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Coming Home With the Dogs of War
October 9, 2011  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments

Not a lot of good news comes out of war, and sometimes you have to be lucky to find it. Here's some -- a small, one-hour documentary that plays infrequently on Military Channel, where most will not see it. And it next airs at 9 in the morning, when, again, most will not see it.

But a great story is a great story. So set your DVRs for Tuesday (Oct. 11) at 9 a.m. ET for an astonishing story of loyalty, steadfast determination and, most of all, love. You won't be disappointed.

No Dog Left Behind is a modest and sincerely crafted one-hour film by producer Ellen Goosenberg Kent, recounting how two Marines adopted stray dogs while on base in Iraq. Remarkably, they got them home to the States when their tour was completed, despite enormous logistical obstacles and the small fortunes required to complete the trip.


Premiered in late 2009, No Dog gets its title from the soldier's creed to never leave a fallen soldier behind. And it's fitting of the heroism involved in being loyal to an animal who will surely be doomed to a life of misery without your care.

And doing so when it's against the rules. And, in the meantime, you're being shot at on a daily basis.

Marine Maj. Brian Dennis and his unit found Nubs as a young dog, and found him so full of character, they knew right away there was something special about him. He was also mangy, dirty and sick like the tens of thousands other strays roaming Iraq. There is no spay and neuter program there.

To be clear, culturally, stray dogs to Iraqis are usually not what they are to Americans. They are generally the unintended, uncared for offspring of working dogs, mostly on farms, and have just enough contact with humans that they live wild, although near settlements and towns where they can scavenge.

Dennis says, "Iraq's the wrong place to go if you're a dog lover . . . you see a hundred dogs a day that you want to save."


Nubs [with Maj. Dennis at right] got his name from the outfit because of the way he looked. His ears had been cut off when he was a puppy, and there were just nubs of ears left. He became a treasured mascot, and would greet the soldiers each time he heard their armored vehicles pull in from patrol.

Nubs's full story shouldn't be given away here, but his bond to his soldiers and his ensuing ordeals are something you have to witness to feel the full power of a dog's love and loyalty for his human companions. It's a story full of sorrow -- and surprising joy.

A unit having a pet of any kind is against regulations, and when it became clear that Nubs was likely to be confiscated and euthanized, that was it for Dennis. "I wanted to get this guy home," Dennis says in the documentary. "In a million different ways, on a hundred different days, a moment with the dog could change someone's day . . . Sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission."

He collected donations and found a way (outside the military) to get Nubs transported to his home in California.

Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman fought in the battle of Fallujah, which he describes in the documentary as a "combination nuclear holocaust and zombie movie, with people coming out of buildings and windows trying to kill you."


During his time there as a liaison to the Iraqi army, a dirty puppy was in the abandoned house they were using as headquarters. Back in camp, his unit adopted the 5-month old, now named Lava, who in turn, decided to adopt Lt. Col. Kopelman as his closest friend. [Photo at right.]

Kopelman says in the documentary, "As a Marine you're trained to kill the enemy. It's brutal, it's violent, and makes you wake up in the middle of the night sweating. Lava provided a sense of normalcy and decency at the end of the day. He allowed us to reach down and find our humanity."

Kopelman got Lava home with him at the end of his tour, as did Staff Sergeant Bryan Spears (USMC) with his dog Moody.

Spears says Moody was "spunky and a smart aleck" and stood out. He became a star of the unit, and one day, he disappeared. The soldiers thought he was removed by military contractors to be euthanized, or had taken off.

Shortly after, five soldiers in Spears' unit were killed by a suicide bomber while out on patrol. Moody returned to base that night.

For the devastated young soldiers who had never seen death up close, Moody became a friend they could get close to, and let out their emotions with. "A dog knows when you're hurting," says Staff Sgt. Spears. "We weren't helping the dog. The dog came back to help us."


Spears' mother, Jane Miller, was worried about the psychological effects of the bombing on her son, and asked him if he could, would he want the dog to come home with him? He replied, "Mom, if I only could."

Enter Terri Crisp (right), an animal rescue veteran of Hurricane Katrina and many other disasters, based with the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International (SPCAI). Jane Miller called her for help.

"I knew from the beginning that we were breaking the rules," says Crisp. "But if the men and women who befriended these animals were willing to take that risk, I was willing to do it, too." She arranged for private security contractors and private charter flights to get her into Iraq to escort the dogs safely out.

Since then, Crisp's operation, now officially known as Operation Baghdad Pups, has rescued over 350 dogs and cats and brought them home to the U.S.

Oh, and one donkey, now living in Omaha as a therapy animal.


I spoke with Crisp earlier this month by telephone on the eve of her 20-city book for No Buddy Left Behind, telling such stories of her rescue work. The donkey, it seems, had such character and was so social, one soldier could not bear to leave him behind.

Crisp, as a civilian was and still is taking enormous risks in going to Iraq. There's not only the risk of gun and mortar fire at any time, there is also the very present danger of kidnapping westerners and journalists.

And there are the military regulations to deal with. She told me, "It is clear that the military has allowed us to operate. If they wanted to stop us, they could. We do send security teams they work with into Iraq to get these animals . . . They are allowed onto base at forward outposts and get the dog loaded up into a crate and drive it to Baghdad airport.

"It's a way to have some dialogue with the military about regulations that forbid you to befriend dogs, or care for animals while you're serving. Hopefully we can come up with some kind of compromise, because I think that we've proven the benefits of this."

It's clear that the dogs adopted in Iraq not only helped the soldiers there, but are instrumental to them after coming home. I spoke with Stephanie Scott of SPCAI, who said that no trooper wants to openly admit he or she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. "We do hear from a lot of mothers who say their sons are affected, and this dog is the only thing that gets them up in the morning."

Crisp says, "The number of men and women coming back with PTSD -- the increase in suicides -- so many of these people turn to alcohol or drugs, because they want to feel better. And these dogs do an incredible job of easing that pain. They're hurting and they need something to make them feel better instead of drugs and alcohol."


Rescued Baghdad dogs are different, she says -- they've been through so much that they have a reserve and nobility that other dogs don't have. She's adopted one herself, a female named Victory [photo at right]. "She is so incredibly smart, and that's what I see with all these dogs," who have to be smart to survive.

No Dog Left Behind is not currently available on DVD, so that 9 a.m. ET airing on Military Channel is how to watch this gem. It's a shred of hope and success that's come out of Iraq, and welcome, heartwarming news.

There really is no such thing as a stray dog. Humans have domesticated them to work and provide us companionship. However they come into this world, with purpose or by accident, they're our responsibility.

The Baghdad Pups got lucky. They made it halfway around the world to live out the most normal of lives, in comfort and security, alongside their human friends.


See Lt. Col. Kopelman with Lava here:

And Maj. Dennis with Nubs on NBC's Today here:

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Apr 27, 2022   |  Reply
God bless you for saving nubs what breed Is he ?
Mar 26, 2013   |  Reply
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