While stationed in the Middle Eastern country, the adopted a 65-pound, mixed breed stray dog. They were reunited with her and her 7 frolicking puppies on Wednesday at John F. Kennedy International Airport shortly after the animals arrived.
A Long Island pet rescue organization made the reunion possible. Their motto is “Paws of War — No Buddy Left Behind.”
1st Lt. Joseph LaPenta of Staten Island said the dogs had become like members of their family. The mother dog, whom the men had named Sheba, was adopted by the group after they arrived in Afghanistan in January. She often accompanied them on patrol and chased off other stray dogs that could have posed a threat to her pack of men.
In March, Sheba gave birth to her puppies> she and the puppies were in a weakened state of health and the men saw to their needs, nursing them all back to health. This was accomplished in part by the beef jerky and MREs the guys shared with the dogs. Later, as word of their need spread back home, the men’s’ families sent bags of dog food.
As part of the U.S.’s plans to reduce their presence in Afghanistan, the men learned their base was to be closed. LaPenta said they were all heartbroken at having to leave them behind. Staff Sgt. Edwin Caba of Long Beach decided to do something about it. He contacted a former high school teacher who put him in touch with the Long Island-based Guardians of Rescue. The organization has been collecting donations for a number of years to assist with bringing dogs back from combat areas. Roughly 20 dogs had already been rescued when the request to help Sheba and her pups was received. They worked with a Kabul-based organization called Nowzad to get the dogs shipped to the U.S. where the soldiers were waiting to adopt them.
The cost of transporting a dog out of a war zone and back to the U.S. is roughly $4,000 each. It includes a 30-day quarantine period prior to shipment, vaccinations, food and the transportation.
The soldiers met with the dogs at a Save-a-Pet animal shelter on Long Island. The puppies are already 6 months old and have been given the names of Cadence, Rocky, Sarah, Jack, Buckeye, Breezy and Harris. Two of the soldiers are taking 2 dogs each and the 3 others will take one each. All but 2 will be staying in the New York area. The other 2 will be moving to the Cincinnati area.
Caba was grateful for the diversion created by the dogs. He lost his home in Superstorm Sandy and has just completed his third tour in Afghanistan.
As for Sheba, her situation is still being assessed. There is hope she can one day be trained as a service dog to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.