Soldier's Afghan dog story comes back to bite
Don’t ask, don’t tell? Pets are forbidden – but the rules are often overlooked in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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The military doesn’t officially acknowledge this. Lt. Col. Bradley Lowell, a press officer for USCENTCOM, explained in an e-mail: “Bottom line, local commanders are responsible for educating their troops about the order. They are also accountable for enforcing it.”Skip to next paragraph
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But it’s not always so black and white.
“The military tolerates adopted pets. I saw it when I was there [in Iraq]....” says Kopelman. “I worked with commanders who had adopted cats and were feeding them several times a day. Some officers make a big deal of it, but many don’t.”
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Pet adoption in the military is common enough that the SPCA International helps soldiers ship dogs back to the US. In the year since it started, the program – Operation Baghdad Pups – has received 200 requests from soldiers in Iraq and 40 from Afghanistan, says Stephanie Scroggs, the group’s communications director.
As Barker’s second deployment to Afghanistan wound down last fall, he was determined to bring Jack home, too. He contacted Tigger House – an Afghan animal shelter run by a US nonprofit – which helps arrange shipment of soldiers’ pets from Afghanistan to the US.
To raise the $4,000 for Jack’s trip, Barker turned to Dogpile.com – a metasearch engine company. The website’s Search & Rescue program agreed in December to fund Jack and a dog belonging to Barker’s teammate, Sgt. 1st Class Adam Krause.
The dogs left the base Dec. 11 and traveled via Kabul, Pakistan, and London, arriving Dec. 20 in New York. Barker followed, reuniting with wife Lisa, Jack, and Chihuahuas on Jan. 23 at home in North Carolina. But when Dogpile promoted the story to the media and Barker’s interviews were broadcast on North Carolina TV stations in February, the military’s ban on pets came back to bite him. Barker’s commanders met with him to consider a fitting punishment for adopting and keeping a pet while serving in Afghanistan and for talking to the press without a public affairs officer present.
Barker, who’d initially spoken to the Monitor before he knew he was in trouble, explained on the phone more recently that he’d thought he was permitted to speak to the press as long as he steered clear of mission-critical information. Dogpile, as well as Barker himself, asked the Monitor not to repeat his already widely broadcast tale for fear it might harm his career.
But Barker seemed to have mixed feelings about this latest turn of events: “Most people don’t see anything wrong [with soldiers having pets], but some do. This is a good story, and could have been OK if handled differently, but I guess I went about things in the wrong way.”