A Prayer for a Soldier's Dog

Meet a dog who loves Pop-Tarts and the soldier's mom whose prayers brought her home.

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Posted in , Oct 20, 2010

Prayer helped mom find soldier son's dog

The brindle dog cowered in the back of her kennel, her dark chocolate eyes peering warily up at me. I couldn’t blame her. She’d just arrived here at Denver International Airport after what must have been a terribly disorienting two-week journey all the way from Iraq.

I knelt down and reached my arm out to her, slowly, so I wouldn’t scare her. “It’s okay, Heidi,” I told her. “You know my son, Shawn. I’m going to take care of you until he comes home.”

If he comes home. That fear had preyed on my mind ever since my Shawny deployed to Iraq with the National Guard seven months earlier. Every night he’d been gone, I’d begged God to watch over him and bring him home safely. I missed going out for ice cream and shopping with him, the long talks we’d have. I could always pour my heart out to him.

He’d be the first to admit he’s a mama’s boy. That’s why I was so excited when he called a few weeks earlier. He wasn’t able to call often, so it had to be big news.

Was he coming home? No. He wanted to tell me about Heidi, a stray that his unit had unofficially adopted and Shawn had fallen in love with. His unit was transferring and couldn’t take her with them. The new troops coming in didn’t want the responsibility of caring for a dog. “I have to find her a home, or who knows what will happen to her,” he said. “Can she stay with you for now?”

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Even though I love dogs, and already had a Lab, Sophie, I hesitated to take in a dog I’d never met. But I could tell it meant a lot to Shawn: The cost of sending Heidi home through an organization called Operation Baghdad Pups was two thousand dollars.

Now my husband, Tom, and I were here at the airport, meeting Heidi, even if I wished I were bringing my son home instead. I gently stroked Heidi’s scruffy coat, trying to reassure her. Funny, you know more about Shawn’s life over the last seven months than I do, I thought.

In Shawn’s occasional e-mails and even rarer phone calls he wasn’t allowed to give many details. What was his day like? Was he afraid? Had Heidi comforted him, as I wanted so badly to do?

I coaxed Heidi out of the kennel and clipped a leash to her collar. I took her for a quick walk outside the cargo area before Tom and I got her into the car. Heidi was jittery the whole ride. The shadowy mountains and forests that she saw out the car window as we drove through the Colorado countryside to our small town probably frightened her even more than the plane—she’d never seen any place like it.

Finally we pulled into our driveway. I clipped Heidi’s leash on again and let her sniff around our front yard a little. She was still anxious. “Come on,” I said, leading Heidi into the garage. I hoped that getting her inside and feeding her some dog food or some bacon would settle her a bit.

Suddenly, Heidi jerked the leash. She lowered her head and backed away, so hard that she slipped out of her collar. I grabbed for her, but she turned and ran…right out of the garage. The empty leash and collar dangled in my hand.

Heidi paused at the end of the driveway. She looked back at me, tilting her head as if deciding whether to run off or not. “Get a snack or something,” Tom quietly called. I ran inside and quickly grabbed a slice of bologna from the fridge. But just when we got close, Heidi bolted. I raced after her. She was too fast.

Out of breath, I bent over, hands on my knees, and watched helplessly as her furry form disappeared into the darkness. Tom and I ran up and down our street calling her name. Then our daughter, Sarah, came out to help. She and Tom got into the car and drove around the neighborhood, shouting at the top of their lungs. I stayed home, in case Heidi circled back. But she didn’t.

Tom and Sarah saw no sign of her either. I couldn’t believe it. Heidi hadn’t even set a paw in my house and already I’d lost her. She was used to the desert…how could she navigate our area?

“Let’s look for her again in the morning,” Tom finally said. “It’ll be easier to find her when it’s light out. She can’t have gone too far. She’ll be fine.” I wished I could believe him.

Dear God, I prayed, I know I’ve been praying overtime lately and there are a lot of people in this world who need your help. But please bring this poor dog safely back to us. My son would be so heartbroken if anything happened to her. In a way, my prayer for Shawn became one for Heidi.

First thing in the morning, I searched again. Nothing. Not even a passing jogger had seen her. I came back home and called Operation Baghdad Pups, crying so hard I could barely speak when a woman finally picked up. Somehow, I managed to tell her about losing Heidi.

“You should call your local media,” she said. “Get the community to help.”

I felt a flicker of hope. My neighbor offered to contact some TV stations and newspapers. They were all interested in the story—Soldier’s Rescued Dog Needs Rescuing. My twin sister, Jo, and I drove around town, putting up flyers we’d made with Heidi’s picture. Dozens of people in my town volunteered to help. The search was on.

I dreaded telling Shawn. Heidi had been gone 48 hours when the phone rang, and I just knew it was him. I took a deep breath, but I already felt the tears welling up. “Hi, Shawny,” I said.

He must have heard it in my voice. “What’s wrong, Mama?”

“Oh, Shawn. It’s Heidi. She ran away. I lost her.” I told him about the news stories, the flyers, the neighbors searching for her. “Everyone’s looking but…I don’t know. I’m so sorry…” I broke down.

“It’s okay, Mom. Don’t worry. You’ll find her,” he said, trying to console me. “Listen, tell everyone that she loves blueberry Pop-Tarts.”

“Blueberry Pop-Tarts? I thought bacon…”

“Not a lot of bacon in a Muslim country, Mom,” Shawn said. “But for some reason we’re fully stocked on blueberry Pop-Tarts. She gobbles them right up.”

Only Shawn could make me smile at a time like this. He told me that his tour of duty was nearly over, but I knew that every day he spent in Iraq was another chance he could get hurt…or worse. And now, on top of everything else, he would be worrying about a missing dog too.

I bought a few boxes of blueberry Pop-Tarts and let everyone know about Heidi’s odd food preference. Soon searchers were out trying to lure Heidi with her favorite treat. Even animal control officers baited cages with them.

But a day later, still no Heidi. A reporter from Channel 4 broadcast from our front yard, updating viewers, showing pictures of Heidi and Shawn to urge people to keep looking. Three days had passed already. I feared the worst. I had all but given up. A dog from Iraq, lost in Colorado for so long? We had wolves and coyotes and mountain lions around here. What chance did she have?

The reporter had just finished her segment when the phone rang. Tom answered it. “You just saw Heidi’s picture on the news? She’s in your driveway?” I overheard him say. I snatched up a box of blueberry Pop-Tarts and one of Shawn’s Army hats for a familiar smell. Tom hung up the phone. “They live about eight miles from here,” he said. “Let’s go.”

But by the time we got there, Heidi had run off again. We searched late into the night. No luck. Had Heidi really traveled this far? I couldn’t imagine how scared, hungry and tired she must be. If she was still alive. That night, before I went to bed, I prayed again over Heidi and Shawn. Keep them safe, Lord. Bring them home.

The next morning, Tom and I decided to go back to the neighborhood where she was spotted the night before. We parked our car in front of the tipster’s house.

“Where should we go from here?” I asked Tom.

“Look behind you.”

I turned. Heidi! She was crossing the street and hadn’t noticed us. Thank you, God. We quietly followed her until she came to a chain-link fence. She turned to face us. Please, Lord, don’t let her run.

I sat down near her and slowly unwrapped a Pop-Tart. Heidi licked her chops. She was clearly hungry, but looked all right. I broke off a piece of the pastry and tossed it. She crept closer and wolfed it down. I bet this is how Shawny got you to trust him, I thought.

Soon, she was eating the Pop-Tart out of my hand. I held Shawn’s hat out and she sniffed it. I put my arms around her. “You miss him too,” I said to Heidi, my tears wetting her fur. “I know you do. But he’ll come home to us soon.”

Sometimes all a mother has are her prayers, her trust in the Lord and a blueberry Pop-Tart. I slipped the leash onto Heidi and led her to the car. I couldn’t wait to tell Shawn she was home. Soon, I knew, he’d be home too.

Learn how adopting stray pets helps some soldiers cope and stay positive.

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