Sgt. Erin Guthrie met a very special stray dog during a peacekeeping deployment to Kosovo with the Oregon National Guard and formed an instant bond. However, eight months later, when Guthrie, 28, flew home, there was a special space in her heart that couldn’t be filled.
“Having him nearby brought brightness to a pretty hard situation,” Guthrie told WCBS.
But with the help of a nonprofit called Paws of War, Guthrie was able to reunite with her companion.
Guthrie, who arrived in Kosovo in January, recalled her nerves dissolving quickly upon first meeting the stray during a morning run. Albeit wounded, his demeanor was calm and his tail was wagging.
“I could just tell … he just wanted a friend and he didn’t have a pack, he didn’t have anyone he was with,” she explained. “I was honored that he would come up to me, and I just felt an instant connection with him.”
(Courtesy of Erin Guthrie)
Guthrie named the 1.5-to-2-year-old shepherd-collie mix Meeka, a moniker meaning “friendship” in Albanian, which is spoken in Kosovo. Meeka’s friendship was precious; according to Newsday, Guthrie’s father was diagnosed with cancer during her deployment, and the separation was hard to bear.
“I called out to him—and he jumped through razor wire, came to me,” she said. “He was so happy and friendly and he actually ran with me for all that day.”
The soldier and dog looked after one another, so leaving Meeka to return to the United States was really painful for Guthrie. After arriving back home, as Guthrie was in quarantine, she tried to adopt a dog stateside but quickly realized that the dog she wanted most was actually 6,000 miles away.
Determined to get her companion home, Guthrie connected with Nesconset-based Paws of War, a group dedicated to reuniting animals with the U.S. service members they bonded with during overseas deployments. To date, the group has transported over 100 animals to their forever homes in the United States.
The group’s “War Torn Pups” program, which provides financial support to reunite the military personnel with the stray animals, was prepared to help Guthrie, but the process wasn’t easy. “There’s a lot of obstacles,” Paws of War co-founder Robert Misseri told WFSB. “There’s a lot of paperwork, there’s a quarantine process that goes into this.”
However, Misseri assured, the reunions justify the struggle. “We feel it’s all worth it,” he said, “and, with all the bad going on in the world, this is something we can give back to do a little good.”
Misseri explained to The Newsday that the U.S. Department of Defense policy prohibits soldiers from interacting with stray animals, so Guthrie’s hands were tied. Thus, Paws of War raised over $6,000 and handled Meeka’s transport all the way from Kosovo to Hillsboro, Oregon.
(Courtesy of Erin Guthrie)
Guthrie was initially nervous that Meeka wouldn’t recognize her at their Oct. 7 reunion. “But the fact that he pulls into me just the same way. … he knows me,” she told WCBS, “and that’s an amazing feeling.”
Guthrie expressed her gratitude to everyone involved in bringing Meeka to her. “I’m just one sergeant and he’s just one stray dog,” she marveled. “[S]o many people have devoted their time, come together.”
After providing comfort to Guthrie during her deployment, Meeka now gets to live out his days in the comfort of a loving home with his best human friend.
We would love to hear your stories! You can share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org