SOLSBERRY – Katrinka Schroeder's 3-acre Greene County property is a far cry from where its newest resident was born.
The black-and-tan shepherd mix was the only survivor in a litter of four puppies born near a military camp in Lebanon last summer. The soldier who found her — Schroeder's son — built the dog a shelter out of old tires and started feeding her scraps from his own rations. When the puppy broke her leg, the soldier nursed her back to health.
The dirty, muddy dog always followed close behind his heels, so he started calling her Pig Pen, after the "Peanuts" cartoon character constantly trailed by a cloud of dust.
Schroeder raised her children around rescue dogs, so she said it made sense that her son, who is currently stationed in Lebanon, would become attached to Pig Pen.
"Pig Pen is a very special dog to me," Schroeder's son wrote in his application to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International's Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program. "Since a puppy, she has defied the odds and overcame so much. She lives in a compound where everyone besides us either doesn't care about her or wants her dead, and she is still the happiest, sweetest dog."
It's a situation many veterans find themselves in while away from friends and family and stationed in active war zones, said SPCA International spokeswoman Stephanie Scott. The Operation Baghdad Pups program, now in its 10th year, rescues the dogs and cats veterans grow to love while abroad and pays to bring them to the United States.
Operation Baghdad Pups has rescued nearly 800 dogs and cats — most from the Middle East, where animal overpopulation is a major issue, Scott said.
"(The soldiers) form such a close bond, they can't bear the idea that they won't know what happened to the dog or cat when they return home," he said. "They are ready to do whatever it takes to get them home."
In Pig Pen's case, that included working with Lebanese nongovernmental organization Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to quarantine Pig Pen for several weeks, ensuring she was not carrying any infectious diseases; coordinating SPCA International staff to fly to the Middle East and transport Pig Pen to France, where she was spayed and received all proper vaccinations; and then flying her to her new home in the United States.
Although it only took about a month and a half to get Pig Pen out of Lebanon, Scott estimates some animals need closer to four or five months to complete all the necessary paperwork and medical treatment to be admitted into the U.S. Pig Pen's transport cost roughly $2,500, but it can cost as much as $5,000 to bring an animal from a war zone to live with a soldier after their tour of duty.
"It's a monumental task," Scott said.
Schroeder picked up Pig Pen at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport last month and brought her home to Solsberry. Despite the dog's difficult start in life, local veterinarian Dr. Jhondra Funk said, Pig Pen appears to be a perfectly healthy 38-pound mutt.
Funk examined Pig Pen as part of her volunteer work with the Monroe County Humane Association. Clients such as Schroeder, who pay full price for veterinary care through the MCHA, help the nonprofit offer free and reduced-price services to low-income pet owners.
"This area she came from, we worry about some infectious diseases including rabies, as well as parasites, as well as a disease called leishmaniasis," Funk said. "In general, she was in really good shape ... very laid back, very mellow."
Now, Pig Pen has plenty of land to roam and a new family of four other rescue dogs, three cats and a pygmy goat.
"It's a zoo," Schroeder said with a laugh as Pig Pen snoozed on a rug under the kitchen sink. "She's just delighted here. She's just turned into the most loving dog ever."
Schroeder will hold on to Pig Pen until her son comes home later this year, and said she will be happy to take care of the dog if her son is ever deployed again. Schroeder can't speak frequently with her son, and they mostly have to communicate using text messaging apps. For her son's safety overseas, Schroeder did not want to share his full name.
"Connecting with her is like connecting with him in some ways," Schroeder said of the pup. "It's wonderful to have a little piece of him."