The United States has an estimated 2,000 troops in Syria. Amidst the chaos of the civil war, one soldier found an abused dog wandering around the Rukban refugee camp that became an unexpected friend. The desperate canine had been at the camp in the demilitarized piece of land between Jordan and Syria—home to approximately 50,000 refugees—when he found a glimmer of salvation.
David, whose last name is being withheld for operational security reasons, was on deployment in Syria in late June 2018 when he saw something that crushed him: a pup that had been stabbed, had his ears cut off, and was starving.
Having grown up with a German Shepherd, David felt like he almost knew the dog, whose face looked characteristic of that breed. He named the dog Rukban, after the refugee camp where he was stationed.
An Abused Dog
Rukban was in critical condition; at first, David didn’t notice that the dog had been stabbed in the neck. Because Rukban hadn’t eaten for some time, David began feeding him and giving him water. He felt obligated to help, especially since the dog was living in such a hostile environment.
“I think I have always had a soft spot for dogs. It just seemed like it was the right thing to do since the locals have a disdain for dogs and would just as soon kill them rather than have to look at them,” David told Humanity in an email interview.
Taking care of Rukban would be an arduous process—he had been abused to such an extent that it took a month to get healthy. They mended the stab wound, vaccinated him for rabies and parvovirus, and treated him for ticks, fleas, and worms.
Man’s Best Friend
Throughout this whole process, Rukban became comfortable with David little by little. After three or four days, he started eating out of his hand, and the two became closer.
“I would play with him and get him used to someone that wasn’t going to hurt him. Pretty soon he would come to me when called, and take walks with me around the camp. Over the last week or so he would be waiting outside my tent in the morning for me to wake up. Always wagging his tail,” David said.
The pup proved to be a great comfort—a way to take the soldier’s mind off of being in the war. Rukban would most likely not survive if left behind, and David ultimately decided to bring the dog back with him. Fortunately, two U.S. Airmen informed David about organizations called Guardians of Rescue and Paws of War.
The head of Guardians of Rescue, a non-profit animal rights and welfare organization, told the soldier about Paws of War, whose mission is to help military personnel with the financial, medical, and logistical processes of bringing an animal back to the U.S.
“They explained the process, and how well it worked for them. I decided it was time for me to have a dog in my life again,” David recalled.
David was able to get his new friend into Jordan, and he has seen the pup twice since then. Despite the difficulties, he is confident that he will be able to reunite with Rukban in his home state of Florida once he returns from the Middle East.
“It has been a difficult road, but the communication has been excellent. I’m getting text messages, photos, and videos while separated from Rukban. I’m just thankful I found the Paws of War and the Guardians. They have made the process almost seem routine,” David said.
The soldier said it would mean the world to him if Rukban had a better life.
“I named him after the internally displaced persons camp in Syria because he is a Syrian refugee! But, soon, with the help of the Paws of War, and Guardians of Rescue, he will not be a refugee anymore!”
The views expressed in this article are David’s, and do not reflect the views of the United States Army.
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This story was originally published on Humanity.