Bashur, the Iraqi Dog

Bashur, the Iraqi Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Bashur, the Iraqi Dog

My son,Mike—MajorMike Fenzel of the 173rd Airborne Brigade—parachuted into northern Iraq on March 27, 2003. After two weeks on the ground, Mike and the three thousand others in his unit began their mission to capture the city of Kirkuk.

During the first hours of the mission, they made a brief stop to refuel by the side of the road. The unit’s intelligence officer noticed something moving in the grass. Looking closer, she saw it was a tiny puppy, no bigger than a dollar bill. The puppy was alone and in bad shape; the officer knew it would die if she left it there. So she scooped the pup into her arms and took it with her into Kirkuk.

When they finally reachedKirkuk, the puppywas brought to headquarters, washed off and fed. There was a vet on hand whose primary responsibility was to check food for the troops, and he gave the puppy a distemper shot. After that, they released the tiny dog on the airfield to roam with the hundreds of other wild dogs who lived on the base. Over the next few weeks, the little puppy made an impression on the soldiers living on the base, including Mike. The men in the unit made sure the little female pup—whom Mike had named Bashur after the airfield they had parachuted into—had enough food, giving her leftovers from the mess hall and from their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).

Bashur survived being hit by a Humvee in her first weeks on the airfield. After recovering from a badly bruised hip, Bashur grew strong and healthy. Although she had the run of the base, she mainly stuck around the headquarters building where she received food as well as lots of attention from the men going in and out on their round-the-clock missions.

Bashur stood out from the other dogs on the airfield. Not only was her coloring distinct and beautiful—she had a caramel-colored head with a well-defined white blaze and the soulful amber eyes of a hound—but she was determined to be with the soldiers. She bounded up happily to everyone who passed, tail wagging, eyes sparkling, ready for a game or a cuddle, a comforting sight after the stress of the soldiers’ missions. She was a one-dog welcoming committee and the soldiers loved her for it.

But an army camp is a busy and sometimes dangerous place, and one day a pickup truck speeding across the camp ran over Bashur’s paw, crushing it. By then, Mike had become very fond of Bashur, and when he heard she had been hit, he ran to find her.

After carrying her to his room, he brought in his medics to give her attention. Mike decided to keep Bashur with him while her paw healed and then possibly until they left Iraq, to prevent her from becoming another casualty. Soon Bashur recovered fully, and Mike began taking her to the battalion headquarters where he worked each day. There he tied her up outside so that she couldn’t run free and be hurt again. The men provided her with a special red collar with an “Airborne” patch on it to identify her as their mascot.

Over the next six months, though Bashur remained the unit’s mascot, Mike and Bashur developed a special bond. Mike told me that caring for Bashur kept his mind in a positive place. Every morning they jogged together and every evening they relaxed together. Mike marveled at the power of her companionship to lift his spirits.

Living with Bashur had other benefits as well. Once when I was on the phone with Mike, Bashur began to bark wildly. Mike said, “Must be incoming, Dad. Gotta go.” It turned out that Bashur could detect mortars and artillery rockets long before human ears could register the sound. When she would look up, startled, Mike knew another enemy artillery strike was on the way.

In February 2004, Mike realized he would be leaving Iraq soon. He knew he couldn’t leave Bashur behind, so when he called home he asked me if we would take Bashur if he could manage to get her to us. My wife and I knew what Bashur had come to mean to him and I told him we would.

At first, Mike thought he would be able to ship her through the country of Jordan with the help of an official at the Baghdad zoo. But nothing is certain in a country at war. First, Jordan stopped allowing dogs to transit through their country and then his contact at the zoo left, taking with her Bashur’s best chance of leaving Iraq.

Time was running out, but Mike kept trying. Finally, he found an international veterinary hospital in Kuwait that would be able to ship Bashur to the states. The next hurdle was getting her to Kuwait. As it happened, Mike was the executive officer of a battalion that was preparing to redeploy to Vicenza, Italy—through a port in Kuwait City. He would take Bashur with him when they left.

On the day that his battalion left Kirkuk for Kuwait with their 140 vehicles, Mike loaded Bashur in his Humvee, and they made the 600 mile journey to Kuwait City together. Bashur already had her required shots but had to spend a week in quarantine at the International Veterinary Hospital. Luckily, the hospital was located right next door to the port site, so Mike was able to visit her every day.

The last obstacle Mike faced was finding a crate large enough to ship Bashur home in—she had grown a lot since the day she had been found on the side of the road. There were none available in Kuwait City, so the veterinary hospital built an immense wooden box to meet airline requirements. The refrigerator-sized container had a steel grate in front so that Bashur could breathe and see out.

At last, Bashur, snug in her specially made crate, was loaded on to a KLM plane headed to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam, she would make the final leg of her journey to O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

At the appointed time, I drove to O’Hare to meet Bashur. The KLM freight employees needed a forklift to get the big wooden container onto the terminal floor. When the door was opened, there were probably nine men—including me—clustered around Bashur’s crate.

Bashur was cautious, not sure what to expect. She stuck her head out and looked both ways. When I said, “Bashur, how’s our baby?” she looked up quickly, recognizing her name.

I had heard she was a big dog, but I really wasn’t prepared for her size. When she started to walk out of the crate, one man in the group exclaimed, “My God, when is she going to stop coming out of that crate?” Bashur just kept coming until all forty inches of her emerged.

I dropped to one knee and took her collar. I immediately recognized the “Airborne” patch. Putting the side of my face to hers, I gave her a big hug and then attached her new leash.

We walked outside into the early March sunshine and crossed the parking lot to my waiting van. I had spread a thick blanket behind the front seat, and Bashur stretched out on it like the Queen of Sheba—but not for long! As soon as we began to move, she jumped into the passenger seat, plopped her rear end on the seat, front paws on the floor and chin on the dash, to take in the passing scenery. I shouldn’t have been surprised she was good in the car, as she’d had lots of experience in army vehicles for most of her life.

When we got to the house, Bashur jumped out and made a beeline for my wife, Muriel, who took one look at the big dog and immediately melted. Bashur can do that to you. She has a huge tail that is always wagging and eyes so full of love that no one can resist her.

Bashur was officially home.

Now each morning Bashur and I leave the house at six and head to my office—a car dealership northwest of Chicago. Everyone at work loves her. The floor of my office is strewn with her toys and chew bones. Being raised by a battalion of soldiers, she prefers men, and her favorite type of play is wrestling and roughhousing.

When the newspaper printed a story about her, she received countless baskets of goodies from well-wishers— so many that we began to donate them to the local animal shelter—and two women came to take pictures of Bashur to send to their sons overseas. Their sons, soldiers who had known Bashur in Iraq, wanted to make sure that she was okay.

At noon Bashur and I take our daily walk in the fields around the office. It is a special time for both of us. I love watching her bound joyfully along, gazing with fascination at birds or becoming enthralled by a smell her large hound nose has unearthed. She seems amazed by all the wonderful things in her new life.

Bashur has certainly found her way into my heart as she has done with so many others. Sometimes when she sleeps, she rolls over and sighs, content, and I am happy. We owe this dog, and we want her to have the best life we can give her. There is really no way to repay her for the comfort she brought our son and so many others like him. But we can try. . . .

John Fenzel, Jr.

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