Marine works to bring Iraqi donkey home

By James K. Sanborn - Staff writer

Posted : Wednesday Jan 12, 2011 5:27:33 EST 

A former Marine colonel is fighting to bring a little four-legged piece of Iraq home. John Folsom, who served as Camp Taqaddum's commandant in 2008, hopes to bring "Smoke" the donkey home to Nebraska to work with the children of veteran's who are struggling to cope with their parent's military service. Folsom and Smoke first met when a Marine under Folsom's command decided to catch one of the many donkeys wandering the base outside of Fallujah. "I came out one Sunday morning and found this donkey tied up outside my hooch," said Folsom, who was serving with 1st Marine Logistics Group. 

The Marines immediately took a liking to the beast of burden. They tended to wounds on his legs, fed him and even dubbed him the group's mascot. He got his name for his grey color and tendency to snatch up cigarettes — lit or not. Although regulations ban keeping pets in the war zone, a Navy lieutenant helped designate Smoke a therapy animal and the donkey was cleared to stay, Folsom said. Soon enough, Smoke was receiving care packages of his own from the U.S. that included donkey treats and blankets. 

But when the 1st MLG pulled out of Taqaddum, it had to abandon Smoke. Left in the care of an Army major, the donkey was handed off to a local sheik. Folsom, head of Wounded Warriors Family Support, a nonprofit organization, has been fighting since October to bring Smoke back to the U.S. where he will work with the families of wounded warriors. Folsom was eventually able to track down the Iraqi sheik, who said he had given the donkey to a family near Fallujah. Recognizing the sentimental value of Smoke, he demanded an outrageous price — $30,000. Folsom called the bluff. "We heard that and said, 'As long as you are taking care of the donkey, that's fine with us.' They let up once they realized that wasn't going to happen," Folsom said. The sheik offered to turn the donkey over free of charge after he learned that it might make him look good in the eyes of U.S. forces still in Iraq. 

Now the challenge is to get the donkey shipped to the U.S. Folsom is working through the "Operation Baghdad Pups" program, run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International. Since 2008, the program has transported more than 250 dogs and cats back to the U.S. But dogs and cats can be brought home on commercial flights. Smoke will require a special cargo flight. An SPCA spokeswoman said she did not know the cost to ship Smoke but that her organization was footing the bill. As of press time, Folsom had heard that Smoke was being corralled by the sheik and would likely be en route to an airbase in Arbil, Iraq, by Dec. 30. Folsom remained skeptical. "I've given up on a timeline … I've heard that three or four times," he said.

To donate to Smoke's rescue click here.

To view the original article in Marine Corps Times click here.

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