Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pet Tales: These dogs made it back from the Middle East before their saviors

Ghost, Amigo, Louie and Faith are actively serving veterans and soldiers who have served their country. A day after Veterans Day, let’s talk about the dogs and the organizations and individuals who help bring soldiers and dogs together — and sometimes bring them home.
Amigo saved lives in a military zone in the Middle East by detecting bombs and explosives. Louie and Faith are trained to help their veteran partners cope with the after-effects of war.
Ghost is not nearly as accomplished. He’s a mixed-breed puppy who had a tough life as a street stray in a war zone. He simply wagged his way into the hearts of American soldiers who fed him, loved him and looked for ways to save him.
On Nov. 2, Amigo and Ghost flew to Pittsburgh on a commercial airliner. Ghost, who rode in the cargo hold, was met at the airport by Sara Cox, wife of Army Sgt. Christian Cox. The dog now lives in the couple’s Whitehall home with their daughter, Lily, 5, and Meiko, a 9-year-old German shepherd.
Guardians of Rescue, a New York-based nonprofit, paid $10,000 to transport Ghost and Amigo. Since 2010, the rescue has brought home 40 dogs, most of them street strays. The average cost is $3,000-$5,000 per dog.
“Soldiers find us, ask us to bring dogs home, and we find a way to accommodate them,” said its president, Robert Misseri. “It’s a small gesture we can do for our soldiers.”
Mrs. Cox doesn’t know when her soldier is coming home, but she knows he’s very happy that Ghost is safe at home with his wife and daughter.
“This is one less thing for him to worry about,” she said.
Ghost is still a puppy, probably 6-8 months old. He’s very high energy and more playful than the older Meiko, but the two dogs are getting along.
Ghost has never lived in a house before. He’s not at all accustomed to cold weather and doesn’t linger long outside on chilly nights or mornings. Little Lily loves him, her mother said.
“Ghost is a very sweet dog. He had a very rough life over there. They threw rocks at him, beat him and poisoned him. His mother, brothers and sisters died. Ghost and my husband formed a special bond. He asked me to research ways to bring Ghost home. I didn’t know where to start.”
She found a sympathetic ear at Guardians of Rescue.
“The people in war-torn Mideastern countries don’t have a high regard for stray dogs,” Mr. Misseri said. “They view them as vermin.”
Although Ghost flew home as cargo, Amigo got to fly in the cabin because of his status as a trained explosive detection dog. The 9-year-old Belgian Malinois was met in Pittsburgh by Carly Carolla, who is the girlfriend of Army Spc. Michael Fenton, and his mother, Michelle McGann.
Mr. Fenton met Amigo in a kennel near where he was stationed (the location is kept secret for security reasons). He was told the dog had been retired and would be euthanized unless someone could get him back to the States. Amigo worked for a contractor, Ms. Carolla said, not the U.S. military. He now lives with Ms. McGann in Green Tree.
“So far, so good,” Ms. Carolla said. “He is very friendly with everyone. He is very active. He loves being outside and loves the grass. I don’t know if he ever saw grass before.”
Amigo has a lot to learn, she said. “The commands he knows are in Arabic.”
Louie and Faith

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