Soldier befriends stray dog in Iraq, but when it’s time to fly home—there was a big problem

She needed thousands of dollars along with vaccinations, documentations, and travel arrangements for the dog.
June 6, 2018 1:39 pm Last Updated: June 6, 2018 1:39 pm

More often than not when a stray dog is found in the United States, the animal is cared for by either the person who found the dog or by an animal shelter. In other countries that’s not always the case.

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Tracy McKithern learned that in Iraq, citizens didn’t treat strays too kindly, and yet despite its experience with humans, one dog in particular grew close to her during her time in Iraq.

Sgt. Tracy McKithern served in Iraq between April 2017 and January 2018 as a combat photographer.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)

While McKithern was stationed in Iraq she noticed a small dog and her mother constantly sniffing around her unit’s camp.

“I fell in love with her immediately,” she told DVIDS.

McKithern and other soldiers at the camp took turns taking care of the dog, which they named Erby Kasima—Erby, after the largest city in northern Iraq, and Kasima, the Arabic name for beauty and elegance.

Despite previous bad experiences with humans, Erby became a frequent visitor to McKithern’s camp.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)

As time went on, McKithern and her fellow Italian and German soldiers, who also helped care for Erby, noticed the dog’s health began to get better.

Although improved health was certainly a plus for Erby, it didn’t mean she would be guaranteed a better life when McKithern eventually returned home to the United States.

She wanted to bring Erby home with her to Tampa, where she lived.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)

One night McKithern shared a post on Facebook about Erby. She expressed her wishes to bring the dog to the United States.

She went to sleep and the next morning saw that her friends and family had shared several links to rescue groups who might be able to offer some assistance. She reached out to one and they were glad to help.

“We sent them $1,000 and they set up a [crowdfund] to get the rest,” McKithern said. “We needed an additional $3,500.”

Raising the rest of the funds wasn’t an issue, but acquiring the necessary documentations, vaccinations, and making the travel arrangements took a lot of time and energy.

She was able to raise the funds to bring Erby home, but the logistics took more time and effort.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)

Unfortunately, McKithern was unable to get everything settled with Erby before she left Iraq, but several officers whom she had become friends with offered to send Erby to the United States when all of her documentation was ready.

McKithern flew back home without her dog.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)

Roughly a month after she had been home she received some news.

I couldn’t believe it! But I’m a Soldier first, and my commander received an email looking for volunteers. The need at Fort McCoy was desperate at the time. It is a gunnery exercise, which was an opportunity to expand my skills and knowledge as a soldier. It killed me that it was going to keep me away from Erby for another two months, but it’s an important mission. It will all be worth it in the end.

While she flew to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Erby flew to JFK Airport in New York, where McKithern’s husband, Sgt. Wes McKithern, picked up the dog and brought her home to Florida.

Finally, two months after they missed each other in transit, the two were reunited.

At first Erby was cautious when she spotted McKithern at the airport in Tampa, but it didn’t take long for the pup to smother her rescuer with tons of kisses.

“I can’t believe it,” McKithern said. “It feels like a miracle is happening.”

Erby’s mother is still in Iraq, but McKithern is hopeful that one day soon she’ll be able to come to the United States too.