Iraqi canine gets new home

Two guardsmen got a great souvenir, and it wasn’t from the airport gift shop.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:43 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Like any dog, Bunker has chewed her way through many pairs of shoes, but she’s anything but your typical household pet.

“When we were at a work site and Bunker started barking, we knew that Iraqis were in the area,” said Lucas Green, 23, a Columbia resident and a member of the Missouri National Guard’s 203rd Engineer Battalion. “She was our early detection system.”

Green and another Columbia resident, Mike Durran, 38, found the war-ravaged dog in a bunker at the Baghdad International Airport, where their battalion was destroying Iraqi bunkers built before the United States’ capture of the city. Bunker, who was malnourished and burned, won the hearts of Green and Durran who nursed her back to health on military meals.

Bunker readily returned the favor, not only protecting her adopted battalion, but also distracting the soldiers from the war’s hardships.

“It’s like having a pet at home,” Durran said. “It’s someone to pet, play with, relax with, and her antics would always distract us from the other things that were happening around us.”

Bunker did get into some trouble, including destroying several pairs of Durran’s shower shoes. The battalion, however, readily accepted Bunker’s company despite policies barring pets in military quarters. After the battalion left Baghdad International Airport, Bunker traveled with Green and Durran to several other locations within Iraq, including the Falcon military base, where Bunker met Nikki, another four-legged Iraqi refugee, who is now at home with Jeremiah Smith of Fulton.

Nikki’s return was a bureaucratically cumbersome process in which Smith’s father, Don Smith, for weeks lobbied various government officials, including President Bush, in order to clear Nikki’s immigration. Bunker’s trip to the United States via Kuwait was considerably smoother.

“Some people might ask why I didn’t help the Iraqi children who have been orphaned,” Durran said. “I might wish I could do that, but that’s out of my scope. Saving this dog is the best we could do, and it’s still a living creature, and we need to respect that.”

Durran said that Iraqis don’t have the same fondness for animals, and had they left Bunker, she might have been shot. As a result, the pair was willing to spend $1,300 dollars in veterinary and travel fees to bring Bunker to Columbia.

First, Bunker had to go to Kuwait, where she was quarantined, given shots and other veterinary care. From there, she was shipped to Chicago. Military Mascots, a U.S. based organization that raises money to help bring military pets from Iraq to the U.S., helped bring Nikki to the U.S and also helped with Bunker’s travel logistics, including paying $300 for her flight from Chicago to St. Louis.

Durran and Green returned from Iraq on July 15 and have been spending the last month readjusting to life in Columbia. Next week Green begins his junior year at MU, where he studies geography and civil engineering. On Monday, he will return to work at Hut Products. Durran returns to work next week at Crown Power & Equipment Company.

As for Bunker, who lives with Green, she’s sniffing her way around her new surroundings in Columbia and adjusting well.

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