No Dog Left Behind
"No Dog Left Behind" premieres tomorrow, on the Military Channel, at 10 P.M. (ZT Pet News Photo courtesy of SPCA International)
NEW YORK -- Iraq is the wrong place to go if you are a dog lover, according to Marine pilot, Maj. Brian Dennis, who remarks that soldiers can see hundreds of stray dogs a day in need of food, care and affection.
Yet in a dangerous war zone, replete with low morale, it can be difficult to not try and connect with one of the many strays surrounding service men and women. Doing so, Dennis asserts, is like “a ray of sunshine.”
Dennis is only one of the many soldiers that couldn’t resist from befriending, and eventually adopting, a stray while he was serving in Iraq. Dennis’ bond with a mutt named Nubs, whose 75-mile trek to find his surrogate owner has now been splashed across all the headlines, is only one of the several similar stories depicted in the Military Channel’s upcoming documentary, “No Dog Left Behind,” airing on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 10 P.M.
The hour-long feature is a poignant portrait of soldiers’ tightly bound relationships with dogs and cats in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their ongoing struggles to bring the animals home with them when they return to the United States.
The U.S. Army’s General Order 1A prevents service members from “adopting as pets or mascots, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal,” but military officers have often looked the other way, allowing soldiers to train and house stray dogs and cats.
Perhaps they recognize, as Dennis explains in the first few minutes of the film, that without the presence of friends, family and outside distractions, “there’s not much to keep you going on a day-to-day basis” when fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The comfort of a dog or cat provides soldiers with a sense of home, they recall in the documentary, and a means to “find our humanity” in the midst of violence and death.
Operation Baghdad Pups, a two-year-old program of the SPCA International, enables service men and women to overcome the odds and bring these animals home with them – since its first mission in February 2008, Operation Baghdad Pups has brought home 180 animals -- 25 cats and 155 dogs -- from the Middle East to the United States.
It costs approximately $4,000 to transport the pets overseas, and can take months to coordinate, according to Stephanie Scott, director of communications for the SPCA International.
The animals also typically travel, accompanied by SPCA International staff, for around 27 hours straight to the United States.
But the program, run entirely by donations, continues to thrive. “No Dog Left Behind” features the stories of two dogs, Moody and Patton, Operation Baghdad Pups helped bring home prior to their owners’ return. The dogs will typically stay with family, friends or neighbors of their owners until they return.
The makers of “No Dog Left Behind” approached Operation Baghdad Pups some months back, Scott said, with the interest in “really capturing the human/animal bond in the war zone.”
“They recognized that this is one of the most intense relationships you can have with a dog or a cat and they wanted to convey that,” she told Zootoo Pet News. “They’ve really done a wonderful job with that, and of course, there is a real undercurrent of soldiers talking about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and how these animals have enabled them to cope with that, and given them hope again.”
General George Patton is one of the dogs featured in the film that was rescued by Operation Baghdad Pups. Found in Forward Operating Base Kalsu at the age of 4-weeks, Patton’s life was saved by the base’s Combat Stress Control Unit. The entire team took the puppy in as his or her own, often utilizing him not just as a pet, but also as an unofficial therapy dog.
Patton’s presence helped ease a certain stigma about receiving psychiatric help or counseling, according to Major Jennifer Mann, who later goes on to care for the dog permanently. Patton, like the other dogs depicted in the film, is portrayed as a “savoir” and a “blessing” to all who knew him.
“I had a teddy bear I could love,” Mann says in the film. “It was almost like I was home, hugging my own kids.”
Operation Baghdad Pups helped bring Patton home in the spring of 2008, via several commercial flights, to Ohio, where he now lives with Mann and her family.
Moody, another of the Operation Baghdad Pups dogs represented in the movie, came to a team of soldiers through their creative mission, “Operation Puppy Snatch.” The team saw the young puppy running through their barracks, and decided to catch and tend to him – but before their game could commence, an Improvised Explosive Device struck the soldiers, killing five.
The remaining soldiers took Moody in and though his presence couldn’t bring back their lost friends, “in a way, I get to take part of my friends that were killed over back home,” one soldier, Bryan, recalls.
Other soldiers relay similarly heartbreaking notions of how these transported pets provide them not only with comfort when they are abroad, but also a sense of understanding once they return home. They’ve experienced it all together, and the bonds cannot – nor should not – be broken.
Operation Baghdad Pups continues to have 75 withstanding requests for help in transporting service men and women’s adopted dogs and cats back to the United States. They are planning their next mission to the Middle East in January, Scott said.
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