No Buddy Left Behind:Bringing U.S. Troops’ Dogs and Cats Safely Home from the Combat Zone

By Terri Crisp with C.J. Hurn. Lyons Press. $21.95.

Occasionally, a release comes along that leaves you wishing you could reach out and help — on site and not from afar. This stirring narrative left me limp trying to envision the looks in those rescued pets’ eyes and the gritty determination of the author in battling one obstacle after another.

It’s hard to imagine anything more satisfying than saving a war-zone pet’s life and the psyche of the soldier who has befriended and harbored it for months and wants nothing more than to have it sent home where it would be safe and cared for the remainder of its life.

This tightly-wound narrative begins with Sgt. Eddie Watson, who falls in love with an Iraqi stray dog he named Charlie and ends with a challenging airlift of 26 dogs and two cats to their new homes in the United States.

The conduit for all is the SPCA International’s Operation Baghdad Pups program, headed by Crisp, that launches with getting Charlie home and assumes legs thereafter with many other soldiers’ pleas for help, growing publicity and two organization’s incredible offers to help.

“When contemplating the growing number of requests to save dogs and cats befriended by U.S. troops, it quickly became clear what had to be done – break the rules. After 87 successful missions to Iraq, it is quite clear we made the right decision,” says Crisp. As of March, 261 dogs and 50 cats were shipped from the Middle East to the U.S.

Military rules prohibit U.S. forces from rendering assistance, rescuing and/or keeping pets on-post. Being caught can represent dire consequences. Conversely, the psychological salve these once beleaguered animals provide the troops is enormous, and is reflected in the dozens of e-mails Crisp shares with readers.

A Marine writes a shocked Crisp detailing the rationale behind the military regulations: “We are forbidden to provide any kind of assistance to an injured animal we come across. The enemy discovered Americans can be real softies when it comes to animals, especially dogs, so they use that knowledge to their advantage. They have been known to purposely injure a dog, making it unable to move, and then they place a booby trap underneath its body. When a kind-hearted soldier sees the animal, feels sorry for it and goes to help, guess what happens next? Boom.”

The success of Operation Baghdad Pups, Crisp emphasizes, is networking with individuals and companies worldwide. On average, it costs SPCA International $4,000 to get an animal out of the Middle East.

Her engaging narrative flows smoothly and is nicely integrated with powerful e-mails of pleas for help and later emotional thanks from the troops and their relatives stateside. As each seemingly impossible mission evolves into an amazing rescue, Crisp is quick to credit the teamwork of all involved and the commitment of SPCA International to bring home some of our forces’ best buddies.

“No Buddy Left Behind” is a heart-wrenching journey accented with a blend of insight and urgency. In the process, the true grit leaves the reader with a megawatt smile one minute and a tension-filled twinge and tightness the next.

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