It will soon be a very tail-wagging moment when a dog lost at sea and presumed dead is reunited with her owner. The canine moved one paw closer to that goal recently after being flown to Naval Air Station North Island, in San Diego Bay, and picked up by a family friend.
Luna, a 1½-year-old, blue-eyed German shepherd/husky mix, fell overboard from a fishing boat off the coast of San Clemente Island in February and was missing for five weeks before she turned up near a naval facility on the island, said Sandy DeMunnik, a spokeswoman for Naval Base Coronado.
Conner Lamb picked up the dog after she was flown to North Island on Wednesday because owner Nick Haworth was out of town.
Haworth and his one-man crew were two miles offshore of the island on the 45-foot boat "Elizabeth H." before dawn on Feb. 10 when they noticed that the 40-pound dog was missing.
"One moment Luna was there, and the next, she was gone," Haworth told Navy officials at the time.
Lamb said no one is sure how she came to slip off the boat.
Haworth called for help, and a search for the missing dog was launched.
Lamb said that Haworth, a commercial fisherman, stayed in the area for two days looking for his beloved pet, but she was never spotted.
"He was devastated," Lamb said of his friend.
Meanwhile, on the island, Navy crews searched for the dog from the land and from above but never spotted her. "She blended right in," Navy wildlife biologist Melissa Booker said about the tan-and-black dog.
Then, on Tuesday morning, some five weeks after the canine disappeared and after had everyone lost hope that she would be found, Luna reappeared.
Booker said that crew members driving along the island's main road found her sitting by the side of the roadway. "They literally opened up the car door, whistled and she jumped right in," Booker said.
The determined dog had apparently swum to shore and survived on her own for five weeks. She was found to be a bit malnourished but otherwise healthy and uninjured. It appeared she had eaten small rodents to survive, Booker said.
And she soon became the hit of the island, where no domestic animals are allowed.
"Everybody loved her," Booker said.
Luna was flown to the Coronado base Wednesday and given to Lamb. On Thursday, she is to be reunited with Haworth, a 20-year-old San Diego State University student, when he returns from a trip to Arizona.
"He's ecstatic," Lamb said about the coming reunion.
In the meantime, Naval Air Base Cmdr. Stephen Barnett bestowed upon the pet a special dog tag. It read "For Luna, keep the faith."
Baker writes for the San Diego Union Tribune.