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Loved by U.S. forces, an Iraqi dog brings hope amid war

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 6:17 p.m. MDT

Tripod in Kirkuk, Iraq. (Andrew Edtl) Tripod in Kirkuk, Iraq. (Andrew Edtl)

Heroics are not uncommon in times of war. But there are some that have gone largely unnoticed: the native dogs of war. Born and raised in war, they’ve become the best friends of American forces overseas. This is the story of one such dog — befriended by American forces and hunted by others in their command.

Life in Iraq

Tripod was an Australian shepherd Basenji mix. Rumor has it, she lost one of her legs when she was hit by a military vehicle, and an American medic performed emergency surgery. After returning to the United States, I enjoyed sharing this story after telling an alternate story about her saving my life.

Losing her leg didn’t make her the dog we fell in love with, though, it just made her unique in the eyes of the Americans. Tripod lived at a coalition forces gate at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq. The security forces for the base were made up entirely of Air Force reservists.

Andrew Edtl and Tripod in Kirkuk, Iraq (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl) Andrew Edtl and Tripod in Kirkuk, Iraq (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl)

As we rolled in and took over, we quickly made friends with our new dog. Those before us took care of her, providing her with water and occasional treats. We picked up where they left off, converting cereal bowls into water bowls and bringing her a food plate back at dinner time. At one point, some family members sent us dog food and dog treats from America. We watched in amazement as she ate American dog food, thinking it couldn’t possibly compare to hamburgers and pulled pork.

Tripod would play fetch and was a major morale booster for our entire section. Those who frequently worked at the gate, such as Army and Air Force intelligence, also knew her. She returned the favor by alerting us of danger, barking at any Iraqis that were approaching the gate long before we could see them.

We also learned that Iraqis were scared of dogs. When asked why, they would inevitably tell you that a dog bit their mother when they were a child. Their fear of dogs wasn’t unfounded, though. Unlike the domesticated dogs in the United States, dogs in Iraq are mostly wild, and rabies is common. Because of Tripod, the Iraqis often stayed away from that gate. This was a blessing to us, and while we will never know for sure, we believe this may have prevented potential confrontations or attacks at the gate itself.

Tripod and Andrew Edtl in Kirkuk, Iraq (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl) Tripod and Andrew Edtl in Kirkuk, Iraq (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl)

Hunt for Tripod

But as the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. And unfortunately, it is illegal to keep native pets in combat zones. The base pest and animal control personnel, simply known as “Entomology,” arrived at the gate in search for a snake that was reported to be in the area. While they didn’t find the snake, they found a three-legged dog that shouldn’t be there.

A master sergeant, whose name I never learned and who I never had the opportunity to meet, returned with a shotgun. He was met with hostility, and the area commander ordered that while we cannot interfere with Entomology, they were not allowed to kill the dog in front of the gate personnel. They would have to capture the dog first.

Andrew Edtl and Tripod in Kirkuk, Iraq (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl) Andrew Edtl and Tripod in Kirkuk, Iraq (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl)

This was an important order to issue. See, one day some Iraqi police threw rocks at Tripod; and before they knew what they were doing, two Americans had weapons aimed at the Iraqi police. There are a few things you should never do, and messing with someone’s dog is generally at the top of that list.

The master sergeant with Entomology was relentless. He set traps, showed up unannounced, and brought top security forces personnel with him. His efforts were thwarted at every attempt. Gate personnel would scare Tripod away, and others that worked with Entomology would tip off the gate when they were on their way.

Escape

These measures were temporary, though, and something had to happen. In my search for a solution, I got in touch with SPCA International, which just happened to have a program in place to bring Iraqi dogs that befriended American forces back to the United States. We were thrilled.

Andrew Edtl and Tripod in Salt Lake City (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl) Andrew Edtl and Tripod in Salt Lake City (Courtesy of Andrew Edtl)

Getting a dog out of Iraq is harder than it might sound, though. There were few operating airports, and the country was generally considered to be unsafe to travel through. Not only that, but locals generally don’t like dogs. To top it off, there was a constant threat to Tripod’s life by our own forces.

Our first step was to get her vaccinated for rabies. Easy enough, right? Except that it was illegal for military veterinarians to provide any assistance to native dogs. As if from above, though, a local veterinarian, perhaps the only one in the city, just happened to stop by the base one day.

The veterinarian visited another gate, and they thought it might be useful to get his contact information. We were able to contact him, and he graciously offered to provide the vaccine for Tripod. When he came with the vaccine, though, Tripod was nowhere to be found. With an imminent threat of danger, she started roaming during the day and coming back at night. Luckily, the veterinarian left us with the vaccine.

One of our own reluctantly volunteered to administer the vaccine, and it was a relief. Coordinating her exit from the base was proving to be hard, but we knew that she would at least be safe from rabies for a time.

As days seemed to last forever, we were finally able to coordinate her departure from the base. The details were kept secret, and only I knew of their exact time and date. The day before her extraction, I told my supervisor that I might be late the next day. He knew what that meant.

I arrived at the gate several hours before Tripod was scheduled to be picked up. I was worried that she would run off again, and we only had one chance to get her out. To our relief, her transportation arrived. A private security detail, three armored vehicles with heavily armed men, came to pick up Tripod and three other dogs in the region.

The battle was finally over, and Tripod was safe.

Life in the United States

Tripod endured an incredibly long journey through the Middle East, finally arriving in Washington, D.C., where she stayed for two weeks in the care of SPCA International. From there, she flew to Phoenix, where she lived with an amazing dog sitter until we returned from Iraq.

When I returned from Iraq, I kept Tripod for several months. At the time, though, I wasn’t able to afford a dog that needed space to run and bark. She was adopted through an adoption agency, and while I’ve never had the courage to find out where she went, I pray she continues to be happy and enjoy her life as an American.

After returning from Iraq, it was determined that more than 80 people on the base contributed to Tripod’s safety after Entomology started hunting her.

Thousands of dogs have made it to the United States safely, thanks primarily to SPCA International. But thousands did not. While wild animals pose a significant threat to American forces, their effect on morale and security should also be taken into account. There are many amazing stories of these native dogs fighting side by side with American forces and impacting their lives forever. Let us not forget these incredible four-, or three-legged, friends.

Andrew Edtl works in the retail industry and serves in the Utah Air National Guard. He holds a degree in business management from Western Governors University and is an MBA candidate at Westminster College. He is married and has two children.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company