Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Dogs of War--Part II

Last summer, I posted an article about raising funds for outfitting dogs in our military. The following is a lengthy excerpt from a recent Washington Post article about one very lucky dog:

"Laurel lawyer John E. Smathers, a captain in the Army Reserve, returned from a year in Iraq with a broken arm, a wrecked knee and a chest full of medals.

"During his tour, Smathers helped thwart a bank robbery and assisted in recovering stolen Iraqi artwork. He survived an ambush and a high-speed auto crash.

"But when he got back in March 2004, he was determined to complete a final mission: to rescue Scout, a dog he and other soldiers had adopted, from the increasingly bloody streets of Baghdad and bring him to his Howard County home. Scout was resolute, loyal. So was Smathers.

"For 17 months, Smathers engaged in a campaign that involved intelligence gathering, secret Iraqi contacts and a foiled border-crossing into Jordan.

"Finally, in late August, Scout was driven some 280 miles from Baghdad to Basra, where he was delivered to a British woman who runs an animal shelter in Kuwait.

"Within days, Scout was on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport, where he was met by Smathers, dressed in desert camouflage so the dog would recognize him. Scout scampered out of his cage and went straight to Smathers, resting at his feet....

"Smathers, 47, was a member of the Riverdale-based 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. His unit was among the troops that invaded Iraq in 2003.

"After U.S. forces took control of the Baghdad airport in early April, Smathers's unit needed a place to stay for a few days and settled on an old catering building. Inside, Smathers and his fellow soldiers encountered a Canaan dog about 2 1/2 months old.

"'He was alone, confused, didn't know what was going on,' Smathers recalled.

"The unit adopted the puppy, which Capt. Kevin Guidry named Scout. When the unit left the airport for Baghdad, some 12 miles away, the soldiers took him along.

"In Baghdad, the unit took over a two-story, three-bedroom house near the Tigris River. Worried about attacks by enemy fighters, the soldiers slept on the roof, their M-16s at their sides, while Scout stayed in front of the building.

'"Scout was our early-warning system,' Smathers said. 'If someone came by who he didn't recognize, he'd start barking.''

"Smathers and Scout bonded. At 5:30 a.m. most days, Scout would put his paw through the mosquito net Smathers slept inside. Smathers would awaken, and the two would run by the Tigris.

"'Sometimes he'd jump into the river. I'd yank him out by the scruff of his neck,' Smathers said.

"At one point, Scout became gravely ill with parvovirus, a disease that leaves dogs dehydrated. For four days, Smathers and another soldier took turns administering intravenous antibiotics.

"Scout and Smathers were inseparable until Smathers and other soldiers were ambushed Feb. 21, 2004...[when]the convoy was ambushed by fighters shooting AK-47s....

"Three weeks later, Smathers was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recuperating from the broken arm and a damaged right knee.

"Via e-mail, Smathers kept in touch with members of his unit. One soldier wrote that for the first two weeks Smathers was gone, Scout remained outside the front door of the house, as if waiting for the captain.

"Eventually, Smathers's unit left the house, and Scout was on his own. In an e-mail, a soldier told Smathers that Scout had been picked up by a dogcatcher and was going to be euthanized, but that he escaped by digging under a fence.

"For four months, Smathers sent e-mails, sometimes with photos of Scout, to every soldier and civilian he knew in the area, asking if they had seen Scout. By then, Smathers was being helped by Bonnie Buckley, a Massachusetts woman who runs a Web site dedicated to helping soldiers rescue animals overseas.

"On Aug. 5, 2004, a soldier sent an e-mail to Smathers and Buckley. 'Guys, I see Scout almost every day,' the e-mail said. 'No one is taking care of him. He is looking pretty skinny, and a vet needs to look at his left eye.' The soldier wrote that Scout hung out near the pool of a large house.

"Smathers e-mailed a soldier and asked that Scout be captured, caged and taken to the Baghdad Zoo, where Smathers had become friendly with a veterinarian. Within days, Scout was at the zoo, where he would stay for a year.

"Smathers couldn't get Scout out on a military flight because U.S. soldiers are not allowed to bring back animals from foreign soil, he said....

"Finally, Smathers said, Buckley found the British woman who runs an animal shelter in Kuwait, and she was willing to help. The woman took Scout to Kuwait, put him on a commercial flight to the Netherlands and then to Dulles, where Smathers met him Aug. 22.

"Scout's life is much different now. Every Sunday, Smathers's six sisters bring their young children to his one-acre property, and the kids frolic with Scout.

"Smathers is taking pains not to lose sight of Scout again. He erected an invisible fence, with an electric current, around his property and outfitted the dog with a tag that reads 'Scout. IRAQ WAR DOG.'"
Probably most dog stories from Iraq do not have such a happy outcome. Muslims, in general, despise dogs and have all sorts of rituals to cleanse oneself from what they consider filthy animals.

Whatever the special connection between dog and master, I'm glad that the tale of Scout has worked out the way it did. I'm a sucker for a good pet-story every time!

Note: The title of the October 20, 2005 Washington Post article is a fitting one: "A War Dog's Faithful Friend."

Addendum, October 29, 2005: Commenters have left some links for more heart-warming stories.

From Bonnie Blue Flag, click here.

From Elmer's Brother, click here.

And from Anonymous, who leaves information about an organization which helps our dogs of war, click here.


At 10/23/2005 7:43 PM, Blogger American Crusader said...

Great Story. There doesn't seem to be too many happy endings over there in Iraq.

At 10/23/2005 10:16 PM, Anonymous elmers brother said...

My unit NSCT-1 adopted a dog while we were in Iraq. He was dubbed Radio Jack because he hung out at the radio shack and the guy who took care of him worked in radio. We had a vet with our unit because we had dolphins and we were able to get him back to the states where he found a happy home with a friend of the fellow that took care of him. Here is a link with a picture of him

At 10/23/2005 10:50 PM, Blogger LASunsett said...

Good story, AOW. Lord knows we don't get enough of them, these days.

At 10/24/2005 1:17 AM, Anonymous Felis said...

I was tearful by the end of it
Great story, thanks for that.

At 10/24/2005 3:05 PM, Blogger G_in_AL said...

Man's best friend (sorry AOW, I know it's not PC).

At 10/25/2005 12:52 AM, Blogger Gindy said...

A great story. I saw one similar on the Animal channel (animal planet or whatever it is called).

There were many stories of how the dog handlers had to leave their dogs in Vietnam. Although understandable to a degree (diseases and whatnot) they are still tough stories to read.

At 10/25/2005 1:43 AM, Anonymous Bozwell said...

This is a sensational story, one that nearly brought a tear to my eye.

At 10/25/2005 8:53 AM, Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Great story, glad it turned out the way that it did.

At 10/25/2005 7:36 PM, Blogger jakejacobsen said...

Excellent story! Thanks for sharing.


At 10/25/2005 8:48 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

To all (special PS to Elmer's Brother):
Thank you for commenting on this story. We hear so many sad tales about animals' fate in Iraq that I wanted to post an uplifting article. Some of the stories I cover make me want to bang my head against the wall in sheer frustration.

Scout has earned the better life he now enjoys here in the United States.

PS to Elmer's Brother: Thank you for posting the link to Jack. Awwww! Is this a Jack Russell?

I hope that everyone here takes a look @

At 10/26/2005 1:33 AM, Anonymous elmers brother said...

He was some kind of rare Iraqi breed of dog or something...he looked like a mutt to me. Basically the guy that took care of him made a big stink while CNN and some media was around and the story made the news. Well...Jack couldn't be left in Iraq now could he? That wouldn't make for a good news story now would it.

At 10/26/2005 1:34 AM, Anonymous elmers brother said...

There are more pictures of Jack at that website and pictures of your military doing it's job.

At 10/28/2005 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ORG that brought Scout to the US for his CPT is:

At 10/29/2005 9:09 AM, Blogger BonnieBlueFlag said...

Thanks for the story, even if I had to wipe away a tear by the time I got to the end.

It seems there are many stories like this, that never reach most of the public.

The most recent one that I heard about was a dog named "Beans." The soldier who had adopted him in Iraq was killed, but he had written about the dog so much to his family, that his mother was able to find the dog, and bring him home to live with her. I'm sure that having Beans with her, helped to console her in a very very small way.

At 10/29/2005 6:58 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Bonnie Blue,
What a great story! I'm a sucker for a happy ending.

I'm adding the link you provided, as well as some links from other commenters, in an addendum to the above article.


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