A teacher from Iowa was walking her dog three months ago in Chengdu, China, when she stumbled upon a starving, partially paralyzed Belgian Shepherd who followed her home.
The teacher took the dog, whom she named Bert, to the veterinarian, where he was treated for tapeworms and fleas.
She knew he needed help, but struggled with the idea of leaving him in a local shelter filled with thousands of other dogs.
What followed was a global rescue mission that included a number of animal advocacy groups both local and abroad, a Burbank elected official, a 12-hour flight and a little bit of luck.
The teacher contacted the Los Angeles-based rescue group the Mutt Scouts after hearing that the nonprofit had recently rescued a dog named Thor from Mexico.
For four weeks, the group, along with Burbank-based group the Animal Protectorates, brainstormed a number of travel itineraries to bring Bert to the United States. Perhaps they could send someone to China as a travel partner, or he could fly freight.
But all their ideas turned out to be infeasible, and they hit a dead end.
That's when Shelley Rizzotti, co-founder of the Burbank group, stumbled upon a Facebook photo on May 25 of Burbank Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy in Beijing, where she had flown for a conference.
Rizzotti quickly sent a message to Gabel-Luddy, explaining Bert's predicament, asking if there was any way the councilwoman could help.
Gabel-Luddy responded shortly after — if they could make it work, she was in.
"Of course I'm going to step up," Gabel-Luddy said over the phone Friday.
Nine days later, Gabel-Luddy flew into Los Angeles International Airport with Bert in tow.
But it wasn't easy.
"Getting him out of China was a very complicated process, with all the paperwork. He had to have a domestic health check and certification," Rizzotti said.
Plus, the traveling logistics and 15-hour time difference.
Bert had to travel from Chengdu to Beijing, where Petcare Movers, a China-based pet relocation company, took him to a foster home, two hours away.
The next day, Petcare Movers — donating their services — brought Bert to the airport to meet Gabel-Luddy.
Gabel-Luddy arrived at the airport in Beijing three hours before her flight, wearing a "Bert" sign taped to her straw hat.
"This could not have been done five years ago. Because of all the social media, all the connections, it was clear that Bert had advocates all over the world," Gabel-Luddy said. "The reason I got plugged in was just by chance."
On Tuesday, a couple dozen local animal activists welcomed Bert and Gabel-Luddy home at LAX.
"It was emotional," Rizzotti said. "The past couple days, I've told people tears have been floating on my eyeballs."
The rescue cost $2,300, all covered by donations to the Mutt Scouts earmarked for Bert, Rizzotti said.
Bert will now start physical therapy — he can walk, but can't get up on his own if he falls because of a disability, Rizzotti said.
"Somehow this dog survived, amazingly, on the streets," Rizzotti said. "No one really knows what happened to him."
To donate to Bert's ongoing rehabilitation, visit http://www.themuttscouts.org.
Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.
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