DULUTH — During the month that the 148th Fighter Wing has been deployed in Puerto Rico, its ranks have grown by one with the addition of One-Eyed Juan.
The yearling German shepherd-husky mix took a liking to Duluth's Airman 1st Class Krishia Baltazar and the feeling was mutual. Baltazar adopted Juan while in Puerto Rico and he arrived in Duluth on Wednesday, a few days ahead of her return from deployment, scheduled for this weekend. She said she wished she could travel with Juan to Duluth, but her mother and sister are excited to care for him until her arrival.
"He's very, very cute. He's one special dog," Baltazar told Forum News Service on Tuesday, Dec. 12, from Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico.
Juan was born a stray dog on the base and, because he's housebroken, Baltazar said he was likely trained by U.S. Army soldiers there. Baltazar is one of the 11 members of the 148th and the 133rd Airlift Wing, based in the Twin Cities, who have been in Puerto Rico since mid-November to help with the recovery effort following Hurricane Maria. She enlisted in the U.S. Air National Guard in September 2016 and this is her first deployment.
Baltazar said she heard about Juan from soldiers when she transferred to the base. At first, she didn't intend to fully care for Juan, but decided to adopt him after building a trust with him over the past month.
When she first laid eyes on him, she saw a dog that was skinny in a way that no dog should be. His eye was infected and swollen shut; a veterinarian told Baltazar that was likely due to being kicked by one of the wild horses Juan likes to play near. But from the start, Juan's playful, loving personality has shown through, she said.
Baltazar, who had a dog while growing up, began feeding Juan and, when he started letting her pet him, she cleaned his eye and gave him medication for it. The eye now healed, he's able to open it and has a small amount of sight in it. But he looks like one of his eyes is crossed, she said.
Juan began following her to work, sleeping outside her room and running alongside her. As he became more comfortable with her, he waited outside all day while she worked and came into her room to sleep. She also began bathing him. He didn't like it when water was poured water on him — probably because of the trauma of the hurricane, she said — but once she got into the bath with him, he would let her give him a bath.
"As I started taking care of him, I started falling in love with everything that he is, everything about him. I was actually joking at first, like, 'Oh, I'm going to adopt this dog,' as a joke, and then one thing led to another," she said. "I was at Walmart and I saw a dog toy and was like, 'I think Juan would like this' and then I go back to Walmart like 'I think he needs a leash or a collar.' The next thing I know I'm at the vet getting him shots," she said.
Baltazar said she checked around to see if someone at the base owned Juan, and she brought him to a woman who works to find homes for stray dogs in Puerto Rico before she decided to adopt him. She filled out the paperwork, got him vaccinated and bought him a kennel for the plane.
Although Juan has a lot of fur, she bought him some booties and sweaters in case he needs help acclimating to Duluth's winter after Puerto Rico's daily 90-degree temperatures. She has also decided to keep his name as Juan because it's part of who he is, she said.
Once home in Duluth, Baltazar will need to find a new place to live because the house she currently lives in doesn't allow dogs.
"It is a choice. It's either I get rid of Juan and I get to live at that house or I keep Juan and find a new home. I could always find a new home ... but I don't know when I'm ever going to find a dog that accepts me for who I am and that loves me. I'm never going to find another Juan," she said.