MADAWASKA, Maine — For most, a heroic act such as foiling a suicide bomber’s attack on an overseas U.S. Army installation would result in medals, commendations and national acclaim, just to start.
For Target and Rufus and their pals Bear, Alph, Low Rider, Jackie and B, the reward was medical care, a free trip to the United States, some chew toys and a few rawhide bones.
The seven mixed-breed dogs are the latest furry immigrants to our country and the newest members of seven military families in Maine, Georgia and Arizona, thanks in large part to the efforts of Madawaska native Anna Cannan.
“I started this in March after my fiance [Christopher Chiasson of Fort Kent] and his Army National Guard unit replaced another unit in Afghanistan whose members were the ones saved by some stray dogs who hung out on the base,” said Cannan, a dietitian at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent.
“I’m the type of person who absolutely loves animals, and I wasn’t just going to save one, I was going to save them all.”
Chiasson told her about a dog named Bear whom he’d become smitten with who was 6 weeks old. Bear’s mother and two other dogs attacked a suicide bomber as he tried to enter a small compound in which more than 40 U.S. Army soldiers were present on Feb. 11.
“Fortunately, the door he chose to come through was the one the dogs [Sasha, Target and Rufus] slept near. They attacked him and barked and kept him from coming inside,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Chris Duke, one of the soldiers present during the attack. “He got the door open and was at a 45-degree angle and then he prematurely detonated himself while inside the doorway because he couldn’t get past the dogs.
“The majority of the blast went into the walls because the door was inset. Shrapnel hit Sasha, and Rufus had severe injuries. Sasha had to be put down, but our regular medics, with the help of some advice from a veterinarian we called, saved the other two.”
Now back stateside and serving as a full-time firefighter, Duke is living with his wife, Lauren. The couple are expecting their first child in January. In the meantime, they have two furry family members to liven up their house.
“When she [Cannan] heard the story, she just ran with it,” said Duke, who already had Rufus and was driving home to Franklin, Ga., after getting Target at the airport Thursday afternoon. “She went to great lengths to make it happen.”
After talking to Chiasson, Cannan went to work — way after hours since she already worked full time as a dietitian and part time as a waitress.
“I made up a Facebook profile [Puppy Rescue Mission], had to create an online account for people to chip in online, opened up a KeyBank account to store the money coming in, and spent hours on end promoting and advertising the site and my cause,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but I’m so happy I did it.”
So are the other servicemen who adopted the dogs, which are more than pets to their new owners.
“I never in a million years would have thought [the dogs] could have done what they did. There’s no telling how many soldiers’ lives they saved,” Duke said. “The last few days have been nonstop. I’m almost too tired to express how excited I am.”
The 23-year-old Cannan’s efforts led to her story being told Thursday night on CBS News with Katie Couric, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, and a morning segment today on TV’s “Fox & Friends.”
Four dogs have been placed in Maine, one in Georgia and one in Arizona, where Target will be headed to live with Sgt. Terry Young, who was stationed with Duke.
Cannan, who also had a candle sale and a couple of online raffles, raised the $3,000 necessary for each dog in just under two months.
“It was a long haul alone, and it felt longer than it was because donations would stop for a week here and there, but then I’d get a whole pile of mail in one day,” Cannan said. “I would get discouraged and then something would always happen.”
Cannan credits a few nonprofit organizations for providing invaluable assistance.
“Robert’s Cause helped me get the dogs through customs, which is complicated, from John F. Kennedy Airport. Pilots and Paws flew the animals up from Maine to Bangor free, and Pen Sarthing of www.nowzaddogs.com really helped me a lot with the research and information on how to do this,” she said.
All seven of the dogs are healthy and thriving in their new locales after some early acclimation.
“House training was a challenge,” said Cannan. “I’ve had Bear for a month, and Alph came on July 13. They recognized each other right away. Chris came home on leave July 6 and I surprised him with a reunion.”
Despite completing her mission, Cannan is still interested in furthering it.
“I’m actually not done, and they’re trying to make me an official nonprofit organization and charity, but I’m not sure how that’ll work,” she said. “All the money I’m still getting now is going to the Soldiers’ Animal Companions Fund.”
Cannan said that while raising money was easier than expected, it was still stressful.
“The scariest thing was transporting them from the base to a shelter in Afghanistan and having to go through mine fields and war zones,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to do it all themselves, but it’s been very rewarding,” Cannan said. “Putting smiles on all these soldiers’ faces has made it more rewarding.”