KENNEBUNK, Maine — Everyone has heard stories of puppies being rescued by people, but this story is a little different, because it’s about people being rescued by puppies.
It all started in 2010, when Army soldier Chris Chiasson was deployed to a combat post in Afghanistan. Days before his arrival, a suicide bomber had arrived at the base, intending to blow up as many soldiers as he could, but was thwarted in his efforts by three stray dogs, who attacked him and alerted the troops.
The bomber blew himself up, killing one of the dogs, but the soldiers were saved.
One of those dogs, Target, had a litter of puppies shortly after, and once Chiasson arrived on base, he and some other soldiers began taking care of the puppies. Soon, he was attached to the pups, and the idea of leaving them behind when he returned home was an idea he couldn’t accept.
So Chiasson contacted his then-fiance, Anna Maria Cannan, to see if she could help bring at least his favorite puppy home.
“I had heard it had been done before,” Chiasson said. “A month later, she told me it was a definite possibility.”
That possibility, Cannan, a Madawaska native discovered, would cost around $3,000 and driving the dog in a local taxi to Kabul, from which it could be transported back to the U.S.
By then, though, the one dog had turned into seven heading stateside, as more soldiers wanted their canine pals brought home.
Taking to Facebook, Cannan put out the word and thus, the Puppy Rescue Mission was born. The total cost for the first “Lucky 7″ dogs coming home was $21,000, she said.
“We raised it in less than three months,” Cannan said. “People were encouraging.”
And they’ve continued that encouragement.
On Saturday, Cannan and her now-husband Chiasson, were joined by soldiers, their families, other adopters and, of course, their dogs at Roger’s pond in Kennebunk to celebrate the Puppy Rescue Mission’s 500th dog saved.
When she started trying to bring her first dog home three years ago, Cannan said she would never have expected to still be doing this today.
“Not in a million years,” she said. “But I really love it. It’s the best therapy.”
Chiasson agrees. On Saturday he sat on a bench in the shade with Grizz, one of the Afghan “kuchi” dogs — a slim cross between a German shepherd and other breeds — that now lives with him. Nearby was Alphy, another dog that adopted him in Afghanistan.
“She followed me down from the mountains one day on patrol,” Chiasson said, stroking the dog’s head. “I gave her a piece of beef jerky and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Chiasson said while the Afghans don’t keep dogs as pets and consider them dirty, the American soldiers befriend them and make them part of the troop. The dogs also serve as an early warning system for the soldiers.
“They get attached to us, they protect us,” he said. “We’re one big pack.”
That’s the way Tim Johannsen, an Army soldier stationed with the 25th ID in Hawaii, feels.
Johannsen traveled with his wife to Kennebunk last weekend to celebrate the one member of the family who stayed home: his dog Leonidas.
Leo, as Johannsen calls him, turned up as a puppy and took a shine to the soldier when he was stationed in Afghanistan in 2011.
“He appeared in camp one day,” Johannsen said. “I had just come off a mission and he was on the bottom of a dog pile. I picked him up, dusted him off and he followed me back.”
A friendship had been born.
“From then on, we showered together, we ate together, we slept together,” Johannsen said.
When he returned from a mission, Leonidas would be nearby, waiting to pick him out of the group of soldiers.
“I’d whistle, and he’d jump into my arms,” Johannsen said. “It was almost like being home.”
So when the soldier found out he’d been returning to the U.S., he had his wife, Katie, contact Cannan and start the process to bring Leo home.
Leo left Afghanistan on Aug. 12, 2011, and served his quarantine before arriving in Chicago on Sept. 28. When Johannsen returned stateside in January of 2012, Leo was there to greet him.
“I never thought going there I’d be coming back with a dog,” he said. “But we still do everything together.”
For more information on the Puppy Rescue Mission, go to facebook.com/puppyrescuemission, thepuppyrescuemission.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations can be mailed to: The Puppy Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 1516, Celina, Texas 75009