HEBRON, Ky. — They’re well trained. They’ve put their lives on the line in the battlefields of Afghanistan in the war on terror.
Now Rudi, Robbi, Randy, Kikay, Toby, Toffee, Zender, Oskar, and Lotto are heading to homes across the United States. The veterans of war made a pit stop in Cincinnati Tuesday to rest, receive a medical check up and share their stories before the final leg of their journey.
“Look at that! Good pup,” could be heard during a moment of play with one of the vets.
Yes, the heroes in this story are dogs, each bomb sniffing K9s once contracted by NATO to work in Afghanistan.
“Most of us aren’t aware of what happens when these dogs are retired,” said Michelle Smith, a mission director with Texas-based nonprofit Puppy Rescue Mission. “It’s a fear they get left behind.”
Many war dogs are abandoned overseas, or euthanized. It was only as recently as 2013 the federal government passed a law that said the military may bring service dogs home. In 2000, “Robby’s Law” allowed military dogs used and trained inside the U.S. to be adopted out after years of service instead of put down.
In 2010, Puppy Rescue Mission began bringing home both military and stray dogs that soldiers bond with on assignment.
The non-profit’s founder, Anna Maria Cannan raised money that year to rescue a pack of seven pups her husband, Chris, fell in love with while serving in the Army in Afghanistan.
Cannan said she didn’t hear from her fiance at the time very often but when she did, she could literally “hear the smile on Chris’s face as his voice would light up when he would talk about all the dogs at the post.”
“Many of these dogs have gone on countless mission with our men and women, learning on their own to protect them,” Cannan said. “It is truly amazing.”
Puppy Rescue Mission has since saved more than 700 animals, garnering national attention, and a legion of volunteers willing to help get service dogs permanent homes.
“You would do anything for it,” said Darren Goodall of a soldier’s bond with a dog in the battlefield. “I’ve known guys when I was in the military who would sacrifice their last bottle of water for their dog.”
Toby’s handler said the dog has a knack for helping soldiers cope with their PTSD.
Goodall, a British military veteran and mission volunteer, was a handler with the nine dogs whose trip cost $8,000 each, began in Bahrain and took six weeks to plan.
Hebron Animal Hospital veterinarians also donated their services for the medical check ups the small pack needed to move on.
“Volunteer, it’s just part of what I do,” Fred Neal said of Tuesday’s endeavor.
He and Goodall said the last leg of the trip, the one where Toby and crew are delivered to their new homes, is an incredible pay off for them.
“When you see people get rescues dogs, their faces are like a young kid on Christmas opening their first present,” Goodall said. “It’s like oh my gosh!”
Lotto after arriving “home.”
For Cannan, rescuing the dogs is paying a debt owed.
“No owner should ever be faced with having to leave their battle buddy behind,” she said. “These dogs are soldiers too. It’s our way of saying thank you.”