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Bringing Iraqi dog home no easy trick

Red tape might keep a Fulton soldier from his newest friend.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Correction: This story, published on page 1A Wednesday, listed an incorrect agency contacted about importing a puppy adopted in Iraq. The agency is the National Center for Import and Export within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Web site is http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ncie/

Army Pfc. Jeremiah Smith had just finished his shift guarding a gate to a U.S. military compound in Baghdad when he saw a starving, lost and homeless Iraqi refugee. Smith’s humanitarianism kicked in, and he took the refugee back to camp, where she was fed a steady diet of Spam, Vienna sausages and other leftovers.

Now, Smith, a National Guard reservist from Fulton, wants to bring the refugee — a black-and-white puppy — back to the United States. In an e-mail from Baghdad to the Missourian, Smith said that his unit is scheduled to leave Iraq in early June and that he hates the thought of leaving the Middle East without the dog, whom he and his unit have named Niki.

“We gave her a bath,” Smith said, “and fed her a good meal, which she devoured in seconds.”

He admits, however, that getting her home won’t be easy.

“Everybody that I have talked to about getting Niki home said she would not be able to leave the country and that there is no reason to try to get her home,” Smith said. “But I am still determined to get her home.”

Smith’s superiors with the 168th Military Police Battalion have told him that they do not want to deal with the paperwork required to get the dog home and that Smith has to make his own travel arrangements. That battle is being waged primarily from the United States by Smith’s father, Don, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

Don Smith has been calling and sending e-mails to several groups, including the U.S. Department of Importation and Exportation, to get Niki into the country. He has even sent an e-mail to President Bush.

“I haven’t heard back from him yet,” Don Smith said.

Michelle Bruce-Morales of the World Society for the Protection of Animals said the group averages three calls a week from families trying to rescue Iraqi dogs. The organization even has a guide, “How To Take a Dog to the United States From Iraq,” that might provide some hope for Niki’s immigration into the United States.

According to the WSPA, Niki’s journey from Baghdad would start with a trip to the Baghdad Zoo, where a veterinarian and WSPA contact, Dr. Farra Murrani, would examine the dog and give her a rabies vaccination. Niki would then be transported to Amman, Jordan, and put on a commercial airline to the United States.

If the dog flew through London, it would be put through an overnight quarantine at Heathrow Airport and sent to the United States the next day. Bruce-Morales said that the timetable for Niki’s trip all depends on her final destination in the United States but that trips usually take several days.

Bruce-Morales said WSPA can put Smith in touch with Military Mascots, a group that helps soldiers bring their adopted pets to the United States at the soldier’s expense. The cost of bringing a dog to the United States could range from $700 to $1,500, said Bruce-Morales, depending on the flight, the type of shipping kennel used and the cost of health certificates.

Started in June 2003, Military Mascots’ goal is to bring home dogs that soldiers rely on for comfort during combat. The Smiths have contacted Military Mascots through e-mails and are working on how they can bring Niki home.

“I intend to continue on with this,” Don said, “whatever it takes, until it is resolved.”

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Niki continues to live as a fortunate puppy.

“We’ve sent dog food, bones, toys, shampoo, you name it,” said Don Smith, a safety representative at Atlantic Union Resources in Fulton .

A priority package takes several weeks, and a package sent through regular mail can take up to a month. Smith says the delay sometimes forces the puppy into her old eating habits of Spam and sausages.

While Niki has benefited from the squad’s attention, Smith’s unit has been rewarded as well.

“Niki has raised the group’s morale a bunch,” Smith said in an e-mail. “She is the best thing that has happened to myself and the others that stay in the same building as I do. (Niki) keeps my mind off the things at home, and I am always looking forward to the next day because of her.”


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