A pet project close to their hearts: U.S. sol­diers in Iraq adopt an­i­mals

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Karen Gold­berg Goff

It was a long jour­ney from Iraq to Kuwait to North­ern Vir­ginia, but Kujo, Jas­mine and Hope took it in stride. They ar­rived in the United States April 24, a bit weary, but ready to be re­united with mem­bers of the U.S. mil­i­tary who had be­friended them over­seas.

Kujo, a mixed-breed dog, and cats Jas­mine and Hope were the latest ar­rivals of Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups, a pro­gram or­ga­nized by the So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals (SPCA) In­ter­na­tional. Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups as­sists in trans­port­ing to the United States dogs and cats adopted by sol­diers serv­ing over­seas.

In many cases, the pets be­come not only camp mas­cots, but pro­vide com­fort and com­pan­ion­ship while the sol­diers are far from home, says SPCA spokes­woman Stephanie Scroggs.

Tech­ni­cally, mil­i­tary reg­u­la­tions bar sol­diers from car­ing for an­i­mals found while on ac­tive duty over­seas. How­ever, hu­man­ity some­times trumps rules when a soggy and home­less an­i­mal needs care.

“We started the pro­gram ear­lier this year when we heard from a sol­dier who had tried ev­ery­thing to bring the unit mas­cot, Char­lie, home with him,” she says. “The mil­i­tary will not bring an­i­mals to the States.”

Char­lie, who was once mal­nour­ished and flea-rid­den, now lives near Fort Bragg, N.C., with that sol­dier, Sgt. Ed­ward Wat­son of the Army’s 82nd Air­borne. The border col­lie ar­rived at Wash­ing- ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Valen­tine’s Day.

“Leav­ing him be­hind was not some­thing I was look­ing for­ward to,” Sgt. Wat­son says from North Carolina as Char­lie barks at a neigh­bor cut­ting the grass. “This pro­gram is def­i­nitely an awe­some thing.”

Lo­gis­ti­cally, how­ever, it is not easy. Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups gets sev­eral ap­pli­ca­tions a week and hopes to trans­port at least 45 more an­i­mals by July, says pro­gram man­ager Terri Crisp. So far, six an­i­mals, plus the three new ar­rivals, have made the trip from the Mid­dle East.

There is strict cri­te­ria: The an­i­mals must have a home to go to in the United States, and they need to have been adopted by sol­diers who have taken care of them from a young age, Ms. Scroggs says.

“We do not hope to be an­i­mal con­trol for the Mid­dle East,” she says. “We are help­ing Amer­i­can sol­diers by bring­ing home the an­i­mals they love.”

Once an ap­pli­ca­tion is ac­cepted, Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups sends a private se­cu­rity firm to pick up the an­i­mal. To get Kujo, for in­stance, re­quired a 24-hour trip by the guards to north­ern Iraq, com­pli­cated by bridges be­ing out and other war-zone is­sues, Ms. Crisp says.

Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups also pro­vides vac­ci­na­tions, health care, groom­ing, a quar­an­tine sched­ule and com­mer­cial air trans­porta­tion. To­tal cost: about $4,000 per an­i­mal. Ms. Crisp flies quickly into Bagh­dad on Gryphon Air­lines and ac­com­pa­nies the an­i­mals back to the states.

“We’re in Bagh­dad about 45 min­utes, then we fly out to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries,” she says af­ter ar­riv­ing with the latest group of an­i­mals at Dulles.

Kujo’s jour­ney be­gan when Marines were on pa­trol in Iraq. They came upon two pup­pies — one of them fa­tally shot — in the street. The Marines took the sur­viv­ing puppy, Kujo, back to camp and bathed, fed and house-trained him. Kujo will head to Tampa shortly to join the girl­friend of one of the Marines un­til the Marine, whose iden­tity can’t be re­leased due to se­cu­rity con­cerns, re­turns home.

Hope, a cal­ico cat, was found by an Amer­i­can con­trac­tor when she jumped into a truck’s en­gine com­part­ment. The cat was badly burned and was treated by a se­cu­rity medic li­ai­son of­fi­cer, says Bruce, the con­trac­tor who be­friended her.

Bruce, whose last name can’t be re­leased for se­cu­rity rea­sons, and Hope be­came very at­tached to each other as she pro­vided so­cial con­tact that is of­ten miss­ing in a place where you do noth­ing but work and sleep, Ms. Scroggs says.

Af­ter Hope be­came a camp mas­cot, Bruce wrote to Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups: “She has be­come do­mes­ti­cated over the last six months and lacks all the un­der­stand­ing of the wild sur­vival tech­niques to take care of her­self on her own. At this time it would be like me aban­don­ing my own child.”

Hope met Bruce’s wife, Pam, at Dulles. She’s now off to their North­ern Vir­ginia home to meet their dog, Quee­nie. Bruce is sched­uled to re­turn home shortly.

“They are very much bonded,” Pam says of Bruce and Hope. “Be­ing a con­trac­tor, he was in a place with­out many Amer­i­cans. She was his only com­pany.”

Jas­mine, a short­hair cat, was found by Marines in a raid on a house in Iraq. Her fu­ture home in the United States couldn’t be re­leased due to se­cu­rity rea­sons.

Kujo, with So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals vol­un­teer Bev Wester­man, gets his first walk on U.S. soil at Dulles Air­port.

Pam (who asked that her last name not be used for se­cu­rity pur­poses) greets Hope, a cat, at Wash­ing­ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Her hus­band res­cued the an­i­mal in Iraq. The cou­ple de­cided to adopt Hope through Op­er­a­tion Bagh­dad Pups (and cats).

Terri Crisp (left) greets Kujo, a dog res­cued by an Amer­i­can sol­dier in Iraq. A cat named Jas­mine (above) is also among new ar­rivals at Dulles.

Bar­bara L. Sal­is­bury / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Kujo, with So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals vol­un­teer Bev Wester­man, gets his first walk on U.S. soil at Dulles Air­port out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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