Dogs of War: Oso’s Story

The life of Afghan and Iraqi animals is not one of comfort under the best of circumstances; most days are spent hunting for scraps of food or hiding from the hot desert sun.

One day while on patrol in Afghanistan, soldiers in Sgt. Phil Bourrillion’s unit of the 5th Strkyer Brigade, thought they saw movement in a smoldering garbage pit nearby. When they investigated, the soldiers found a very tiny puppy with her eyes barely opened.

This puppy, soon to be named “Oso,” became more than a companion to Phil’s unit. As she grew she became a constant source of joy, amusement and comfort. For Phil and the others Oso’s was a welcome face of normalcy waiting at the end of grueling, dangerous days. As Pvt. LaForge, who was with Phil’s unit said: “She means a lot. She was a big boost of morale.” But when the time came for Phil’s unit to be moved to another location, he was told that he would have to leave his dog, his best buddy, behind.

This promised a very short, grim future for Oso. In Afghanistan dogs are considered unclean by the Taliban. Locals may receive beatings just for touching dogs. Any value the dogs may have is only to provide entertainment in the form of dog fighting. Dogs seized for this purpose have their ears and tails cruelly cut off. When pregnant females deliver, the largest puppy is designated for fighting while the rest may be killed or left to starve.

Phil was devastated. He told his wife Lena, here in the Northwest, that he feared he would have to shoot Oso. It seemed the only humane option. She had meant so much to him and his men—he couldn’t bear leaving her behind to such a miserable fate.

Lena was determined  not to let this happen. Through a focused and extremely difficult effort she discovered Nowzad Dogs, a United Kingdom nonprofit charity founded by Pen Farthing, a British Royal Marine who had come face to face with this tragic situation while he was based in Afghanistan. With the help of Nowzad, donations from respondents on Facebook and the charity, Animal Rescue Families of Bremerton, Lena was able to raise the $3,500 needed to arrange Oso’s transfer to Seattle.

Still, when Phil said good-by to Oso in Afghanistan he never knew if she’d make it to Lena. With little time to spare, unit members coordinated with a local driver to sneak Oso through enemy lines to the only Afghan animal charity in the country. There she waited for two months until vaccines became available and she was old enough (five months) to travel. She was then flown to Turkey and began a 55 hour transport of over 9,000 miles to come to the United States.

On June 21st of this year Phil’s unit came home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. After being apart for nearly seven months, Oso and Phil were finally reunited. Phil said, “I think she remembers me!” She definitely did.

Article from Soldiers’ Animal Companions Fund (SAC). If you would like to donate to SAC, please go to sacfund.com. Money raised through this fund will go directly to the Nowzad Dogs Charity. Photos by Bev Sparks.

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