Shelter Me 

5 August 2014

PROLOGUE:

I was born in the land of Babylon.

Thousands of years ago people spoke the same language there, before the Big Master scattered them. Maybe that’s why I understand what humans mean even when they can’t understand each other. Or possibly that’s why they can’t understand me, because they left.

But then perhaps they can’t understand me because I’m a dog.

No. Really. I’m not putting myself down. I’m seriously a D-O-G. Yep, I can spell, too, but I can’t tell people that, either, because . . . Come on, you know the reason. Say it with me. Because I’m a . . .

Dog.

And while I was born in Babylon—a.k.a. Southern Iraq—my life changed forever the day I left that home with Sergeant Mike Kowalski. The morning I went away was tricky, because the Sergeant had to sneak me out of the forward operating base on one of those monster big cargo planes they call a C-17. I was going for the ride to end all rides.

Back then they didn’t have lots of cool puppy rescue organizations to bring dogs back from a war zone. In my day, the Department of Defense law stood more often than not. No pets on military installations. And bringing them home? Huge negative on that.

So rules were bent, twisted and broken to rescue me, but it was a must-do operation to complete my mission. To understand my mission fully, you need to know how I ended up with Sergeant Kowalski.

Back when I ran in a pack with my cousins, we scavenged for scraps. Best place to look? U.S. military installations. The guys in uniforms, the ones from across the ocean, fed us. Good stuff, too. So we howled out the locale of new troops setting up camp so our pack buddies would know.
I hit the mother lode with those guys.

“No MREs for you, Trooper. You get steak,” said a colonel with silver hair, dusty camos and creaky knees.

The first time I ate steak, I almost peed myself. Of course I peed myself for a lot of reasons in those days because I was still a puppy. Six months old then. Twelve months old when I left that place. Eleven years old now.

During my puppy days, the rest of my pack didn’t want to stay at that particular camp because it was busy and big, and they were ancient and wary. But I was the youngest, the only one of my litter to survive, and gut-deep hungry from only scraps of leftovers. I was way below being the alpha dog. Not even really a beta dog. More like a lowercase zeta.

After we ate our fill for a week, it was a tough choice sticking around by myself, because yeah, I would lose my pack, but hunger won out. Six months later when the time came to leave on that plane? I didn’t hesitate for a second. Sure I would miss this place where they tossed a tennis ball and seemed to think I was a rock star because I figured out fast they wanted me to bring it back. Like that was hard after tracking rats in the desert for dinner?

But I knew it was time to leave Babylon. Southern Iraq. Home.

I had a mission. That was what the Sergeant told me. I was needed. Magic words to a dog. We live for a job, a purpose. It’s what we were created for by the Big Master.

My mission: to heal a family, the family that had lost their person over here. I was supposed to be their link to him because he was the one who found me. The silver-haired Army colonel who fed me steak…