By Lori Kalef, Program Manager
Thanks to the incredible support of the SPCA International community, we have just successfully rescued 14 dogs and 2 cats from the Middle East! These animals befriended U.S. service men and women who were on deployment in Iraq and Syria. Without your financial support and SPCAI’s rescue efforts, all 16 would have suffered and died.
I have managed more than 100 rescue missions from the Middle East, and even though things went smoothly this time, the operation was complicated and urgent. When news broke about a potential drawdown of U.S. troops in Syria, we experienced a significant increase in requests from soldiers anxious about the prospect of their pets being left behind.
Even more challenging, most of these soldiers were already keeping their pets hidden on base and several had received strict, urgent orders to remove the animals. If they didn’t act quickly, they were told their beloved pets would be removed or destroyed for them.
This meant many late-night phone calls for our North America team and tricky pick ups for our team in the Middle East. Leading up to this rescue, our team was literally working seven days a week, day and night - I am so proud of them for responding quickly and compassionately whenever they were needed.
Bringing dogs and cats into our care isn’t easy. We are prohibited from entering military bases, and can’t even wait at the gate, so when a soldier calls to let us know about a drop off point and time, we have to be ready. In many cases we have only a few hours of notice before venturing into potentially dangerous locations where soldiers emotionally hand their buddies over to our team. This is a very volatile part of the world, and every single person involved takes a risk to rescue these animals.
Soldiers put an incredible amount of trust in our team. From the drivers, kennel attendants, veterinarians, and coordinators in the Middle East who are preparing pets for travel and wading through red tape to our North America team coordinating the logistics of flights, import permits, and so much more, these rescues are intense. There are so many tiny moving logistics that if one thing goes wrong the entire mission can fail.
Animals are not allowed to fly alone, and each person can only accompany two or three animals on each flight, so for this rescue seven staff and volunteers stepped up to several days of travel and plenty of jet lag to bring these pets home.
Once in the United States, a new team takes over to coordinate domestic travel, but even that isn’t always a smooth process. Freezing temperatures (or heat in the summer) means animals are often restricted from flying until temperatures moderate. From start to finish, up to 15 people work to rescue each animal. It truly takes an entire team of people holding hands across the world from start to finish to get these pets home.
Of course, soldiers wouldn’t be rescuing dogs and cats if there wasn’t such a huge problem of stray animals in Iraq and Syria. I’m excited to share that local attitudes toward dogs and cats are improving. A new nonprofit is building the first ever animal shelter in Kurdistan, and we have been invited to carry out a trap, vaccinate, neuter and release (TVNR) event in the area in the coming months. These two initiatives will curb the stray population, while keeping dogs and cats healthy.
Updates on some of the pets we recently rescued for U.S. troops:
Freya – (You might remember this beautiful girl from our emergency alert in December.) Sergeant Kerri rescued Freya when she wandered onto the base in Syria, emaciated, filthy, and frightened. Thanks to SPCAI supporters, we were able to get Freya to safety just in the nick of time. Now, home in North Carolina with Sgt. Kerry, Freya is thriving!
Ripit – Tiny Ripit was adopted by a Navy SEAL team and kept safe in their compound, he had no idea how to survive on his own. Luckily, one SEAL loved Ripit so much he asked SPCAI to get him home to South Carolina where they will live together in comfort and safety.
Tika –Tika was poisoned and beaten by local shopkeepers near the Baghdad Airport because they considered her a nuisance. She would have died if not for the American hero who rescued her – Jacob is a paramedic and security team leader for the U.S. State Department. Jacob took Tika in and carefully nursed back to health. Today Tika is in her forever home in Colorado with Jacob’s family.
Frea – This darling girl was befriended by a U.S. Marine Sergeant in Iraq and they reunited in San Diego just a few weeks ago. But don’t take our word for it – Frea’s arrival was covered by the local news. See for yourself – watch the video!