Staff Sergeant Tom Burright of the United States Air Force first met his four-legged best friend while patrolling the streets of Afghanistan. Burright was on the job when he spotted a tiny Afghan Hound pup scrounging for food in an alley.
“She was young and helpless,” Burright tells CBS DFW News. “I had to pick her up. I fell in love and put her in the truck and took her home.”
At the time, home for Staff Sgt. Burright was the barracks he shared with 15 Army Green Berets. When Burright, who served as the mechanic for the team, brought the puppy back with him, he was amazed at how much she boosted morale on base.
“It can be a horrible day. [And then I] come home, [and] she’s running around licking faces, making everyone smile,” Burright tells KVUE.com.
After much discussion with the guys, Burright says he decided on the perfect name for his new friend.
As the final weeks of his tour of duty went by, Burright knew he didn’t want to leave Lyla behind. He racked his brain for a solution, tried to figure out how he and his family could possibly afford the $4,000 in transport fees required to bring Lyla back home to Abeline, Texas. But deep down he knew the funds just weren’t there. His heart sunk in his chest.
“I really lost hope. I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Burright says.
That’s when Burright discovered The Puppy Rescue Mission (TPRM), a nonprofit organization that helps soldiers fundraise and then transport the animals they befriend on the battlefield back to the U.S. So for, TPRM has raised more than $1.5 million and has helped bring nearly 400 dogs out of Afghanistan.
Burright and Lyla taped a video plea and sent it to TPRM, hoping the organization would view it and help keep the two of them together. It worked.
“It just caught the heart of everybody,” TPRM representative Michelle Smith says.
Fundraising efforts began immediately, and only 6 short hours after launching the Staff Sergeant Burright and Lyla donation page, TPRM had collected over $4,000 — enough money to make Burright’s dream come true.
“Me and Lyla went to bed. By the time we woke up in the morning, [I] got a call from someone named Michelle. Said she’d raised the money,” Burright remembers.
Wednesday April 10 was the day Staff Sgt. Burright had been hoping for since he returned to the states a month ago, leaving little Lyla in the deserts of Afghanistan. He anxiously waited outside a cargo hanger at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, knowing he would soon be reunited with the dog who’d kept his spirits high during his dangerous third deployment to the Middle East.
“[She’s] been with me the last four months. Kept me company most of the deployment — ate together, slept together,” the Air Force veteran remembers fondly.
When Lyla walked out from the airport hanger, it was hard for Burright to contain his emotions.
“Lyla, I missed you, too,” Burright gushed, the 6-month-old pup in his arms again.
Burright says he cannot believe how much Lyla has grown since he last saw her. “She was the first puppy I saw over there, and I could hold her in one hand,” Burright tells The Dallas Morning News. But despite their time apart, it was clear the bond between Staff Sgt. Burright and Lyla was as strong as ever.
The happy reunion soon turned into a happy introduction as Lyla met Burright’s wife, Mirah, and their young son, Thomas for the first time.
TPRM is thrilled to have played a part in bringing Lyla home to her new family in North Texas.
“It’s such an inspiration to see some of these guys take these animals under their wing and love on them and care enough not to want to leave them behind to die,” Smith says.
For more information about The Puppy Rescue Mission, or to find out how you can help them continue to fulfill their mission visit the organization’s website or connect with TPRM on their Facebook page.