Once upon a time, a soldier deployed to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit. And while he was there, something unexpectedly sweet happened. The way he tells it, "we ended up taking care of some dogs; it was nice to have them around. Some were on the wild side, feral ... but with something as simple as feeding them, they grew attached to us. They would stay by our side the whole time we were there (at the Forward Operating Base). There were two I was close with; they would sleep under my cot."
If this were a real fairy tale, the soldier would talk to his commanding officer and the President of the United States would wave his magic commander-in-chief wand and the soldier and his dogs would be whisked home safely and easily. However, this isn't exactly a fairy tale. In actuality, being in theater has risks associated to it, and because of these risks, the soldier and other individuals who are involved in this tale of clandestine love can't be mentioned by name for fear of reprisal both foreign and domestic.
With that being said, let's continue our first tale. So we have a soldier bonded to a couple of dogs. And an at-large Afghan population that left these dogs to starve to death after tormenting them a bit, or lopping off their ears and tails to become fighting dogs. There are notable exceptions, which will be mentioned; be patient. But first, let's go back to this soldier who knew the potentially bad fate of his new, loyal, four-legged friends. This soldier, being smart enough to know when to ask for help, called on his lady, whom we also can't name because we want to keep her safe. For fun, we'll just call her The Princess to her soldier's Soldier-Prince Charming.
In April 2010, Soldier-Prince Charming asked The Princess to help him rescue "Bear," the pup to which he'd bonded with the most strongly. Being resourceful, The Princess located an organization out of the United Kingdom that could help get Bear to the United States, but because the organization wasn't exactly a fairy godmother, the rescue mission would cost $3,500; The Princess was fairly certain she could raise that money through social media. When Soldier-Prince Charming's buddies heard about this, the number of dogs rose from one to seven, dubbed "The Lucky Seven."
Puppy Rescue Mission helps bring at-risk dogs home from the war zone. Photo credit: Jessica Corey-Butler
At this point, many princesses would pout and stomp their feet and complain and quit. Not our determined heroine, though: she was made of the stern fiber befitting a soldier-prince. Also, she had the power of the Internet and social media at her fingertips. She turned to Facebook and founded the Puppy Rescue Mission (now a 501-c3 nonprofit organization) and began fundraising in earnest; in three months she had enough money raised to bring The Lucky Seven home.
In August, the Lucky Seven came to America to their new homes, but the story doesn't end there. By December, the Puppy Rescue Mission was its own organization taking over all the logistics and coordination necessary to maintain the operation, which isn't minor. First, once the dogs are befriended, they need to get to the Afghan Stray Animal League where they receive rabies shots and are then quarantined for 30 days. They need food, a crate, microchip, and eventually airfare home, none of which comes cheaply (costs average out at about $4,500 per dog).
So what about our happily ever after with our soldier prince, his princess, and their Bear? The humans are now married with a dog who isn't like regular dogs. None of the Puppy Rescue Mission dogs are, but in the words of our prince: "they all have maybe an edge that maybe a dog raised in a kennel might not have ... that's what bonds a lot of the soldiers to them. Because when we get home, we have that same edge."
Find out more about the Puppy Rescue Mission at www.thepuppyrescuemission.com or on their Facebook page; donate foster, or adopt, and be a part of the fairy tale.