When Rocket was reunited with Army Spc. Alexis Cross earlier this week, just in time for Christmas, the 9-month-old puppy from Syria was giddy with excitement.
“I think he remembered me,” said Cross, who adopted Rocket while deployed this summer.
Cross, a Colorado Springs resident, bonded with Rocket pretty much immediately and she had him sleep with her the first night of her arrival in Syria. Rocket, who was smaller at the time, typically snoozed on her chest or her pillow.
“He has a very spunky, goofy attitude and so do I and … I think our personalities clicked,” she said.
When Cross would yell “Rocket man” to call him from the Syrian market, he would come barreling up to her and shoot between her legs, she recalled.
Rocket arrived with Missy, his half sister, who was adopted by another soldier deployed to Syria, Ryan Salmons earlier this week. The two arrived just in time for Christmas after spending several months at a kennel in Iraq run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International. Cross decided to work with the nonprofit to bring Rocket back because it provides more certainty around the timing of a dog’s return than another similar nonprofit she considered.
Previously, soldiers based in the same place had tried to get Rocket back to the U.S., Cross said, but it hadn’t worked out. This time, both dogs were authorized by an officer to fly out of Syria in August to Iraq with Cross and Salmons on a Chinook helicopter.
SPCA International doesn’t work in Syria because of the safety concerns, said Lori Kalef, director of programs for SPCA International. So if a service member wants to bring a dog or cat home from Syria, the animal needs a ride out on a military truck or aircraft.
Once in Iraq, Rocket and Missy stayed in a kennel with air conditioning, regular exercise and opportunities to play. Cross got photos and videos of her dog regularly while she waited four months for his arrival.
In Iraq, SPCA International has a longstanding presence because that’s where its work to reunite dogs and cats with service members started, Kalef said.
In 2008, a soldier wanted to bring home a dog named Charlie that had been a major morale booster and so he contacted the SCPA and the staff there figured out a way to make it happen. That first effort grew into SPCA International’s Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide it has reunited about 1,250 dogs and cats with U.S. military members and U.S. , Kalef said.
The requests for help to bring animals home run in cycles, but right now the highest number of requests are coming from Syria and Iraq. In the last month, Kalef said, the nonprofit has seen “many many more requests than we are used to.” The cost to bring a dog home can range between $4,500 to $9,000, including abiding by federal rules around vaccinations and quarantine, she said.
Dog owners are asked to contribute $700 to help cover costs. So the program relies heavily on donors who believe in the positive ripple effect of the program.
“There have been times in the program where these dogs and cats have literally saved these humans,” Kalef said.
The requests are split roughly 60% to 40% between dogs coming to the U.S. and cats coming here, Kalef said. Cats are a lot simpler for the nonprofit because they are smaller and bringing them into the U.S. is less regulated.
Those who can’t afford to donate can help spread the word about SPCA International’s services because Kalef said she has met service members who didn’t know there were options to bring pets home until years later and are still devastated by their loss.
As for Rocket, he is settling into his new home with a new sister, a heeler, a ton of new toys, and a token reminder of Syria.
Cross was sitting with a blanket she had in Syria on her lap in the last few days when Rocket took it from her and arranged it for himself before laying on it.
“It’s safe to say, he remembered his blanket,” Cross said.
(c) 2022 The Gazette
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.