It was a match made in a war zone that now has a happy ending with a long-awaited reunion.
Sgt. Tracy McKithern found a small stray dog hanging around camp when she was deployed to Iraq last year. But it wasn't uncommon to see dogs roaming the streets in Iraq. The dog and her mom were abused, kicked and hit with rocks. They were also starving, the Army said.
But the daily abuse didn’t stop the dog from greeting McKithern when she held out her hand.
“She loved everyone,” McKithern said. “She is the sweetest little soul. She came up to me immediately, probably hungry, but gentle. I think she was looking for love more than anything else.”
And it was love that she found.
McKithern, and soldiers from Italy and Germany who were attached to her unit, named the dog Erby Kaisma. Erby came from the city Erbil, while Kaisma is the Arabic name for "beauty and elegance," according to the Army.
Over the following days and weeks, Erby started sleeping outside McKithern’s quarters.
But soon McKithern would have to return home. She posted to Facebook saying she wished she could take Erby with her. The next morning, with the help of friends and family, they got the ball rolling to get the thousands of dollars needed to bring the dog to America.
Complete strangers started donating too, with the help of Puppy Rescue Mission.
Then the work began. McKithern started making arrangements to get Erby the vaccinations, documentations and travel plans to get the dog shipped home. When it got overwhelming, Kurdish and German officers whom McKithern worked with helped get Erby's paperwork submitted, according to Army reports.
McKithern returned to the United States without her beloved pup. But Erby was scheduled to follow a few weeks later.
After all that work, McKithern got orders for a 67-day mission in Wisconsin, forcing her to leave her Tampa home on March 11, the same day that Erby was supposed to land stateside.
Luckily McKithern’s husband was able to get Erby to Florida and have her waiting for McKithern when her two-month mission ended.
The long-awaited reunion happened this week, as McKithern returned home to the love of her canine companion, Erby, WFTS reported.
Erby's mother is still back in Iraq and is being taken care of by the soldiers left behind. McKithern hopes that she can be adopted also, despite the high financial cost, WFTS reported.
For more information on the Puppy Rescue Mission, a nonprofit that helps reunite soldiers with the animals they find when deployed, click here.
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