Stray dogs in war-torn Afghanistan have it rough. They cling to life, struggling to survive in a world that doesn’t care what happens to them. Sometimes the only kindness they ever know comes from deployed American soldiers who befriend, feed and watch out for them. Soldier and dog can’t help but become pals.
Those bonds of friendship turn to heartbreak when military members must leave their adopted pups in the Middle East to return home. Against sizeable odds, however, a few caring people have created an international network that reunites beloved strays with their soldier guardians on American soil.
A Soldier Is Often a Stray Dog‘s Only Defender
A dog/soldier relationship starts out pretty simply. An act of friendship or an offer of food is often all it takes.
“He appeared in camp one day,” Army soldier Tim Johannsen told the Bangor Daily News of his stray dog buddy, Leo. “I had just come off a mission and he was on the bottom of a dog pile. I picked him up, dusted him off, and he followed me back. From then on, we showered together, we ate together, we slept together.”
Strays come to realize quickly that life is better around American military camps.
“Local stray dogs tend to stay around or in the camps,” Trish Gohl told Philly.com. ”And it’s a different culture — soldiers are very nice to dogs compared to the abuse they usually suffer.”
Conventional wisdom has it that most Afghans don’t like dogs, believing them to be dirty creatures, not companions. Soldiers see firsthand how badly strays are treated in Afghanistan, which often includes being used as targets for shooting practice. Soldiers sometimes end up persuading the locals to leave the dogs alone by giving them cigarettes or other personal items.
No Dog Gets Left Behind
A non-profit organization called “No Dog Gets Left Behind” is the brainchild of Trish Gohl. She established the Philadelphia-based NDGLB in 2010 after watching an Animal Planet documentary about the bond between soldiers and strays. That same year another organization called Puppy Rescue Mission launched operations out of Kennebunk, Me. In all cases, the operation happens in much the same way.
When a soldier identifies a desire to bring home a dog from Afghanistan, fundraising kicks into high gear. Each dog rescue mission costs between $3,000 and $4,500 to pull off. Soldiers pay what they can and rely on donations to the rescue groups to fund the rest of the dog’s rescue. Funds must be in hand before anything else can happen.
Once the money is secured, the rescue group reaches out to partners in Afghantistan. NDGLB, for example, works with American-run Afghan Stray Animals League (ASL) in Kabul. The soldier must hire a trustworthy local to transport the dog to Kabul. ASL then takes custody, handling pre-travel quarantine, paperwork, medical care, shots and other precursors to international doggie air travel.
Once the dog is safely en route by plane to America, a rescue group volunteer meets the pup at the airport and takes over to ensure he or she makes it to the soldier’s home. Amazingly, the dog sometimes lands on American soil well before the soldier does. Puppy Rescue Mission has helped soldiers bring home an amazing 500 dogs so far. NDGLB is up to 14 and counting.
Both the dogs and the soldiers reap real rewards from being able to stay together. The dogs, of course, get loving new homes. The soldiers get a devoted companion who can them readjust to regular life after combat service ends.
Rescuing strays from a war zone is complicated and expensive. It takes a lot of effort and coordination. All that work is done by dedicated volunteers. They care deeply, so they make sure every adopted dog that can possibly get out makes it onto an American-bound plane. Every ecstatic reunion makes it all worthwhile.
Photo credit: No Dog Gets Left Behind Facebook Page