Rescued from a war zone, LuLu the Central Asian shepherd became a local newsmaker seven years ago. The pup had traveled thousands of miles to live with an Everett couple whose daughter serves in the U.S. Army.
“LuLu’s journey from Afghanistan to Everett makes for one long shaggy-dog story,” I wrote in a Herald column published March 21, 2012.
Because LuLu was in the paper that day, the story is now longer and sweeter. And an Arlington couple has been reunited with a nephew they hadn’t had contact with for more than two decades.
Arlington’s Dr. Peter Wolff, a general surgeon and dog lover, read about LuLu after a photo of the pooch with her Everett owner, Debbie Schmitz, caught his eye. Reading The Herald that day, Wolff was stunned to see the name Adam Abeyta — a long-lost nephew, the eldest son of his wife Ruth Wolff’s sister.
“What are the chances? It was only because Peter really loves dogs — and he saw this marvelous photo and a story about a dog,” said Ruth Wolff, 65, a nurse practitioner in Arlington. “By the grace of God, Peter saw his name.”
For many years, she’d been out of touch with her sister, Amy Monkman. Her sister had “lived all over,” Ruth said, “and we went in different directions.” Monkman died April 18 at age 62 in Pensacola, Florida.
The family reunion, connecting the Wolffs with their now 32-year-old nephew, happened not long after Peter Wolff saw that column in 2012. “It must have been around Christmastime,” Ruth Wolff recalled Thursday, adding “we all convened with the Schmitzes, at their place.”
“Your article changed lives,” Schmitz said in a recent email. “They say words are powerful, here is proof.” Because of the 2012 Herald story, she said, the Arlington couple “was able to get in contact with me, and that family learned that my son-in-law Adam was their long-lost nephew.”
Debbie and Nick Schmitz are the parents of Army Maj. Nicole “Nikki” Abeyta, a graduate of Kamiak High School and Washington State University, whose husband is Army Maj. Adam Abeyta — the Wolffs’ nephew. His roots are in Texas, where his father still lives.
When the Wolffs first met them at the Schmitz home, the Abeytas were at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County. They’re now based at Fort Bragg, an Army installation in North Carolina, and live in the Raleigh area. They have two children, 4-year-old Madeline and Finley, age 2.
“Since that reunion, all of them are now in touch,” Schmitz said. “Trips have taken place to see each other, new cousins were discovered by the Arlington aunt and uncle, and addresses exchanged — all because of a puppy who lived with the soldiers and my daughter in Afghanistan.”
It was Nikki, Debbie Schmitz said, “who brought our dog LuLu and her dog Betty both home to America.” Nikki Abeyta remains an advocate for bringing dogs to safety from war zones. For her birthday in 2018, she asked Facebook friends to donate to Puppy Rescue Mission, a nonprofit organization with the motto: “Soldiers Saving Puppies, Puppies Saving Soldiers.”
The Abeytas and the Wolff family share military connections. Dr. Wolff served in the U.S. Navy as a surgeon. Three of the four Wolff children studied at the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York.
Morgan Wolff, eldest son of the Arlington couple, is a counselor at Everett’s Eisenhower Middle School. He was on leave from duty in Iraq in 2007 when he visited a first-grade classroom at Jackson Elementary School in Everett. The teacher was Theresa Lusier, his future mother-in-law.
Debbie Schmitz, now retired, was then a teacher at Evergreen Middle School, so the families also share ties to Everett schools.
Ruth Wolff said she had wanted to reconnect with her sister, but didn’t think her sister would have agreed to get together. Against Monkman’s wishes, Ruth said, Nikki Abeyta called to let her know that her sister was very ill. As Monkman was dying of cancer last spring, Ruth flew to Florida but didn’t arrive in time. Her final goodbye was at a funeral home.
In Pensacola she met two other nephews, Adam’s younger brothers Ed and Chris Abeyta. All three have served in the military, Adam and Christopher in the Army and Edison in the U.S. Air Force, the Wolffs said.
Adam Abeyta has visited the Wolffs’ Arlington home, where the rural property gives the family dogs room to run. “We knew all along she had nephews,” Peter Wolff said.
With Nikki’s parents in Everett, they hope the Abeytas may move to this area one day.
“It’s one thing to know someone exists,” said Ruth Wolff, “but another to actually meet them.”
And LuLu? Older now, she’s still in her happy home in Everett — far from the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about Puppy Rescue Mission is online at: https://puppyrescuemission.org/