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Home front reunions

Published November 23. 2011 05:01PM

With our elected leaders trying to figure out how to manage this sick economy, and with all the other depressing news swirling around us these days, we have more than enough room for a positive story this Thanksgiving eve.

Providing us with one of those feel-good stories is one about a pet reunion that occurred in New York City last week. Thanks to a British-based animal rescue organization and the help of American Airlines, 14 dogs and one cat from Afghanistan were reunited with their American soldiers for the first time since they left the war zone.

The touching scene was made possible through Nowzad, which is named for a small war-torn town in northern Afghanistan. When Royal Marines arrived in the town five years ago to provide protection and stability for the people, they found a number of dogs roaming the streets scavenging for food. The Taliban bans people from having dogs as pets so they are in abundance.

The abandoned dogs inspired some of the British soldiers to begin a charity rescue to find loving homes for the stray dogs of Afghanistan.

Military dogs have long held an honored place with the American soldier. Over the last decade since 9/11, the Defense Department tripled the number of dogs the military uses to protect and assist U.S. troops.

Dog teams have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to search out explosives. There are 1,000 military canines in the U.S. and more than 200 helping overseas. The specially-trained military dogs not only excel under hostile conditions, but they also provided a moral boost for soldiers.

The stray dogs found in country have a much-less distinguished life, but according to many soldiers, their importance to troop moral is equally important. The military does not allow soldiers to have pets in the war zone, but their presence has been important at many bases. There were even reports of dogs saving soldiers' lives by alerting them to attacks on their bases.

One unit commander explained that even though it was against the rules, stray dogs found and adopted by the soldiers helped many fight depression and get through difficult times.

"I have a lot of soldiers that are very quiet," another officer stated. "I can't tell that they are okay. But then they'll see the dog and then smile and just light up."

Usually when soldiers complete their tours, local dogs are handed off to incoming teams, but now, thanks to groups like Nowzad, some lucky ones are being adopted by their American buddies to live a privileged life in the United States.

Pen Farthing, a sergeant in the Royal Marines, said it is a testament to the character of the U.S. soldiers that they show so much compassion as to rescue an innocent animal from the chaos of war in such a brutal place.

A number of veterans feel they are the lucky ones. Last week, a South Carolina soldier reflected on being reunited with his pet brought to America from the war zone.

"I know I was not sent to Afghanistan to help dogs, but unless some divine intervention tells me otherwise maybe I was!" he said.

By Jim Zbick

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