MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA)—A woman from upstate New York drove all the way down to Tampa Bay to reunite with a puppy she befriended during Hurricane Maria.
Bridget Burch of Buffalo, New York is a member of the National Guard. She was among the first responders to help with recovery efforts in St. Croix after Maria left the Caribbean island in ruins this fall.
“For me, that was some of the worst conditions I’ve ever seen people living in,” Burch recalled.
And it wasn’t just humans living in terrible conditions. Burch said shortly after they arrived, her unit came across a litter of puppies inside a dilapidated building.
“They were all covered in mud and not looking very well and we took care of them,” she said. “There’s just so many animals that lost their homes. If a person lost their home all their animals lost their home too and the person can only do so much for themselves and their kids, the pets are kind of the forgotten ones on the island.”
Burch immediately bonded with a puppy she named “Lilly.” She cared for Lilly every day, feeding her scraps from her rations.
“There was like a connection, as soon as I picked her up she would follow me around, I would go and find her, she would find me,” Burch said.
Lilly was eventually handed over to a rescue organization. Months later, she made her way to Nate’s Honor Rescue in Manatee County.
In the meantime, Burch kept track of the dog, vowing one day to provide Lilly a new home.
Once Burch got back to New York, she made immediate plans to drive 1,300 miles to the rescue in Manatee County—and on Wednesday morning, after months apart, the pair reunited.
When Burch walked through the door, Lilly instantly recognized her and ran over. Burch hugged and kissed Lilly while holding back tears.
“I was pretty worried about how she was going to make it, how well she was doing, she was pretty sick when I found her. But I can’t explain, [I feel] just happiness…reunited with her again,” said Burch.
“It’s such a bad thing when everything you have is just taken, your people leave you and you don’t know why they’re leaving you and [the pets] probably got hit harder than anybody else on the island,” she said.
But these two were meant to be and neither distance nor a hurricane can keep these friends apart.
Some of Lilly’s siblings were adopted by other members of the New York National Guard, so she has some play dates to look forward to when she goes to her new home.
Nate’s Honor Rescue still has two dogs and five cats rescued from St. Croix who are looking for homes. Both dogs are extremely shy after what they went through, and officials say they will require experienced dog owners.
If you’re interested, contact Nate’s Honor Rescue at 941-747-4900.