*Reprinted with permission of the Fluvanna Review
*Retold with permission.
Like many other units out here did, we adopted a pet on our last tour. Our case, though, was a little more elaborate. I guess at some point a dog had stolen onto the FOB [forward operations base] and had a litter of four pups or so. Then most of them died, only one survived, and she wandered off again and abandoned it.
It was extremely small when we first saw it. In fact, its ears may have still been closed. We saw it wobbling along out in the open, and didn’t really know what to do with it.
“We should shoot that thing. It probably has some sort of disease, or maybe rabies,” said one of the Soldiers.
“Well I sure as hell ain’t doing it.”
“Me neither. I’m not shooting a puppy.”
None of us would, in fact, so we did the only other logical thing we could think of: we fed it.
Not surprisingly, it grew big rapidly, and between hand-fed meals and the constant contact of an entire unit lining up to play with it, it grew pretty fond of us. We liked it. It was cute, and a refreshing break from day-to-day operations.
I know this happens a lot out here, too, and each person does it for their own reasons. For me, though, it was the closest thing to America – a domesticated, furry pet to care for. We may be infantry and usually considered tough guys, killers or even lunatics, but we’re still human. We’re not out here to butcher innocent creatures, people or animals. For us, this reminded of us home.
More than this, most of us are also fathers or husbands, too. The desire to nurture and care for something is almost innate within us. We can’t really care for our children out here, or our wives, but we can definitely take care of a little puppy and make sure it’s well treated.
Despite us trying to keep the dog fairly well concealed, our first sergeant spotted it one day and demanded to know why the hell some well-fed stray dog would perk up and happily run over to us every time it saw us. We decided to come clean and explained we’d had it nearly since it was born. He relented a little, but told us he never wanted to see it again. If he did, that’s the last we’d see of it. Okay, first sergeant, we promised take care of the situation.
So, we built it a pen. Behind our living area we had some free space, so we rustled up some tools and materials and built a relatively large fenced area for it. The dog didn’t particularly care, since we still spent plenty of time with it. The pen was in the area where we all went to smoke and hang out when we got off missions, so it definitely received more than enough attention. Since we were there for fifteen months, we’d grown pretty fond of it. We set it loose when we left to go home, and I’m hopeful it’s still doing okay.
We found ourselves with pets on this tour too, in almost the same way. A little marmalade cat wandered up one day looking half starved, and out of pity, we started to feed it. While our company commander was on leave, it went into his quarters and had a litter of kittens. We knew it’d be trouble, too.
Sure enough, there was one kitten in the litter that liked to wander, and whenever we saw it, we’d quickly grab it up and put it back with the litter. In time, people started observing us acting somewhat strangely, and asked us what the hell we were doing. As before, we told the whole story. But, since none of us are really “keeping” them here, they’ve been allowed to stay. The kittens are getting bigger now, and even mom has warmed up to us, too. Besides, they’re helping to keep the rodents down. Lord knows there’s a lot out here – especially on a base that used to be a granary.
We do this because it’s normal, and it reminds us of home. We all miss our families back there, so it’s nice to have something to focus our affections on – even if it’s a semi-wild animal that more adopted us than we adopted it. It happens all over Iraq. We find furry things and take care of them. This whole badass image we have really doesn’t hold much water. In the end, we’re all humans and we all miss home. This helps bring it a little closer for us. And in the absence of something better, it works quite well.
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