More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Army to let an Iraqi puppy come home with a Minnesota soldier, who fears that "Ratchet" could be killed if left behind.
"I just want my puppy home," Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis wrote to her mother in an e-mail Sunday from Iraq, soon after she was separated from the dog following a transfer. "I miss my dog horribly." Beberg, 28, is scheduled to return to the U.S. next month.
Ratchet's defenders are ratcheting up their efforts to save him. On Monday, the program coordinator for Operation Baghdad Pups, which is run by Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International, left for a trip to the Middle East to try to get the puppy to the U.S. And last week, Beberg's congressman, Democrat Keith Ellison, wrote to the Army urging it to review the case.
Beberg and another soldier rescued the puppy from a burning pile of trash back in May. Defense Department rules prohibit soldiers in the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq, from adopting pets, but has made exceptions. Operation Baghdad Pups says it has gotten 50 dogs and six cats transferred to the U.S. in the last eight months.
"I'm coping reasonably well because I refuse to believe that Ratchet has been hurt," Beberg wrote in the e-mail to her mother, Patricia Beberg. "If I find out that he was killed though -- well, we just won't entertain that possibility."
"They knew about the regulation," Patricia Beberg said, "but excuse me, you're not going to throw the puppy back in the burning pile." She said Monday that her daughter sent another e-mail saying that she confirmed that the dog was still alive and doing OK. Apparently, someone had stashed him in a meat freezer.
Operation Baghdad Pups' program coordinator, Terry Crisp, left for a flight to Dubai on Monday and is scheduled to arrive in Baghdad on Wednesday. Crisp said it wasn't clear who put the puppy in the freezer, whether it was done to hide him or to freeze him to death, or whether the freezer was operational. Ratchet has since been taken out of the freezer.
Crisp said that the adopted dogs left behind face a painful death on Iraqi streets.
"Iraqis view dogs and cats as rats -- as nuisances, carriers of disease," she said. U.S. soldiers have rescued many of them from abuse, such as Iraqi men in a circle kicking a puppy or a boy pulling a puppy down the street with a rope tied around its neck.
Crisp said the plan for this week's trip is to take six dogs out of the country -- the maximum number allowed in the cargo hold -- keeping one slot open for Ratchet. If they can't get Ratchet on the plane, another dog on the waiting list will take his place.
She said her organization is working with Congress, the military and mental health workers to scrap the rule banning soldiers from adopting animals.
"These men and women have been helped by the cats and dogs -- both there and when they come home," Crisp said. Adopting a pet in the U.S. wouldn't be the same, she said.
"They have to go through that experience with them -- that's what the connection is," Crisp said.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said in an e-mail, "Traditionally, the U.S. Armed Forces can only transport those items associated with the soldiers' personal belongings during official government transportation -- rather than living animals -- except for Military Police working dogs."