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Uncle Spidey and his 21 four-legged nieces and nephews

Soldiers that take home dogs from Afghanistan gather

Puppy Rescue Mission reunites soldiers with the animals they love. Who could not love these faces? Photo courtesy Puppy Rescue Mission

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He talks about them like an uncle talks about his favorite nieces and nephews; perhaps that accounts for the mysterious "Uncle Spidey" nickname.  He's not a huge guy.  He has a quiet intensity about him that seems fitting for an individual who has served in the Marine Corps and has done additional security missions with a federal agency.  But he smiles readily as he tells stories about Setara, Petey, Red, Nur and others.

He shows his compassionate side as his eyes cloud with regret about Foxy and Scooter. His eyes light up with quiet pride when he speaks of his hand in the rescue of 21 stray dogs from Afghanistan.

I'm meeting Uncle Spidey, whose real name is withheld for his own safety, at a recent Puppy Rescue Mission (PRM) meet-up at Tolmie State Park near Olympia.  The nonprofit organization was formed in 2010 as a way to rescue dogs with whom soldiers serving in Afghanistan had bonded.

Since that time, an online community has strengthened and bonded through the group's Facebook page.  The meet-up in Washington state was the sixth opportunity for members to meet each other in real life and for rescue organizers and soldiers to be reunited with some of the animals they had a hand in helping.  

Not all 21 of Uncle Spidey's dogs are present, as many attendees chose to leave their dogs in the comfort and security of their homes rather than subject them to the potential trauma of air travel.

In point of fact, Setara, arguably the oldest dog affiliated with PRM, is at home in the Southwest as I talk to her humans. Uncle Spidey and his girlfriend brought Setara (which means "star" in Dari, the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan) to his home in the U.S. in 2005, before PRM was formed.  

PRM was organized by the time he returned to Afghanistan in 2010, and he and his girlfriend turned to the organization to help find homes for and fund the rescue of 20 additional dogs.  

Spidey flips through the pictures in his phone with the joy and pride of a relative showing pictures of piano recitals and ballet performances: Here's Petey, dirty and unkempt when he was found on the side of the road and rescued from the potential torment of a pack of approaching kids.  Here's Petey now, white fur gleaming between the patches of brown fur as he poses for his family in South Dakota.  Here's a picture of Petey romping happily with Red, whose ears and tail have been crudely lopped for fighting; Red now lives in Brooklyn with his adopted family.  And here's Nur (Dari for "light"), posing regally like a supermodel.  Nur's human mom laughs as she remembers the attachment Nur still had to Uncle Spidey several years after her rescue when they were reunited at a Virginia meet-up.  

All of Uncle Spidey's rescues occurred between missions; he risked potential reprisals and corrective action for the simple sake of the animals' welfare.  

But for him, it was worth the risk.

"Now there are twenty happy families with awesome dogs," he said with a satisfied smile.

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