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On a mission to save Fatoon
KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- Capt. Kirsten Ellis, 521st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron T1 instructor pilot, visits with Fatoon April 5. The dog and her seven pups were found on the flight line area of the base. Captain Ellis has liaised with Operation Baghdad Pups in an effort to save them from certain destruction. Captain Ellis is deployed from Laughlin and is a native of Atlanta, Ga. (Courtesy photo)
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Commentary -- On a mission to save Fatoon

Posted 4/13/2011   Updated 4/13/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Capt. Kirsten Ellis
521st Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron


4/13/2011 - KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq  -- Tomorrow marks day 90 of my 179-day deployment to Iraq. I'm deployed here as an air advisor to the Iraqi air force. To simplify things, my squadron is here to teach the IqAF how to run a pilot training program. Whereas most of the training program was previously contracted out, they are now finding they have to do all of this on their own. In the short 90 days I've been here, they've had to begin learning how to schedule, run and teach simulators, teach academics, teach pilot instructor training and build an operations supervisor program. Although it's very slow going and tremendously frustrating at times, it's also been extremely rewarding to mentor, assist and teach another country's air force how to build an entire pilot training program.

It's easy to fall into a rut here with very little to do during off-duty hours, so we try to keep ourselves entertained as best we can. About two months ago, the weapons guys in my squadron told me the Iraqi flight line fire department was feeding a stray dog - they named her Fatoon - who recently gave birth to seven puppies. Knowing I'm a sucker for an animal in need, they drove me over to the Iraqi fire department to meet her. The Iraqis are known for their hospitality and their lengthy introductions, so after about 30 minutes of "hello" and "how are you?" in Arabic and two cups of Chai (tea), I finally went to meet Fatoon and her pups.

They were living less than 100 yards from the runway. Iraq has the same animal overpopulation problem we have in the U.S. Unlike in America though, Iraqis rarely keep dogs as pets and have very little options for stray dogs. There isn't an abundance of animal shelters or low cost spay/neuter clinics like we have in the States, either. So when someone reports a stray animal on the airfield, airfield management has to deal with it. All this ran through my mind as I looked at this sweet mom and her seven puppies. I then made it my mission to find a way to save these dogs.

I found a group online that is a division of the SPCA International called Operation Baghdad Pups. They help servicemembers who have befriended animals in the area of operations to get them back to the U.S. It's an extremely lengthy and expensive process, and I wasn't sure they would even help us. I was wrong.

Yesterday they sent a security team from Irbil, Iraq, to pick them up and start their long journey back to the U.S. and into a much better, cleaner and safer life. We didn't exactly meet all the requirements for the rescue because we still haven't found homes for all of the dogs, nor have we raised enough money, but we're working on it. I am happy to report we found a great home for the mom though! No, not my house - but close; my neighbors in Atlanta.

As the three up-armored Suburbans drove away with the eight dogs yesterday, I breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing we just saved eight little lives.

I understand criticism from people who ask why we would bring more animals to the U.S. when we already have an overpopulation problem, and my answer is quite simple - because we had to.

I have three rescue dogs at home I adopted from a shelter in Texas. However, had I not adopted them, chances are someone else would have. In this case, here in Iraq, those eight dogs didn't have a second chance; we were their only option for survival. The fact is sad but true. It wasn't a matter of "if" but "when" their luck would run out, and they'd be shot.

We're still trying to raise the required funds to bring these guys home. We're close but not there yet, though I am hopeful.

If you'd like to learn more about Operation Baghdad Pups and what a great organization they are, check out the Operation Baghdad Pups Web site.



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