On Feb. 9, 2010, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, a bullet shot from a Taliban sniper bounced off of Pvt. Lewis Henry and deflected onto his patrol companion, Pvt. Conrad Lewis from the 4th Battalion, Parachute Regiment.
Lewis, 22, was killed instantly.
"He was bloody unlucky," said Lewis' father, Antony Lewis, from Warwickshire, England.
The family's last link to its deceased son was Pegasus, its son's adopted mutt, a street dog from Afghanistan with whom he shared "love, comfort and biscuits."
Now, after a tandem rescue by the British nonprofit organization Nowzad and the private's fellow soldiers, Pegasus has been returned to the U.K. to be untied with Lewis' father, a fulfillment of a son's last wish.
"I think [Pegasus] is a link to his time there, but also a link to him," Antony Lewis said. "[Conrad] put time and effort into her, and she put time and effort into him. I think there's a strange bond between people and their dogs."
'A True Soldier's Friend'
Two weeks after Lewis left for deployment to Afghanistan as part of an elite regiment of paratroopers, he wrote a letter to his family in the U.K. about his new companion, a caramel-colored stray dog named Pegasus, or Peg.
In an environment where dogfights are encouraged at the expense of the animals' noses and ears, the young Lewis adopted Peg, and provided her with shelter. Soon Pegasus, undaunted by enemy fire from the Taliban, was famously patrolling with lead scout Pvt. Conrad Lewis and his regiment.
"She followed them throughout, avoiding shots and IEDs over a six-month period," Lewis said. "She would lie with Conrad when he lay down and get up when they moved off, even in nine-hour contacts. She was a real companion, a true soldier's friend."
During his last visit home in December, Lewis shared pictures of Peg with his family, including the one used later, at the private's funeral: Conrad decked in full military gear, a smile stretching across his face, Pegasus bundled under his right arm. He had told his father that he would like to bring the dog home.
"I thought, 'That is probably my task.' Even then, I knew that was one of those things that dads sort out. So when he died, I remembered his wish." Lewis said.
'No Mascot' Policy
After a friend told him about Nowzad, Lewis emailed its founder, former British marine Pen Farthing.
Nowzad has rescued more than 200 stray dogs from Afghanistan since 2007, when Farthing established the organization with the sole aim of improving the welfare of animals in a country that is overrun with homeless dogs.
"Having been there and done that," Farthing, who has reportedly never turned down a rescue request, said that dogs can provide solace to soldiers in Afghanistan who are otherwise dodging Taliban snipers.
"If you're not involved in the bigger picture, it can be quite depressing. Your little piece of the pie may not seem that relevant. Guys are killed and injured and you wonder if it's worth it," Farthing said. "For some of the guys, the simple fact of helping an animal and that animal befriending you is something positive out of it all."
According to Farthing, if Pegasus had not been rescued from Afghanistan, the next military unit there might have put the dog to sleep.
"It's part of a sad policy. There are no dogs on camp," Farthing said. "The concern is over the threat of disease, because Afghanistan has got a high rate of rabies."
But Lewis, who said that other dogs were shot on the same compound, acknowledged another reason for the "no mascot" policy: the Taliban.
"If the Taliban thinks you've got a connection with the dog, they'll use that against you," he said.
While both former military men said that they understood the policy, it did not prevent Lewis nor his buddies from developing an attachment to the stray mutt, and eventually, delivering it to safety.
According to Lewis, not long after he sent a message to the regiment that he wanted to rescue Peg, the soldiers managed to sneak the dog onto a helicopter and the Afghan national army agreed to drive her to Nowzad's shelter in Kabul via a humvee.
"The military doesn't help us at all so [rescues] might involve, at times, a dog going in the back of a truck it shouldn't be in to get it out," Farthing said. "The military have yet to see the benefit of some of the rescues we do."
Farthing greeted Peg at her arrival in the Kabul dog shelter -- the first official animal shelter in Afghanistan, according to the former marine. Within two weeks, Nowzad arranged for the dog's vaccinations and put her on a plane to the U.K., where she now waits in quarantine until Nov. 30, when she can officially become the newest member of the Lewis family.
"They are absolutely over the moon," said Farthing, who seeks to expand Nowzad to include more rescue operations. That dog is probably going to be spoiled rotten now for the rest of its life."
Home Sweet Home
Every Saturday, the Lewis family, including wife Sandi, 48; brother Jordan, 19; sister Siobhan, 17; former girlfriend Georgina, 21; and bulldog, Furgy, 8, drive up to Birmingham from their respective dwellings and visit Pegasus.
"[Conrad] taught her tricks, like to give her paw in exchange for biscuits, which is something she still does," Lewis said.
The father believes that Pegasus was a source of comfort to his son during his deployment in Afghanistan. "Paratroopers are hardened individuals, but I think they need something that is a comfort but also a bit of reality and humanity. When you've been out fighting Taliban all day, you lose perspective," Lewis said. "It's great to come back [at the end of the day] to a little bit of home and a little bit of perspective."
The family is looking forward to the day when Pegasus can finally come home, especially Furgy, Lewis' first dog, who has since taken to barging into Conrad's old room, awaiting his owner's return.
Lewis said, "Furgy's great with other dogs. He'll just love [Pegasus]."