Afghanistan vets reunite with dogs they saved on the battlefield

When a few members of the New York Army National Guard stumbled upon a pregnant dog wandering near their base in Afghanistan earlier this year, they couldn’t just turn her away. Instead the guys took her in, cared for her, naming the mixed-breed dog Sheba.

The seven U.S. soldiers and their adopted pups; mama Sheba is in a foster home. (Photo credit: Guardians of Rescue / Facebook)

And just as the soldiers took care of Sheba, Sheba took care of the soldiers, joining them on patrols and offering them protection.

In March, Sheba delivered seven pups. To keep her healthy enough to care for her new brood, the soldiers gave Sheba their own rations, coaxing the new mom to eat their MREs and beef jerky. When they weren’t out on patrol, the guys were back at base with Sheba and the pups. The soldiers wrote home to their families in the U.S., asking them to send food and other dog care supplies.

“They really became part of the family to us,” First Lieutenant Joseph LaPenta says of Sheba and her seven pups.

But soon after the puppies were born, the soldiers got word they would soon be heading back to the U.S., their Afghan base set to close. The guys were excited to return to their families, but couldn’t bear the thought of leaving their new canine family behind in Afghanistan.

“It really broke our hearts that we might have to leave them there,” LaPenta says of Sheba and her babies.

That’s when a member of the group came up with an idea.

Staff Sergeant Edwin Caba got in touch with an old high school teacher, who put the soldiers in contact with Guardians of Rescue, a Long Island-based organization that specializes in bringing warzone dogs back to the states. Their motto: “Paws of War — No Buddy Left Behind.”

“We won’t turn our back on the servicemen and we won’t turn our back on the dogs,” Guardians of Rescue President Robert Misseri explains.

With Misseri’s group on the case, the National Guardsmen felt confidant Sheba and her babies would be okay. But before the Guardians of Rescue crew could send for the pooch and her pups, Misseri says they had a long hard road ahead of them — and a lot of fundraising to do, too. From health care to transportation and logistical costs, Misseri says bringing Sheba and her pups from Afghanistan to the United States would run around $4,000 per dog.

Donations are still being collected for Sheba and her puppies’ trip. But thanks to a partnership with NOWZAD, an organization dedicated to rescuing animals in Afghanistan, Guardians of Rescue was able to bring Sheba and the gang to New York early, much to the delight of the soldiers who worked so hard to keep the animals alive.

Wednesday night, the men of the New York Army National Guard arrived at Long Island’s Save-a-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center for a reunion months in the making. The guys were thrilled to see Sheba, and couldn’t believe how much her now-6-month-old puppies — Cadence, Rocky, Sarah, Jack, Buckeye, Breezy, and Harris — had grown.

“For this to happen now, leashes in their hands, they’re kissing their faces,” Misseri says proudly. “This is what we do.”

But the good news doesn’t end there; the puppies won’t have to worry about having a place to call home here in the states. Three of the soldiers are each adopting one puppy, and two of the soldiers plan to bring two pups each home with them.

And it looks like Sheba has a bright future ahead of her, too. Guardians of Rescue Vice President Dori Scofield has high hopes for the pups’ mom. Though it is still too early in the evaluation process to know for sure, she hopes Sheba, who is currently staying at Scofield’s Port Jefferson Station animal shelter, just might have a future as a service dog trained to help veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

For more information on the Guardians of Rescue mission, or to find out how you can help them bring more dogs from the warzone to the U.S., check out the group’s website and Facebook page.

Sources: CBS News, AP.org