There are lots of things a Marine hopes for while deployed. To get through a day alive, a care package from home, a hot meal, dry socks, to feel the thrill of victory and for some to bring a dog they befriended home from Iraq. SPCA International’s Operation Baghdad Pups program has made this possible for some of these Marines in spite of countless obstacles.
SPCA International began the program in early 2008, and Charlie was the first rescued pup to put his paws on American soil. It was an amazing accomplishment that was months in the works. Since February 14, 2008, 447 dogs and cats have left the brutal life in Iraq behind and are now living with the servicemember who did the right thing and didn’t leave their buddy behind. For these dogs and cats they will not have to endure the brutal hardships the animals remaining in Iraq will never be able to escape from.
Each of the individuals who made the choice to save the animal that unexpectedly entered their life knew it was against regulations. None of them went to war intending to bring back a four legged companion. It seems that when a dog or cat was found, it was right after some unnerving experience that devastated a group of people. Marines are trained to endure a great deal, but when you get right down to it, they are still human beings. Everyone reaches a point where having a shoulder to cry on, a reassuring hug or a pat on the back is what they need. The source of comfort for many of those individuals fighting in Iraq became one special dog or cat that had an amazing way of making them feel better and therefore got them through another grueling day.
One of those dogs was named Moody. He wandered onto a Forward Operation Base (FOB) one day and everyone took an immediate liking to him. For over a week the puppy gave the unit a break from the routines of war. He was like having a piece of home right in the middle of Iraq. Then a commanding officer found out about Moody and he had to go. He was taken to a location far enough away from the FOB so he could not return, yet in an area where the guys who cared about him were hopeful he could survive. Not long after that five of the guys in the unit were killed during a suicide bombing. For those who survived, life was hell. That night, much to everyone’s surprise, Moody suddenly showed back up. He had a personality similar to one of the guys that had been killed and having Moody living with them again made them feel a connection to the friend they had lost. When the commanding officer saw how this puppy helped morale he decided this time Moody could stay.
“I think that if Moody had not been around there would have been a lot of lost souls in the company,” explains Army Staff Sergant Bryan Spears. “I think bringing Moody [to theU.S.] for us is one of the coolest things that someone can do for a soldier. In a way, I get to take part of my friends that were killed over there back home.”
There was another puppy that was found when he was still small enough to fit in your hand. A mental health team felt sorry for the orphan and took him in. Given his size he was easy to hide at first, but as he grew and discovered how to bark it became more difficult to keep him a secret. Fearing the day was coming when the team would be told to get rid of the puppy, they decided to make the puppy an unofficial pet therapy dog. Patton assumed his new role with all the confidence of a professional. Whenever this unassuming puppy was in the room during a therapy session the individuals were more comfortable to open up and talk about what was bothering them. The team was real impressed with Patton’s ability to help even though he had no idea of the effect he was having on those people whose lives he touched.
The war in Iraq has taken its toll on human lives. Those who did not make it home alive paid the highest price, as did their families and friends. Then there are those individuals who did return home but they feel like a part of them did not survive the war. Each day is a struggle with unwelcomed reminders of the time they spent in a combat zone. For many of the servicemembers who had a rescued dog or cat that was their buddy in Iraq to greet them when they returned to civilian life, found the adjustment was easier.
One of those individuals had been deployed to Iraq three times. After returning home the first two times he had a difficult time getting back into step with the life he knew before the war. It was easier to deal with it by sleeping the day away or sitting in front of the TV drinking beer. The third time he came home the dog he had befriended was waiting for him. While they were together in Iraq they had a routine of going for a long run first thing every morning. When the dog’s running buddy would not get up, he would sit by the side of the bed and repeatedly smack him with his paw. Eventually, the soldier gave in and the two of them went for their run.
When they got back, the guy did not fall back into bed or plop himself down in front of the TV with a beer in hand. The run was enough of a jumpstart to get him through the rest of the day and the next day and the day after. This Iraqi veteran was back to being himself in a lot less time and he had the dog to thank for playing a big part in making this happen.
SPCA International feels these dogs and cats that have lived with United States troops and endured many of the same things they have can provide tremendous therapeutic value. At a time when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and incidents of suicide are on the increase amongst veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; looking at these animals as a way for these men and women to help deal with the emotional scars of war has a great deal of validity. Regulations can be amended to ensure any health and safety issues related to these animals living with the troops are properly addressed.
Most of the Operation Baghdad Pups dogs and cats arrive in the United States before their owner. This has provided unexpected benefits. Family members have said that receiving the animal their family member cared for makes it feels like a piece of their loved one already arrived home. One father told his young daughter that just before he handed his dog off to the security company delivering him to the airport in Baghdad, he gave the pup a huge hug. “Now, any time you are really missing me, what I want you to do is go hug your new puppy and know that it’ll be like I’m hugging you back,” the father explained. This was a child having a difficult time with her father being absent from her life. The puppy made it easier for her to get through the days until her dad came home.
There still are members of the military in the Middle East and stationed around the world, desperate to bring their buddy home. The efforts of SPCA International’s Operation Baghdad Pups program will continue and is expanding to serve U.S. servicemembers worldwide, as the war in Iraq winds down and the United States eventually decreases its presence in the Middle East. SPCA International has come to understand the extremely special bond that grows between an animal and someone facing the hardships of deployment on a daily basis. It is our hope to reunite as many of our veterans with their dog or cat on American soil as possible.
To request assistance from Operation Baghdad Pups go to the SPCA International website at www.spcai.org. On the site there is detailed information about the program as well as an application that needs to be completed.
To support the ongoing efforts of Operation Baghdad Pups to bring more four legged war time buddies home from Iraq you can find information on how to donate at www.spcai.org. SPCA International receives no funding from the government.
Article courtesy of SPCA International.