If you are looking for a heartwarming, uplifting story, then you really need to add Welcome Home Mama and Boris: How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs to your reading list. What a lovely story, with such a great message. Here is just a little taste of what you will find inside the book. Two big thumbs (and four small paws) way up! Be sure to pick up a copy (and some tissues too)!
Pets In Iraq – Excerpt from Mama & Boris
By Carey Neesley with Michael Levin,
Author of Welcome Home Mama & Boris: How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs
Growing up, we always had animals. Starting with Casey and Arrow, our keepers in the woods, our family would keep cats and dogs. We both loved them, but it was Peter who seemed to communicate with the animals on a deeper level than anyone else we knew. He was drawn to their innocence, and their pure emotions. Arrow, the rusty-colored springer spaniel, was Peter’s favorite—he even had a stuffed dog named Arrow, for when he couldn’t convince the real creature to climb under the covers with him for a suffocating squeeze or two. So when Peter calls and excitedly tells us stories about a small pack of five dogs that has started coming around the base—a mother and her four pups—I laugh and think, of course he has pets in Iraq.
Peter says that one day, he noticed a rustling just outside the walls of the base—a castle that used to belong to Saddam Hussein overlooking the muddy Tigris River. When he went outside to investigate, he saw a dusty troupe of mottled, almost camouflaged, puppies rolling in the sand, all presided over by a serious, sleek, dark presence—their mother. The Army doesn’t allow soldiers to keep animals on the base, Peter explains, and he knew that it was dangerous for them to be spotted so near to the walls, as often stray animals will be ordered to be put down if they are found to be engaging with soldiers. I know that Peter would give his life for the Army, but that loyalty isn’t going to be strong enough for him to obey this particular rule. I can hear it in his voice.
“What are you going to do?” I ask, worried about Peter getting in trouble just as much as the animals.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’ll figure something out. I couldn’t really get close to them, so I’ll have to see if they’re there again tomorrow. I’m going to go check as soon as I get a chance.”
When Peter went back the next day, the animals were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until he was out on patrol again that he saw them, farther away from the base this time and playing near a road. After a couple more sightings, he says, he figured out this was where they were spending most of their time. He spends a good two weeks feeding the mother dog, trying to gain her trust. Each time, he says, she comes a little closer, trusting him a little more. Meanwhile, the puppies look on from a safe distance—she always stands between them and Peter, making sure that they aren’t going to get into any trouble. She looks nothing like them save for the flop of her ears, Peter says, but she must be their mother. Her maternal instinct is in overdrive.
One day, Peter e-mails us a few photos of the dogs, and we can see that he’s gained the trust of the mother and is able to sit in the pack while they play around him. Finally, he has made contact. In the pictures, he is smiling while he ruffles the hair of the mother, whom he calls Mama, and the four puppies, who nip at his hands, the dust flying around them as they whip around the camera frame. They’re like little balls of fur and energy, and he looks so happy to be in the midst of them. Peter reports that he goes back every day to their spot to play with them, feed them spare scraps from his pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals (MREs) or from the mess, when he can sneak some out, and keep them company.
Much like his calls when he first started befriending and helping the local children, it’s clear that Peter has a new mission within his mission: He wants to help these dogs. He hasn’t seen anyone around who could be their owner, and a war zone is not the safest or most welcoming place for our four-legged friends, he says. The people there have other things—life?and?death things—on their minds, and rescuing animals just isn’t a priority. That’s why he needs us to help him by sending him dog food, chew bones, toys, anything that we could find that we’d be able to send over for the dogs.
Once again, I head off to the store for supplies. Patrick is my little helper, grabbing toys and treats off the shelves and flinging them into our cart. I have to remind him that we can’t ship everything to Iraq; there’s only so much our boxes will hold. We both feel that even though we’ve never met these dogs, they’re ours, too; an extension of our family, someone to keep Peter smiling.
Peter sends us pictures of the dogs playing with our toys, and it’s a great feeling. It’s the first time they’ve seen anything like what we take for granted for our pets over here. They eye the brightly colored chew toys like we’d look at gold bars, and I envy how happy they look, how carefree.
Soon, Peter tells us that he can’t find two of the puppies. They’ve wandered off, or worse. My heart sinks, and I hope against hope that they’ve just found another friendly person to sit with for now, but I know that’s unlikely. I don’t tell Patrick about my fears, not wanting to burden him with any more sadness. He has already started to come home from school with poems he’s written about the costs of war—how it scares him, how it makes him sad. Peter’s news about the pups continues to grow darker, shadowed by a cruel reality. One day, he sees one of the pups run into the road and get hit by a car, dying immediately right in front of him. It’s then that he decides the spot where they’ve been hanging out is an unsafe location, and he’s determined to make a better place for Mama and the remaining puppy to stay.
He sends us another picture of himself, this time proudly kneeling beside a small doghouse he and some of his friends have built outside the walls of the base. They’ve painted it in the colors of their unit, and dragged some old bedding inside to make it comfortable. It’s small compared to the looming castle in the background, but to the dogs, it’s like a castle of their own. He carries Mama and her puppy to the new home, and places them inside, feeding them treats that we’ve sent to make sure they know this is their new safe place. During the day, they might wander off, but he is pleased to find that they always return.
He sends us another picture of the puppy, a close up, where he’s cradling him in his hands. Peter’s eyes are clear, happy, and peaceful, looking straight at the camera. The mischievous puppy is in the bottom of the frame, looking like he’s about to wriggle off and get into some trouble. Peter says that he’s named the puppy Boris, after one of his friends, a fallen soldier. He doesn’t say anything more about that.
The above is an excerpt from the book Welcome Home Mama & Boris: How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs by Carey Neesley with Michael Levin. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2013 Carey Neesley with Michael Levin, author of Welcome Home Mama & Boris: How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs
Carey Neesley is a hospice social worker with an M.S.W. from Wayne State University. She lives in Michigan with her son, Patrick.
Michael Levin is a New York Times bestselling author. He lives with his wife and four children in Orange County, CA.