A former U.S. Marine has raised the $4,000 necessary to reunite with the dog who kept him company during his last tour in Afghanistan.
“My team lead picked me up from the helipad, and we had this 4×4 golf-cart thing. We called it ‘The Gator.’ We were driving back to the tent and I noticed there were two dogs, one running to the left and one running to the right,” Duling described.
“The German guys were taking care of Xena. They had built her a little house, feeding her two to three times a day,” Duling explained. But Bolt had not received the same special treatment, he said. “Bolt was kind of left outside. No one really gave him food. He was very malnourished, very skinny but still a very happy dog.”
A dog lover who had always had pets growing up, Duling took Bolt in, feeding and caring for him, taking the dog on morning runs. Duling even taught Bolt commands and tricks. “He’s very obedient, very smart,” Duling said. “I taught him to sit, lay down, and shake in less than a week.”
The pair soon became inseparable — that is, until Duling’s commander made the order that all of the dogs on base had to leave. Duling was devastated.
“There were probably about 20 dogs on base,” Duling explained. “They were aggressive, and they were getting into the trash.”
When the Marines rounded the dogs up for a transport into a town 12 miles away, Bolt refused to leave Duling’s side.
“They noticed Bolt was running behind them the entire way home for about 10 miles as they were leaving. They finally stopped, and the commander of the convoy put him in the backseat and brought him back to base,” Duling said. “They said he could stay.”
When Duling’s tour came to an end several weeks ago, he realized that his time with Bolt was running out. Duling will never forget the heartbreaking moment when he had to leave Bolt behind.
“He was always by my side, which was really difficult because when I had left Afghanistan for good, he tried to jump on the helo with me,” Duling remembers, telling ABCNews.com of his last moments with Bolt before leaving Afghanistan for the U.S. “He usually doesn’t like to go toward the helipad and he was right there with me. I got on, and they had to come pull him back. It was pretty hard saying goodbye to him.”
“He just looked sad and confused, and I was just like, ‘That can’t be the last time I see him,” Duling added, telling NBC News of the moment that he knew that he had to do everything he could to bring Bolt back to the states.
Determined to reunite with the dog that had meant so much to him during his third and final tour of duty in Afghanistan, Duling contacted the rescue group Nowzad, an organization that has been instrumental in saving the lives of many stray and homeless animals in Afghanistan.
Nowzad was excited to help Duling adopt his buddy Bolt, but before the former Marine and Lab-Shepherd mix could reunite, Duling had to raise the $4,000 it would cost to transport Bolt to the United States.
“They set up the fundraising page, and they told me to put in on Facebook and spread the word via Facebook,” Duling explained. “And before I knew it I was getting 50 friend requests a day. People all over the world were donating money.”
The fundraising campaign worked, raising over $4,000 for Bolt’s flight back to the U.S. Bolt is now being held in quarantine in preparation for his journey.
Duling and his cousin recently purchased a new house in Virginia, but Duling says that the house won’t be a home until Bolt can move in, too.
“It’s got a huge yard. It’s right near the Potomac River with great running trails,” Duling said excitedly of the home he can’t wait to share with Bolt. “I’m gonna take him out on nice walks. A lot of my friends out here have dogs, so we’re gonna have a welcome home party.”
It is expected that Duling will finally be able to bring his buddy home by November 5.