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Dog reunites with family in Oregon after Hurricane Maria
Dog reunites with family in Oregon after Hurricane Maria

CORVALLIS (AP) — Four-year-old Gustavo wagged his tail eagerly inside the gate of a large backyard in southwest Corvallis.

The corgi-German shepherd mix is a native of Puerto Rico and rode out Hurricane Maria late last month inside a boarding kennel on the island. Ten days after the storm hit, devastating the Caribbean island, the pup was reunited with his family in the United States.

"He's survivor dog," said Holly Bakker, whose family adopted Gustavo — "Gus" for short — in Puerto Rico.

The Bakker family is from Corvallis. Holly graduated from Crescent Valley High School and her husband, Chris, is a graduate of West Albany. They've been living in Isabela, Puerto Rico, on the island's northwest side, since 2015 with their daughters, Ally, 11, and Izzy, 9. Chris works for Hewlett Packard and had been asked to manage a team in Puerto Rico, his wife said.

The group had departed the island on Sept. 15 for a business trip to San Diego. They'd already endured Hurricane Irma and had boarded their home in preparation for that tropical storm. The palm trees on their property sustained damage, but their house was unharmed.

Before leaving the island, the Bakkers dropped Gus at the kennel, where they planned to pick him up two weeks later. But, on Sept. 20, Maria made landfall on the southeastern part of the island. The family was in California.

"We were just kind of watching it unfold from afar and felt so helpless," Holly said. "There was nothing we could do."

Two days after the hurricane made landfall, Holly connected with a kennel employee using WhatsApp, an online messaging service.

"She said they were asking everyone to come get their dogs, but there was no way we could get back to the island," she said.

The 25-year-old employee promised Holly she would visit the kennel every day, even if Gus was the last dog there. But then Holly went a couple of days without hearing from the woman. Finally she called and told Holly how bad things were on the island. Clean water was limited. Fuel was hard to come by. The woman said she would fill up containers with water to have some reserved for the dog.

Holly sprang into action. Through a friend in a Bible study group, she heard about a Spirit Airlines humanitarian flight. She sent emails and Facebook messages to the family of a girl her daughter, Izzy, had gone to school with in Puerto Rico. Holly gave them the details for the flight and asked that they go to the shelter to retrieve Gus and take him on the plane with them. She told them to bring a duffel bag to put the medium-sized dog into.

The duffel bag was too small for Gus, but otherwise the plan went off without a hitch. The family was able to use a generator to read the emails. Spirit Airlines had said no pets were allowed on the flight, but the airline was "very generous," Holly said.

"We heard from people on the flight that there were so many animals on there," she said.

The flight landed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the family Holly helped is now settled in Wisconsin. The Bakkers flew from Portland to Florida, where they rented a van to drive Gus to Corvallis.

"He was great," Holly said. "He was a good little traveler."

The family spent five days driving across the country and arrived in Oregon last week. A lot of people asked the Bakkers where they were from. The waitresses at one hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, offered to buy the family's lunch and asked to meet the "survivor dog."

"People are really good," Holly said. "That's kind of what we discovered as we were driving along."

The Bakkers adopted Gus shortly after moving to Puerto Rico. He was a stray dog, and the family had seen him hunt iguanas for food. One night, while Chris was away on business, Holly talked to the dog as he sat outside the front door. She told him she was nervous about being alone and asked him to stay. The next morning, he was still at the front door.

"So when my husband came home I said, 'I want this dog. I want him to be our dog,'" Holly said.

She received a picture of her family's house from their neighbors. Though it's surrounded by destruction, the structure is intact. There's likely water damage inside, she said. For now, the Bakkers plan to stay with family in Corvallis. It could be months before the power grid is restored in Puerto Rico.

"It's not safe to go back ..." Holly said. "Everybody that's there locally on the ground, anybody that we have talked to, has said 'You guys, don't come back.'"

Salam Noor out as Oregon schools chief
Salam Noor out as Oregon schools chief

PORTLAND (AP) — Oregon schools chief Salam Noor resigned Wednesday after less than 2 ½ years on the job.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the news in a statement, saying Colt Gill will serve as acting chief during the search for a permanent replacement.

Noor's resignation comes about a month after test results showed Oregon students declining in reading, writing and math. Noor, whose official title was deputy superintendent for public instruction, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Brown was out of the country on a trade mission and unavailable for comment.

"Governor Brown asked Salam Noor to resign because she was not satisfied with his ability to execute her vision for Oregon's education system," the governor's spokesman, Chris Pair, said in an email.

Brown appointed Noor to the position in May 2015, just three months after taking over as governor. Her statement did not include any highlights from Noor's tenure, simply stating: "I thank Salam for his service to the state of Oregon."

In addition to sluggish test scores, Oregon has also been plagued with chronically low graduation rates. Though the rate ticked upward to 75 percent on Noor's watch, it's still well below the national average of 83 percent.

Oregon has in recent years set a goal of a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025, something no state has achieved. Brown, in a letter dated Wednesday to Gill and other top education officials, said boosting graduation rates remains a top priority, though she backs away from the 100 percent target, settling for the still-ambitious goal of 90 percent.

In addition to improving the graduation rate, she asked education leaders to:

  • Establish a unified education budget for 2019-2021 that ensures more students meet key education benchmarks and improves school readiness and attendance.
  • Develop a statewide early learning plan that serves all Oregon communities
  • Expand career pathways aligned to workforce needs by collaborating with workforce, business, and industry partners.

Gill, a former superintendent of the Bethel School District in Eugene, was named the state's education innovation officer in 2016, charged with increasing the number of students completing high school.

"As education innovation officer, Colt has cultivated strong partnerships with rural and urban school districts, communities and students, recommending policies that will improve student success in every corner of the state," Brown said.

Trial begins for Oregon man twice imprisoned for sex assault
Trial begins for Oregon man twice imprisoned for sex assault

EUGENE (AP) — A Eugene tow truck driver who has twice served prison time for sexual assaults is again accused of attacking a female.

The Register-Guard reports that a jury trial for 54-year-old Ricky LeVasseur began Wednesday. He is charged with single counts of first-degree kidnapping, sodomy and sexual abuse.

He is accused of approaching a woman in November 2015 wearing a ski mask, pushing her to the ground and threatening her. The woman told police that he offered to let her go in exchange for oral sex. She fought back and said he touched her bare breast, but she was able to escape.

LeVasseur's attorney said text messages show his client was at home on the night of the incident.

If convicted, LeVasseur could be sentenced to life in prison as a third-felony sex offender.

County considers changing name of Dead Indian Memorial Road
County considers changing name of Dead Indian Memorial Road

MEDFORD (AP) — Commissioners in Jackson County, Oregon, are considering whether to change the name of Dead Indian Memorial Road.

John Vial, the county's director of parks and roads, tells the Mail Tribune he fields emails and phone calls each month from people complaining about the name.

The newspaper reports that white settlers in the 1850s found two deceased Native Americans in the area where the road was later built. Historians believe they likely were killed by another tribe.

Locals began calling the road Dead Indian Road after it was constructed in 1870. County commissioners changed it to Dead Indian Memorial Road in 1993, but the name remains controversial.

In the past few months, the word "Dead" has been painted over on signs marking the road that stretches from Ashland to Highway 140 near Lake of the Woods.