KOMO viewers reunite military family with beloved dog

PACIFIC, Wash. -- A military family forced to leave their family dog behind when they deployed to Belgium last month will now be reunited with their furry friend thanks to the generosity of KOMO News viewers.

KOMO got a letter from Katie Garberding in February asking for help for "Calvin, the big red dog." Garberding's daughter Helen was a military wife and veteran with three kids who were desperately missing their family dog since moving to another continent.

When the family found out they would be moving, Helen made all the arrangements to bring Calvin with them. She requested a pet-friendly room on the military base and researched how expensive it would be to fly the dog over. But at the last minute the airline doubled the cost of Calvin's airfare based on his weight. Helen said they did not have enough savings to cover the extra cost.

"We were devastated," Helen said. "Trying to come up with the extra $1,000 dollars to have Calvin fly over with us was just not possible at the time."

Garberding was happy to take Calvin in, but she knew the dog was desperately missing its family. So she wrote a letter to KOMO asking for help raising money for the dog's airfare.

Since the story ran last week, Garberding has raised $753 and booked Calvin on a flight for March 20. Thanks to a military discount from Delta, the total cost of the flight will be $1200. Already Calvin is wearing a bandana that says "Belgium or bust."

"It was heartwarming to see the compassion that people still have in today's times," Garberding said. "Everything we were given is an absolute blessing."

Helen did not initially know about the fundraiser, but she has since been blown away by the community's kindness.

"We have truly been inspired by the generosity of others," Helen said.

Helen's family was stationed a Joint Base Lewis McChord in 2009. After only a month her husband was deployed to Iraq, leaving her home with three children.

"One way I dealt with the deployment was to regularly visit my sister and that's when I genuinely fell in love with her dog," Helen said.

When the sister could no longer take care of Calvin, Helen eagerly took him in. Right away, Calvin bonded with Helen's kids.

"He was so loving," Helen said.

Helen's oldest son, Thomas, struggled with moving so often until he started taking Calvin for regular walks. Soon, this became a stress relieving tradition. Thomas also moved Calvin's bed into his own room.

"I was able to gauge how Thomas was feeling by how close he was to Calvin," Helen said.

Matthew, Helen's middle child, had been very shy since suffering from a speech difficulty when he was a young boy. When he started kindergarten, Helen said Matthew asked if he could walk Calvin to school because all the kids would swarm around the friendly dog.

"Matthew loved to use Calvin as a tool to break the ice and come out of his shell a little more," she said.

Helen calls her daughter Lily "Calvin's puppy." When she was 9 months old, the little girl would get mad at Calvin because he would accidentally knock her over with his tail. Still, Calvin would always circle back around so Lily could pull herself up by his fur.

"There was a time when we could not get upset with Lily because Calvin would stand in front of her, almost like he was protecting her," Helen said.

When any of the kids were sick, Helen said Calvin would sit with his chin on their bedside and follow them around the house. The children all became ill with stomach flu when they flew over to Belgium last month, but they didn't have the dog there to comfort them.

"The whole time they kept saying how they missed Calvin," Helen said.

Helen said the family's move to Belgium has been difficult, since they do not speak French and feel somewhat isolated. She cannot wait for Calvin to join them and offer the kids some sense of normalcy.

"The first thing [Matthew] said when I told him Calvin was coming was that he can't wait to take him to school."