Stray dogs from Iraq brought to America

Now that the sun is shining in Michigan, two former Iraqi dogs – who Best Friends helped bring to the U.S. – are finally enjoying the outdoors. Mama, a black Labrador mix, and Boris, a white-and-brown spotted puppy, were brought to a Detroit suburb in February after their self-appointed caregiver, U.S. Army Sgt. Peter Neesley, passed away unexpectedly in his Baghdad military barracks last December.

"For a while there, I think Mama and Boris thought they’d been shipped to Antarctica," jokes Carey Neesley, Peter's sister. "It’s spring now, though, and they get to feel the sunshine."

Stray dogs from Iraq brought to U.S.

While serving in Iraq, Peter and some fellow soldiers built a doghouse just outside the walls of the base, to shelter the two strays. He told his family he was going to find a way to bring the dogs home when his tour of duty ended this summer.

With Peter gone, the family made it their mission to see that his dream came true. After cutting through red tape, the dogs were airlifted out of Baghdad, accompanied by Rich Crook, rapid response manager for Best Friends, who helped arrange the dogs’ evacuation.

Life in Michigan for the Iraqi dogs

Now at home in Michigan with the Neesley family, Mama and Boris have adjusted to life with two other dogs, two cats, and Peter’s 10-year-old nephew, Patrick. After their arrival, Joel Silverman, a trainer and TV host from Animal Planet, spent several days with the dogs, teaching them basic commands. And Banfield Veterinary Services donated vaccinations and medical exams.

Boris, who arrived with mange and sores on his body, has since healed. "His fur has filled in," says Peter’s mom, Chris. "Both of their coats are shiny now."

And with the arrival of spring, the dogs have learned just how much fun life can be. For instance, Patrick taught Boris to catch a tennis ball. "Boris and my son are pals," Carey says. "They sit and watch television together and play ball."

And, they have big appetites, according to Chris. "They eat like horses. Then they go zipping around the backyard. We have two old golden retrievers who just sort of sit and watch them zoom by."

Boris, who at eight months is now the same size as Mama and is still growing, has a new favorite activity. "He follows ants around," Carey says. "Everything is new to him. You can’t help but laugh when you see him pounce on ants. It’s that innocence and delight he hasn’t been able to experience before." The best thing, Carey says, is watching them playing together outside on the grass.

Getting them to safety especially hit home for Carey a couple weeks ago when the area the dogs once lived in, near the Green Zone in Baghdad, was hit by insurgents who fired more than 700 rockets and mortar shells, turning the area into a battleground. "It was so frightening for them, living there," Carey says. "It makes me happy to know that they don’t have to worry where their next meal is [coming from] or if they’re going to be shot."

Remembering a veteran

Having the dogs home reminds the family of Peter. The doghouse he custom-built for Mama and Boris will be a reminder too, once it’s shipped to the states in July by a soldier Peter served with. "Mama and Boris remind me that Peter always wanted to have kids," Carey says. "I kind of look at them as Peter giving me his children. We treasure them, and I’m so grateful that he brought them to us.

"I think he had a large hand in that, giving them to us to help us heal. They’re a gift."

Read another story about the Iraqi dogs.

Photos by Molly Wald