A Soldier’s Gift

Sweet memories for a family whose son can never return.

Peter Neesley

The family of Peter Neesley had one wish to fulfill after the Army sergeant died in Baghdad on Christmas Day.

They yearned to retrieve two stray dogs that he had taken in, and cared for. He was attached to them, and expressed in e-mails and phone calls how he wanted to bring them home to Michigan.

For weeks, the family has fought to have at least that part of Peter’s life given back to them.

On Friday afternoon, their wish came true.

As Mama, a black Labrador mix, and Boris, her white-and-brown spotted puppy, hopped out of a minivan, the family ran and knelt in the wet streets to greet them.

Peter Neesley’s sister, Carey, cried.

“It’s been such a long, complicated struggle and to see them finally come home is just amazing,” she said.

Neesley said things hadn’t been normal since the family learned that her 28-year-old brother had died in his sleep.

The dogs were picked up in Baghdad this week by Rich Crook, a rapid response manager for the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, which helped arrange the animals’ transport after learning about them from media reports. Gryphon Holdings LLC, an American-owned airline with service to Iraq, agreed to fly the dogs from Baghdad to Kuwait City.

While Neesley’s fellow soldiers cared for Mama and Boris, a veterinarian with the Iraqi Society for Animals vaccinated the dogs and arranged for the health certificates allowing them to travel to the United States. Crook and the dogs arrived in Washington D.C. on Thursday and drove to the Grosse Pointe Farms home of Neesley’s mother, capping a four-week transfer that involved elected officials.

Much of the family, including an aunt of Peter’s who flew in from New Jersey, gathered at the home. A banner welcoming Mama and Boris hung outside of the brick house with red, white and blue balloons tied to a banister.

“There were times when we would have a roadblock and then all of a sudden it would open up, so we knew we were on the right track,” Crook said.

Carey’s son, Patrick, looked at Peter as a father figure and was excited about having the dogs home. Later in the afternoon, one of his best friends called to see if he could come over and play with Patrick and the dogs.

“Patrick, when we started this a few weeks ago, said he just wanted to love them and hold them and take care of them and all of that,” said Peter’s aunt, Julie Dean. “It’s going to be tremendous comfort for the family.”

Carey says the family doesn’t have any major plans for the new pets.

“We’re just going to love them, work on housebreaking, and that kind of stuff,” she said. She’s still waiting for it all to sink in.

Mama and Boris in Michigan
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One response to “A Soldier’s Gift

  1. What a wonderful story, and what a man among men was Peter Neesley!

    It grieves me that Sgt. Neesley will not be present in the flesh to see that the creatures that he so obviously cared so much for will have a chance for life as the loved beings that they deserve to be, but I am sure his spirit rejoices to know that his family shares his commitment to bringing them to a home where they will be loved and cherished.

    Peter Neesley will forevermore be in my prayers, as will his family and Mama and Boris.

    My heartfelt thanks to the entire Neesley family; we can never repay you for the sacrifice you have had thrust upon you.

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