NEW ORLEANS -- Vito isn't exactly what you would normally see strolling along the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, but this isn't a typical night. It’s a reunion, a half a year in the making.
We first met Vito in April with the Ladner family, who signed up for the Dogs on Deployment program and volunteered to foster Vito, a 160-pound Cane Corso Italian mastiff, while Vito's owner, Kevin Tessier, served in the U.S. Navy overseas
Forget his kennel. Vito preferred Brook Ladner's bed, and this became his home away from home.
But now his deployment’s over. Tessier is back home.
Vito instantly turns when he hears his name, and it takes a bit to register Tessier’s voice and face, but not long.
“I had him when he was three weeks old. I was bottle feeding him,” he said. “We just had a connection. I look at him like a son and he looks at me like his dad.”
Finding someone willing to foster a 160-pound dog is not easy, and Tessier didn't know the Ladners before they agreed to watch over Vito.
“She's pretty much a savior. If it wasn't for her I probably wouldn't have Vito right now.”
And their service allowed Tessier to do his overseas deployment without a concern about Vito's care
“For me to be able to leave and be over there for four, five, six or seven months and not have a worry in the world and be able to focus on the mission, it’s a great feeling.”
This is the second time the Ladners have fostered Vito while Tessier was overseas, meaning they knew what to expect, meaning they knew that the reunion was going to be their release.
“It’s our small part that we do to help our soldiers,” Leah Ladner said. “When single sailors leave, they sometimes don't know what to do with their animals, and with people like us they know that they are safe and sound until they come home and reclaim them.”
And if you liked Vito's reunion, Tessier’s 3-year-old daughter Ellie topped it, hiding behind a column in baggage claim. If you listen closely, you'll hear the sweetest “daddy" you've ever heard.
“The people I love the most are here and waiting for me,” Tessier said. “Can't put it into any sort of words at all.”
And sometimes you don't have to.