ST. JOHN VALLEY – Puppy Rescue Mission stands out as an inspiring example of humanitarian and peace building efforts in a warzone, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Anna Cannan of Madawaska, the organization’s founder.
Cannan created the organization primarily to save pets soldiers adopted while they fought on desert and mountain battlefields in far-off countries. The mission of Cannan’s two-year-old Puppy Rescue is to bring these pets home with the returning soldiers to help them adjust to civilian life again, just as the pets helped the service men and women on the battlefield.
The website for Puppy Rescue Mission describes the service these animals provide to their counterparts as “helping to provide a sense of normalcy” for soldiers in the warzone, and in some cases, even saving the lives of service personnel.
In one case, dogs adopted by soldiers at an Afghanistan base attacked a suicide bomber who infiltrated the base and was attempting to enter the barracks. One of the three dogs involved in the attack died as a result and two others were seriously injured, along with several service members. But more than 50 soldiers would have died if the bomber had managed to enter their living quarters, said Cannan.
Other dogs, such as Mako, who is currently in Afghanistan, go on air supply drop recovery missions and patrols with their human teammates. Cujo, who lives in Colorado now after arriving in the U.S. a couple of months ago, went on over 21,000 missions and saved countless lives, said Cannan. In his civilian life, he is now a service and therapy dog.
Although some people think money raised would be more effectively spent on the numbers of stray dogs and cats in the U.S. who need homes, these battlefield animals face a short, grim life in Afghanistan if they are left behind when the soldiers move on.
“According to the Afghan culture, if a person is bitten by a dog, the person cannot get to Allah, the god Afghans worship, as dogs are considered to be a disgrace. Animals in Afghanistan are literally treated like trash, used for target practice, blown up, run over and used in fights in the case of many, many dogs,” explains the Puppy Rescue Mission website.
Cannan’s cause is a mission of mercy for both the soldiers and the animals in a warzone where mercy can sometimes kill.
From its humble beginnings in April 2010 with the “Lucky Seven” puppies who returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan with her fiancée Chris Chiasson of Fort Kent, Cannan, her board of directors, and teams of volunteers from all over the U.S. have saved and transported out of Afghanistan approximately 300 dogs and cats for returning service men and women.
The inspiration for Puppy Rescue Mission came to Cannan when Chiasson befriended one of the puppies of the dog that died defending the soldiers from the suicide bomber, and he wanted to bring Bear home with him when his tour ended.
Sometimes the animals end up in the U.S. before their companions, especially if their rescue becomes more urgent. It is against military policy for service personnel to befriend animals. A new commanding officer on base might order the dogs be terminated.
Chiasson’s mother, Cecelia Pinter, said, “When my son was stationed [in Afghanistan] and I had his dog, it was like I had a part of him.”
She said her son, back in the U.S., would lose the hardened edge he developed while in the warzone when he was around his Afghanistan pets.
“He looked like he was twelve again,” she said. “The dogs helped him. You can see it.”
She said those who disagree with the organization’s mission fail to understand that it’s more than about rescuing the dogs; it’s about rescuing the soldiers.
“Some of these guys, they come out from doing missions and they’ve lost their buddies. It’s a way for them to unwind.”
In just two years, the organization has grown beyond Cannan’s wildest dreams.
“It’s bigger than I ever could have imagined. It’s gone national. It’s taken over the rescue world.”
Puppy Rescue Mission has almost 30,000 Facebook followers now and has raised over $1.5 million to date. The Oprah Network will feature a section on Chiasson and the Puppy Rescue Mission, to air sometime in June.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Cannan said.
Up until last week, rescuing a pet for a returning soldier cost the organization approximately $4000 per dog. The operation involves transporting the animal from the warzone to the one shelter in the entire country of Afghanistan, in Kabul. The animal may have to travel 20 to 24 hours just to reach the shelter, said Cannan.
“We bribe a lot of locals,” she said.
Generally, a service man or woman contacts an interpreter who finds a driver for the animal. The money is then wired to Afghanistan. Cannan said to ensure the animal makes it to the shelter, the drivers are paid on delivery. At the shelter, the organization pays to have the animals fed and vaccinated, and they arrange a flight for the animal from Dubai or Pakistan.
“Sometimes we run out of crates. The animals are stuck at the shelter too long. They catch a virus and die,” she said.
Cannan said there is no such thing as “dog food” in Afghanistan, so the shelter has to cook the food at the facility, and the opportunity to transmit a food-borne illness is high.
“This is a country where bleach is hard to come by,” she said. “We’re dealing with a Third World country, so nothing goes smoothly.”
The animals fly from one of the two exit ports to Dallas, Seattle, New York or Houston. There, teams of volunteers pick up the animals and send them to their forever homes.
Last week, Cannan spoke with the owner of Kalitta Air, an international freight airline, who has agreed to partner with the non-profit organization to send the crates to Afghanistan for free.
“We spent $20,000 on crates last year,” said Cannan. “This is a godsend.”
The donation should save Cannan and the organization approximately $3000 per dog.
In addition, Jon Paul DeJoria, the owner of Paul Mitchell hair care products, donated $10,000 to the organization last week. About a month ago, Nancy and Richard Rogers, the executive chairman for Mary Kay Cosmetics, donated $25,000 to the cause.
Cannan is thankful for donations the organization receives, but some donations stand out for her. The family of one of the rescued dogs, Leonidas, was so grateful for the service performed by the organization that they have raised $15,000 to donate to the cause.
“We’ll never turn a rescue away,” said Cannan. The activist said the organization had recently helped rescue an animal in Saudi Arabia for an American serviceman.
“We’re making peace among countries,” she said.
Puppy Rescue Mission helped a Lithuanian soldier and a German soldier rescue their adopted pets.
“They’re so amazed that American people are willing to help even though they’re not American,” she said.
Cannan spends approximately 30 hours per week on this project. This is in addition to her full-time job as a registered dietician for Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent. At the moment, she has five dogs at the shelter in Afghanistan waiting for transport.
For more information on the Puppy Rescue Mission http://www.thepuppyrescuemission.org/.