One Couple's Puppy Rescue Mission

She wanted to rescue the dog that had comforted her husband while he served in Afghanistan, but how could a college student possibly raise the necessary money?

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- Posted on Feb 21, 2020

Anna with Bear

I sat cross-legged on my bed in the house I rented with some other students and stared at the phone. It was 10 p.m. on a Sunday in March 2010. I was in my last year of a college program in food science and nutrition, doing a dietetic internship. My fiancé, Chris, was deployed to Afghanistan with the 172nd Mountain Infantry of the Army National Guard, and he hadn’t been able to call for almost two weeks. I took the framed photo from my nightstand and traced the lines of his face. He looked so strong, so capable in his camo fatigues, his eyes squinting against the Afghan sun.

Normally Chris was really social, the life of the party. But the last time we talked, the conversation had been dry and limited. He was being transferred to another forward operating base (FOB). Deployed for just a few months, he’d already sounded war-weary. When I asked what it was like in the mountains of Paktia province, Chris described the abandoned animals roaming around looking for shelter and food—all in a flat voice. I was worried sick. Serving in a war zone was taking its toll on Chris, and I was helpless to do a thing about it except pray.

Finally the phone rang.

“Hi, babe,” Chris said.

That’s more like it! He hadn’t sounded this upbeat in weeks.

“Guess what?” Chris said. “I found a puppy. I named her Bear.”

“A puppy?” I couldn’t keep from smiling. Both of us were big-time animal lovers—one of the things we’d bonded over when we met during my senior year of high school.

Chris told me that a few weeks prior to his arrival at the FOB, a suicide bomber had entered the compound in the middle of the night. The stray dogs that hung around hoping for handouts started barking. One dog took off after the bomber. Another dog, Target, alerted the troops in their sleeping quarters, just seconds before the bomber blew himself up. All the soldiers survived the attack. But Target was badly injured.

The very next day, she gave birth to a litter of puppies. The soldiers weren’t about to let them die. They nursed Target back to health and cared for her pups, feeding the dogs from their plates and loving the dogs as if they were their own.

“Bear is one of her puppies,” Chris said. He explained that in Afghan culture, dogs weren’t valued as companions. They were considered unclean and rarely let into homes.

“I won’t be at this outpost long, and pets are security risks,” he said. “I want to save Bear. Will you help me get her home to Maine?”

Get her home? How do you get an animal from Afghanistan to America? But this wasn’t just any animal. This was the pup that put joy back into the voice of the man I loved.

“Of course,” I said, trying to sound confident. I would do everything in my power to help Chris.

We hung up. I had no idea where to start, so I went to my laptop and looked up “rescuing dogs from Afghanistan.” Amazingly, a British website popped up. The good news was that this could be done. The bad news was that it would cost $3,000. I was a full-time college student who had a nonpaying internship and did nannying on the side to pay the rent. Where was I going to get that kind of money?

A couple days later, I opened my laptop and saw the sweetest picture I’d ever laid eyes on. My big, strong GI was cuddling a tiny brown-and-white ball of fur to his chest. She was a mixed breed with giant paws, five weeks old and 100 percent adorable. The smile on Chris’s face made me want to hug them both. I could see that Bear had gotten into Chris’s heart. There was no question now: I had to get that puppy to the United States.

I didn’t have any savings. Chris was trying to put money away each month for our wedding. He’d banked almost $1,000, but honestly, I wasn’t crazy about using our wedding savings to get a dog. We’d dated for five years, and ever since Chris proposed when he was home on leave, I’d been eager to set a wedding date.

As I was getting ready for bed, my eyes landed on the candle on my nightstand, reminding me of a fund-raiser that my church youth group had held. We’d sold scented candles and made $5 profit on each one, with the proceeds going to missions. That was a good cause. So was this.

I ordered fund-raising candles from a manufacturer. Then I e-mailed everyone on my contact list and asked them to buy candles. At first there were no responses. So I e-mailed again, this time attaching the photo of Chris and Bear. The requests started rolling in. After a few weeks, I counted orders. Everyone was generous, but I had to sell 600 candles to raise the full amount to get the pup. Was there something else I could do?

Crossing campus one evening, I remembered how a sorority had organized an online raffle to raise money for charity. Maybe I can do my own raffle! I thought.

The next day, I approached a few businesses and asked if they’d donate items and services. They were happy to help. I e-mailed friends and family, sold tickets, then raffled off the items.

A few Facebook friends offered to donate money for Bear’s transport after reading about my fund-raising efforts. When I posted about how Bear’s mother, Target, had saved soldiers on Chris’s FOB, many more people wanted to help.

I was a woman on a mission. Not just to raise enough money to get Bear to the States—it was more than that. I had a purpose now, something I could do besides worrying about the man I loved while he was at war.

Finally the day came when I had the $3,000 we needed to cover Bear’s vaccinations, transport from the FOB to a local shelter, transport to the airport and airfare to the U.S. I wired the money to the British agency that would handle all the arrangements. I couldn’t wait to tell Chris.

He and I talked Sunday night. “That’s great, babe!” Chris said. “I was talking to some of the guys, and we want to bring all seven of the pups here to the U.S.”

I tried not to panic as I did the math. Seven times $3,000 was $21,000. We hung up, and I collapsed on my bed. How was I going to raise that kind of money? I needed a lot more than candles and raffles.

That night, I tossed and turned, thinking about those puppies—and about all the dogs in Afghanistan that were abandoned and stray. I felt helpless all over again. It was one thing to raise $3,000—but $21,000? Impossible.

I needed an idea. A really inspired idea. I didn’t have a prayer of raising $21,000 on my own. Maybe that’s exactly what I needed to do—pray and then leave things up to God. Lord, help me help the soldiers who love these pups.

That afternoon, I logged on to Facebook during my break at the internship. That’s it! The idea came to me like a bolt out of the blue. How had I not thought of it sooner? I’d make a Facebook fan page!

“Puppy Rescue Mission,” I typed on my laptop that evening. I shared the story about Target and her litter, calling them the Lucky Seven. I posted the photo that Chris had e-mailed me and set up a PayPal account. Once people read the story of Target the hero dog and her litter of pups, they would “like” it and click on the link to make donations, or so I hoped.

The next day, I nervously logged on to Facebook. Lord, if this is something you want me to do, I prayed, please let the people in America who love dogs and our soldiers help bring Target and the Lucky Seven home. Facebook friends, military personnel and fans I didn’t even know quickly “liked” the page. The donations poured in.

Within three months, I had the $21,000 needed to bring the Lucky Seven to the U.S., where they would live in safety and comfort with their soldiers’ families until their soldiers were able to join them stateside.

Bear arrived in the U.S. in June 2010. Her flight landed in Washington, D.C., and a truck driver from our area picked her up and brought her to Maine for us.

I was waiting when the truck arrived at my parents’ camp at Long Lake. I scooped up the no-longer-so-little ball of fluff and held her close. Nuzzling the pup that had comforted Chris while he was thousands of miles away comforted me. I looked into her ebony eyes and stroked her soft coat. “Welcome home, Bear,” I said.

I took care of Bear just as Chris had. And Bear took care of me those difficult last few months before Chris’s deployment ended and he was able to come home. She reminded me that there were many things a college student with no money could do. All I needed was some divine guidance, a lot of caring people (including a great team of women I met through Facebook who dedicated themselves to our mission) and the steadfast love that only a dog can give.

Editor’s note: Anna and Chris married in 2013 and had a baby boy, Wyatt, in 2018. Their dogs—Bear, Alphy and Griz, all from Afghanistan—round out their family. Since its establishment as a nonprofit in December 2010, Puppy Rescue Mission has helped military men and women bring home more than 3,000 dogs and cats who were their loyal companions during deployment overseas. “We’re always looking for volunteers to help with transport, fostering and fundraising,” Anna says. Find out more at puppyrescuemission.org.

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