This post is part of a blog party:
The assignment: Share something that makes you happy. Like so many things in life that bring us great joy, it is borne of great sorrow. I guess that’s part of what makes us appreciate the good things so much.
I’ve been a cat person forever. I’ve been dog
intolerant for nearly as long. And even then, only just barely. Dogs were judged harshly on a case-by-case basis and most never even came close to making the cut.
I loved the independent nature and aloof personalities of cats. I thought dogs were co-dependent and irritating with their constant demands for attention. I disliked their dripping tongues and the smell of their dirty coats. Little dogs were even worse: “If you are going to be small, be a cat,” I always thought. “Then you won’t be so irritating.”
A friend tried unsuccessfully to change my mind, “You lock your wife in the trunk of the car for 30 minutes, and you lock your dog in the trunk of your car for 30 minutes… when you come back, which one is happy to see you?”
I was unconvinced (and a little concerned for his wife).
But then something happened that would change the course of my life forever.
The place: Afghanistan. The time: Spring.
I’d been in Afghanistan for fifteen months. I had recently moved to a new region. We were a small unit working closely with the local village populations to create stability. Progress was slow, but we never gave up.
Hunter was a dual-purpose, Military Working Dog (MWD): explosives detection and personal protection. He was aloof and professional. He was quick to obey the commands of his handler. And he occasionally liked to be scratched behind the ears. His fur was bristly. I didn’t mean to like Hunter, but I did. I started accompanying the handler when he took Hunter out to hone his skills. Hunter liked me
because I gave him treats, and I liked Hunter. He met me at the door of his kennel every day so I could reach in and pet him. I respected him; he was good at his work. He put his life on the line for me every day. That’s not something to be easily overlooked.
One beautiful spring afternoon, an improvised explosive device (IED) claimed the lives of five members of our team including Hunter and his handler. Even now, it is impossible to describe the anguish we felt. In the blink of an eye, our world was shattered. I will never forget that moment, and the excruciating moments, hours, days, and weeks that followed. My friends, my brothers, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time on deployment to mourn our sacred dead, and honor and duty dictate that we must take up the watch and continue the fight.
Boscoe and his handler, another MWD team, arrived within a few weeks. Boscoe was a single-purpose explosives detection dog. A black Lab mix, he was anything but aloof. Unless he was actively engaged in seeking explosives, Boscoe behaved like a family pet. I tried (and failed in a matter of seconds) to keep distant from Boscoe. I didn’t want to risk hurting again as I had with Hunter, and the threat was high. But Boscoe was irresistible. He was a leaner. He’d sit at your feet and then lean into your leg with his body weight, so if you moved, he’d fall over. It was his way of announcing his presence (and expectation of affection). It was
underhanded and sneaky effective. I fell for Boscoe and all his charms. If he’d been human (and intact), he would have been a major threat to women everywhere. Well, probably more of a threat to men, and a danger to women.
But he wasn’t the only one…
I left for R&R a few short weeks after Boscoe arrived. When I returned from leave, I was relieved. It had been difficult taking time off, knowing the team was still there. One of the guys greeted me and said, “There are a couple of new guys you need to meet.” We started walking back toward Hunter’s kennel, and I thought, “Oh no. You guys didn’t get puppies, did you?”
They did. Stray dogs are everywhere in Afghanistan. They gather near bases and villages, hoping for a scrap of food. Locals do not adopt them as pets, and there are no animal control or veterinary services available to help keep the canine populations in check. It is very literally a dog eat dog world. Dog fighting is common entertainment for young men in the cities; they clip the ears and tails of the dogs to give them an advantage. Soldiers aren’t supposed to adopt stray dogs, the risk for disease is high. But dogs have a funny way of making their way onto the bases and into the hearts of soldiers. They seem to sense a difference between Afghans and Americans, and know they will be cared for.
That’s when I met these guys:
As if anyone could resist the fur or the faces. These two dogs were immediately special to me. It wasn’t just their beautiful faces, or their fun personalities… you see, Joe and Marty were named for two of our fallen comrades. The bond was instantaneous and unbreakable. I found myself spending hours in the kennel with them every day. While people raced to the showers after days in the field, I made a beeline for the pups.
Joe (the tan puppy) was about eight weeks old when he was rescued. He’d been living near the firing range. The men in the guard towers threw rocks at him. It took time to build his trust in humankind. Marty (the black and white puppy), was the runt of his litter. His mother stopped feeding and abandoned him. He was only about six weeks old when the team found him on their way back from a patrol. He would not have survived on his own.
Joe and Marty were magic. They could turn a bad day good. They boosted morale and provided a positive distraction from the negative reality of war. They didn’t spend more than a few hours each day in the kennel; people couldn’t resist bringing them out to play. It became clear they couldn’t be left behind at the end of the rotation.
I immediately began searching for information on how to bring a dog home from Afghanistan. It didn’t take long before I came across The Puppy Rescue Mission. I emailed to gather information, and within a day or two (accounting for time differences), received a reply. They worked tirelessly with me to fundraise for the permanent rescue of Joe and Marty.
I didn’t know who would provide a permanent or “fur-ever” home, and at that point, I didn’t care. I just knew we needed the funding in place so Joe and Marty could have a happy, peaceful life. I had friends reach out and offer their homes to the boys. I accepted offers conditionally… if anyone from the team wanted to adopt the dogs, they had first say.
In the meantime, my relationship with the boys grew deeper. I started training them to sit, down, and walk on a leash. They played with everyone, but listened to me. I ordered crates to teach them to sleep inside at night. And somewhere along the line, they adopted me. It was no longer a question of where they would live.
Joe and Marty arrived home last November. It was such a joyful reunion.
We had some challenges when the boys first arrived. Joe had a relatively painless transition. Marty required extra care and attention (and trips outside). One day, on the way to the dog park, Marty stood up and peed right on Joe. It’s funny now, but at the time I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with my little guy. His bladder control (and his confidence) has increased since then, making him a joy to be around.
Joe and Marty are superstars and continue to share their magic powers wherever they go. People everywhere fall in love with their amazing personalities. They are learning and growing every day. Both are healthy and (finally!) housebroken.
Joe is incredibly sharp and learns new commands in minutes. He has a very keen sense of smell (which he uses to find gophers, deer, and buried bones and roots). He is enthusiastic about life, and very protective of his
little younger brother. He prefers to sleep on the floor rather than in his dog bed, and likes to wake me up with puppy kisses. He will likely be trained in Search and Rescue work to take advantage of his drive, motivation, and obvious skill for finding things. He is selective about the people he gets close to, but loves to play tug-of-war with and chase dogs of all sizes. Joe is 43.8 pounds.
Marty is Mr. Social. He has convinced himself that the world is populated for the sole purpose of petting him. Like Boscoe, he is also
manipulative a leaner. He likes to wake up slowly and stretch before falling over for belly rubs before starting his day. He prefers to play with smaller dogs, and is compassionate toward those with handicaps or who lack confidence. One of his favorite playmates is an eight-pound blind dog named Taz. Marty will assume his play stance and reach out with his paw to gently let Taz know where he is so they can wrestle. He will test to work as a Therapy Dog later this year. Marty currently weighs in at 45 pounds.
They both attend daycare where they socialize and play while I am working. I can’t say enough good about the training and attention they receive there. But this blog is already quite long, so I will stop. Can you tell these boys mean a lot to me?
It turns out dogs aren’t so bad after all. In fact, they are now my personal favorite in the animal kingdom. The only thing missing: the ability to purr. Then they’d be perfect.
So that’s it… my sharing something that makes me happy. Every single day, these special boys give me something to smile about, and something to be grateful for. They are the best thing to come out of Afghanistan.
The Puppy Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization that relies on donations to fund the rescue of soldiers dogs from Afghanistan. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation on their behalf so others can experience the healing power of puppy love.