Grand Rapids Soldier's dog arrives in Mich., destined for Ariz.

By Steve Kaminski

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- Reaching the end of his month-long journey from Afghanistan, Blanco popped out of his cage at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and quickly began sprinting around the Delta cargo delivery parking lot.

With his tail and tongue wagging wildly, Blanco then jumped Monday night into the arms of 9-year old Haley Bilot, who gave the white dog a warm embrace.

"I was wondering, 'What is this dog going to be like?'" Cindy Cerveny said. "I thought he would be skittish and scared."

It appears Blanco is going to have no trouble adjusting to American life.

The dog's long journey from Afghanistan -- via Pakistan, New York and Detroit -- finally ended when he arrived in Grand Rapids.

Cerveny was going to email her son, Lee Chandler, photos of the dog and report that Blanco was doing just fine.

Chandler, a 28-year-old Grand Valley State University graduate, is an Army sergeant based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Blanco wandered onto Chandler's base and quickly was befriended by his National Guard unit.

Chandler's tour is ending this month, and he sent Blanco to the U.S. ahead of him. Blanco will stay with Chandler's mother and stepfather, Lee Cerveny, at their home in Rose City. Chandler then will pick up Blanco and head to Arizona, where he will resume civilian life as a middle school social studies teacher.

Blanco had a small gathering waiting for him at the airport. Chandler has been corresponding with his sister, Becky Bilot, via email, and he informed her when Blanco was scheduled to arrive. Bilot, along with her husband, Brian, and the Byron Township couple's four children welcomed Blanco.

"They are guessing that Blanco is less than a year old," Becky Bilot said. "He showed up at the base one day, and his ears had been cut off. I guess that's what they do to get the dogs ready for fighting. The soldiers started feeding him scraps here and there.

"Blanco ended up staying longer and longer because he liked the soldiers so much. Lee said Blanco kind of adopted them; they didn't adopt the dog."

Chandler spent nine years living in Grand Rapids, and he joined the Michigan National Guard and served in Iraq. He moved to Arizona to pursue his master's degree. There, he joined the Arizona National Guard, then headed to Afghanistan.

The cost to get Blanco to America was about $3,000. Becky Bilot, along with her and Chandler's sister, Staci Chandler, of Hastings, organized a bake sale that helped cover the expenses.

Lee Cerveny said Blanco will have plenty of room to play in Rose City.

"We have 40 acres, so there will be plenty of privacy and quiet," Lee Cerveny said. "He is going to love it out in the woods."

Published: Wed, Jul 13, 2011