-Air Fund.
Chico’s days as a Long Valley resident are over as he goes back to New York with De Los Santos, but he’ll be back to visit.
“We’ll come back in the summer to say hi,” De Los Santos said.
If reuniting with his four-legged best friend wasn’t enough, it was also the Marine’s birthday.
“I definitely missed him,” De Los Santos said with a smile.
The feelings were mutual. Chico’s tail hasn’t stopped wagging.