Pet from Iraq adjusting to luxurious life in the U.S.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

FRED LYNCH * flynch@semissourian.com

Lucas Green of Crump, Mo. sat with his Iraqi dog, Bunker, at a family gathering Saturday. Green, a member of the Missouri National Guard, brought Bunker to Missouri from Iraq. By Kathryn Alfisi ~ Southeast Missourian

Bunker does not know what to make of her food, is scared by objects like cameras, baby carriages and milk jugs, and is weary of children.

Which is understandable considering that Bunker, a large mixed-breed dog, has lived most of her young life in Iraq among the Missouri National Guard's B Company of the 203rd Engineer Battalion.

For the past few weeks, though, she has been living a life of luxury with one of those National Guard members, Lucas Green of Crump and his family. In a few weeks, Green and Bunker will travel to Columbia, Mo., where Green will be a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"She knows she's living the high life, you can tell just by looking at her," Green said.

Green returned from Iraq on July 15, but his dog beat him by several days and was picked up by Green's parents at the airport in St. Louis.

Getting to that point, though, was anything but easy.

The two companions met each other early on in Green's deployment in Iraq.

After arriving in Baghdad on May 23, 2003, Green and the rest of his company were assigned to work on restoring Baghdad International Airport, which had been damaged in the fighting between Iraqi and American troops in April.

Green and two others were working on leveling the bunkers that had been built during the fighting when they found a mother dog and four puppies living in one of the bunkers.

Home at the airport

When the three men returned to check on the dogs the next day, one puppy came out of the bunker and sat beside them. That was the moment Bunker sealed her fate.

"We just looked at each other and said, 'Let's take her home,'" Green said.

Home meant the airport, a place Bunker was not really supposed to be.

Green said he and the other company members were told all the time they were not supposed to have a dog, but that there were more people who wanted her there than did not.

Bunker followed the company everywhere they went. She slept in their tents, ate their food (accounting for her disdain of dog food) and traveled with them.

"She viewed us like her pack," Green said.

The three men who found Bunker started thinking about bringing her to the United States. Green, it was decided, would be in the best position to take care of a dog once they returned home.

The first organization contacted about bringing Bunker to the United States was so overloaded with requests that Green was passed onto Military Mascots, a volunteer organization that helps servicemen and women bring cats and dogs from Iraq to the United States.

The organization's Web site, www.adoptpaws.org/mascots, is full of stories of soldiers and their Iraqi pets.

Bringing Bunker to the United States was neither cheap nor easy. The process took about a year and cost about $1,000, paid by Green, other members of the company and some of Green's friends and family.

A lot of paperwork had to be filled out in order to comply with U.S. Customs regulations. Bunker had to be dropped off at a veterinarian hospital in Kuwait to receive rabies vaccinations and could not leave that country until 30 days after the vaccinations were given.

'Looked absolutely pitiful'

From Kuwait, Bunker traveled to Chicago. A volunteer from Military Mascots picked her up in Chicago and got her onto a flight to St. Louis.

"When my parents got her, they said she looked absolutely pitiful," Green said.

His mother, Dorothy Green, said Bunker was emaciated, exhausted and stressed when she arrived in the United States. So they bought her an ice cream on the way back to Crump.

"I've been hearing about this dog since last August," she said. "We've been waiting for Bunker for a long time."

Although she is happy in her new home, Bunker is still adjusting to life in America and the new objects she comes across. While she was afraid of fans in Iraq, Bunker now has a new enemy -- the ceiling fan. She is also uncomfortable around children because she is not accustomed to being around them.

"When she first got here, everything was so foreign to her. It was really interesting to watch her," Dorothy Green said.

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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