By Jason Koestenblatt
Reposted from Long Valley Patch
Chico had not seen his owner, a Marine serving in Afghanistan, in nearly a year. By the way he acted, one would think Chico hadnâ€™t seen his best friend in nearly a year.
His tail wagged hard enough to shake a body made of muscle and he couldnâ€™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. Heâ€™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.
Thatâ€™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.
â€œItâ€™s kind of like computer dating,â€ said Donna Muccione, whose family stepped up to help De Los Santos find a home for Chico. â€œWhen we saw Chico we thought, â€˜we can do him.â€™â€
Long Valley residents of 14 years, the Mucciones consider themselves â€œsavvy dog owners,â€ but learned quickly that a puppy Pit Bull was going to take some time â€“ and energy â€“ to keep under control.
The family â€“ which has six children, a dog and a few cats â€“ is always on the go. Three of the Muccione children still live at home, and everyone played a role in keeping Chico occupied.
â€œHeâ€™s really high energy,â€ Muccione said. â€œWeâ€™d have to take him out on walks and runs up to 10 miles per day.â€
Muccioneâ€™s husband, Steve, had proof. After just two months, his new running sneakers lost all traction, with the soles wearing through.
â€œThe pack leader,â€ 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.
Chicoâ€™s days as a Long Valley resident are over as he goes back to New York with De Los Santos, but heâ€™ll be back to visit.
â€œWeâ€™ll come back in the summer to say hi,â€ De Los Santos said.
If reuniting with his four-legged best friend wasnâ€™t enough, it was also the Marineâ€™s birthday.
â€œI definitely missed him,â€ De Los Santos said with a smile.
The feelings were mutual. Chicoâ€™s tail hasnâ€™t stopped wagging.