Update: October 21, 2008:
Ratchet arrived in the US today, decked out in a stars n’ stripes bandana!
Update: October 20, 2008:
One lucky Iraqi dog is flying to a new home in the US after winning a battle against army regulations!
The animal rescue group Operation Baghdad Pups flew into Baghdad on the weekend and picked up Ratchet after the army relented. On Sunday, a private security firm collected Ratchet from the small base, put him into a pet carrier and transported him to the airport on Baghdad’s western outskirts. Baghdad Pups coordinator Terri Crisp then took custody and boarded him on the charter flight that took off Sunday night for Kuwait. He’s due in Minnesota later this week.
It was the third try by Operation Baghdad Pups to get Ratchet out of the country on behalf of Sgt. Gwen Beberg, who says she couldn’t have made it through her 13-month deployment without the affectionate mutt.
Beberg has been transferred to another military base to prepare for her departure from Iraq next month.
Young Ratchet was in danger of facing the death-penalty from U.S. Army officials.
Over 65,000 people signed an online petition urging the Army to let an Iraqi puppy come home with a Minnesota soldier, who feared that “Ratchet” could be killed if left behind.
“I just want my puppy home,” Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis wrote to her mother in an e-mail on Sunday from Iraq, soon after she was separated from the dog following a transfer. “I miss my dog horribly.” Beberg, 28, is scheduled to return to the U.S. next month. Beberg, a decorated soldier, has been held by the military more than 15 months past her original commitment due to the stop-loss policy. During her tour in Iraq, she sent regular dispatches to her home in Minneapolis charting the puppy’s process, with hundreds of fans tuning in on Facebook to follow Ratchet’s life.
Ratchet’s defenders ratcheted up their efforts to save him. On Monday, the program coordinator for Operation Baghdad Pups, which is run by Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International, left for a trip to the Middle East to try to get the puppy to the U.S. And last week, Beberg’s congressman, Democrat Keith Ellison, wrote to the Army urging it to review the case. Operation Baghdad Pups, which has the motto ‘No buddy gets left behind’, is pleading with the U.S. Army to allow Ratchet to fly out of the country – amid fears the dog will die if left behind.
Beberg and another soldier rescued the puppy from a burning pile of trash back in May. Defense Department rules prohibit soldiers in the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq, from adopting pets, but has made exceptions. Operation Baghdad Pups says it has gotten 50 dogs and six cats transferred to the U.S. in the last eight months.
But the U.S. military takes a strict line with soldiers befriending animals, and confiscated Ratchet as Sgt. Beberg prepared to fly home from Baghdad Airport. Bringing wartime pets back home has always been a haphazard affair. It’s also against U.S. military rules.
Sgt. Beberg’s mother Patricia said: ‘This year has been extremely difficult on my daughter and her family. It has been a year of disappointments, loneliness, and fear because of all the sacrifices the army has required of Gwen.
Ratchet was the savior of her sanity. Now they have cruelly ripped Ratchet away from her and sentenced him to death. I don’t know how my daughter will cope. Ratchet has been her lifeline.”
Sgt. Beberg is also under military investigation for befriending the dog that saved her life.
A close friend of Sgt Beberg said: “It hasn’t been easy for her – and the puppy she saved has been one of the few things that has kept her going. She’s shared pictures of him as he grew from a frightened ball of fur to an adorable young dog.”
Ratchet served America by protecting his troops as a loud alarm system for nighttime movements and by providing urgently needed morale to lonely troops (not just me!). If a citizen of, let’s say Mexico for example, enlists in the U.S. Army and serves honorably, he or she gets fasttracked for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. Several people here from multiple nations have already taken advantage of this policy and become American citizens. Well, Ratchet didn’t enlist, but he served honorably, and I think that should entitle him to a chance to continue that service in the States.
My plan for Ratchet is simple: take him home, train him as a service dog, and love him until his last day. Ratchet would be a valuable asset for troops back home. Who better to tell your troubles to than a dog who has been there, who won’t judge you, and who will love you unconditionally no matter what you had to do to survive? Even Army mental health workers in Iraq are incorporating dogs into their therapies, with great success! Ratchet is first-line defense against PTSD and suicide. He has made me think twice about some seriously self-damaging actions several times. He really has helped me to survive.
“Soldiers can face immediate court-marshal for befriending animals and some even see their animals brutally murdered by a direct gunshot to the head from commanding officers who will not bend the rules.”
“It was so close… Ratchet was on his way to the airport. And now he might be killed, just because some power-hungry officers decided to flex their muscles and punish an innocent animal because Gwen dared to care about him.”
One soldier wrote to Baghdad Pups: ‘I have sacrificed a lot to serve my country. All that I ask in return is to be allowed to bring home the incredible dog that wandered into my life here in Iraq and prevented me from becoming terribly callous towards life.’
Friends have launched a campaign to get American senators to intervene.
Full story at the Chicago Tribune.
In Gwen Beberg’s own words.
Update on Facebook
More about Operation Baghdad Pups.