One second Luna was there.
The next, “she was gone,” Nick Haworth told Navy officials during his frantic search for his beloved blue-eyed dog.
The 1 1/2-year-old German shepherd-husky mix disappeared from Haworth’s fishing boat while skimming through the blue-gray waters of the Pacific near San Diego more than a month ago. Haworth and his fellow crew member searched the vessel frantically for her the minute they noticed she was missing, but there are only so many places a 40-pound dog can be on a 45-foot boat. If she wasn’t there, she could only be in the water.
Haworth called for help from Naval Base Coronado, which controls the nearby island of San Clemente. Luna was a pretty good swimmer, and Haworth felt sure she could make it to the island, even though it was a full two miles away, according to the Associated Press.
The Navy sent out search planes. Haworth scanned the sea in his tiny fishing vessel. For days, he refused to let go of Luna’s long pink leash, he told KGTV, hoping against hope he’d have reason to use it again.
But time wore on, and still Luna was nowhere to be found.
“To be honest, we had pretty much given up hope,” Melissa Booker, a Navy marine biologist who helped with the search, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
By day 10, even Haworth had to make peace with his loss. Assuming Luna had swum to dry land, there was nothing to sustain her on barren San Clemente Island – a dry, windswept expanse of mostly cacti and foxes. In all likelihood, she was never coming home.
On Facebook, he typed a last goodbye to the husky. “RIP Luna, you will be greatly missed”
And then, on Tuesday morning, almost exactly five weeks after her disappearance, staff arriving for work at San Clemente spotted something unusual sitting by the side of the road: a dog.
But pets are banned from the island in order to protect the endangered species that live there. Which could only mean one thing.
“Luna!” Sandy Demunnik, a Navy public affairs officer, told the Union-Tribune. “Just sitting there, wagging her tail. Like, ‘Hey guys, I’m a little hungry.'”
A staff biologist for the Navy’s environmental program on the island examined the dog to make sure she wasn’t hurt or dehydrated. They even took a blood sample, just in case.
Aside from looking a little thin, Demunnik told the AP, Luna was perfectly healthy. “It looks like she was surviving on rodents and dead fish that had washed up,” she said.
Haworth was out of state, working in the middle of a lake, when he got the call he never thought would come. The Navy had his dog.
“Getting that phone call yesterday was like no feeling I’ve ever experienced,” he told the Union-Tribune. “It was a real rollercoaster of emotions, really.”
On Wednesday, the dog was flown to a naval base on the mainland and given to Haworth’s best friend. And Thursday night, when Haworth was due to get back to San Diego, she would finally reunite with her owner – a few pounds lighter than when she left him, perhaps, but with one extra token from her ordeal.
It was a dog tag given to her by the Navy at San Clemente (she’d lost her old one at some point during her travels), according to the AP. Along with her name, it bears three words taught to Navy and Marine personnel during their training on the island.
They are: “Keep the Faith.”