Soldiers and dogs form a healing bond

Army Sgt. Adam Hesseltine of Winterport and his dog Rene, who met in Afghanistan.
Army Sgt. Adam Hesseltine of Winterport and his dog Rene, who met in Afghanistan.
Posted Jan. 03, 2012, at 9:19 a.m.

It’s not every day a soldier returns from war with a dog.

But for two soldiers from Winterport, not only did they bring dogs home from Afghanistan this past summer, but these dogs have created an emotional and healing bond with these men that will be with them forever.

“I love B right to death, and it’s nice to know there is someone else in the household going through the same thing that I am, so I know I’m not the only crazy one here,” chuckled 22-year-old Army National Guard Specialist Matt Cooper. Cooper and B have found a bond of healing as they both endured mortar and rocket fire while in Afghanistan.

For 29-year-old Army Sgt. Adam Hesseltine, the bond with his dog leaves him lost for words. “Rene (Ren-ay) was there for me to take care of when I was in Afghanistan,” he said in a quiet voice. Holding the now 14-month-old dog on his lap, he claimed, “There was just some kind of emotional connection between us; that’s all I can say.”

Reflecting on the day that he met his new mate, Hessletine said, “All the Afghani kids would always beg for pens, so they could write on their hands. One day I teased them and said, ‘Why don’t you give us something; how about a goat?’”

But he didn’t realize that one of the kids could speak English, and soon after, a goat was in fact offered to the soldiers. That’s when Hesseltine asked for a dog instead, and the next thing he knew a tiny pup was tethered outside the soldiers’ Strong Point-Compound and was originally named Renegade after the platoon.

This multi-colored mutt wasn’t what the soldiers had hoped for in a guard dog. “She made a terrible guard dog,” said Hesseltine with a soft smile. “Sage Kooche (the breed like B) can be very defensive, but she didn’t bark at anything; she was too docile.”

Rene’s fault actually became her biggest asset as the little pooch’s lonely whimpering plucked at the soldier’s heart strings. While Rene was positioned at her guard post with a cloth rope, she often broke lose. Hesseltine admitted his role in the great escapes. “I tampered with her leash because she would whimper every time I tried to leave her, so I just made it look like she was so strong that she ripped her tether,” he said.

The soldiers knew the pup was abused. “I was always giving her baths because she’d urinate on herself because she was so scared,” said Hesseltine.

When the Renegade Platoon’s mission was nearing its end in Afghanistan, the soldiers discussed putting the guard dog down to avoid the abuse she would endure in that country. “I decided I couldn’t do that,” said Hesseltine, so his next mission started: researching how to bring her home.

Hesseltine’s research led him to The Nowzad Dogs charity, which has a mission to “do something positive for the cats, dogs and other animals of Afghanistan and Iraq that have no hope and nobody to care for them,” as written on Nowzad’s web site.

Hesseltine praised Nowzad volunteers for getting Rene vaccinated and shipped to the States at a price tag of $300, which was donated by Nowzad. A transportation company took over from there, getting Rene through American customs in New York. That $300 fee was waived as a “thank you” to Hesseltine for serving our country.

B was rescued through a charity as well, because Cooper’s wife was determined that B was coming home with her husband. While B and Cooper enjoy life in Winterport, Rene and Hesseltine are stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. Perhaps during this holiday season, the two soldiers and their dogs will meet and reminisce about how spoiled they have made their dogs and how much their dogs have meant healing for them.

Nowzad was founded by a Royal Marine and is mainly run by volunteers. For more information, visit www.nowzad.com.

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