Afghan pups make new home in Cassville

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Afghan dogs find new home in the U.S. Darwin Hukill poses outside his rural Cassville home with Turd and Left Eye, a pair of dogs from Afghanistan that he helped bring back to the United States when he returned home from his deployment with the National Guard. The dogs arrived in the U.S. on May 30 after serving as trusted companions of Hukill and other members of his military unit while serving overseas. Democrat Photo

A pair of pups' journey to the United States began on a military base in northeastern Afghanistan and ended at a rural home in southwest Missouri. The two mixed breed dogs, known fondly as Turd and Left-Eye, are now on American soil and quickly adjusting to their new home in Cassville.

The process of getting two dogs from Afghanistan to the United States was complicated and costly but worth the effort to Missouri Water Patrol Officer Darwin Hukill, of Cassville, and other members of his National Guard team who returned last month from a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan with the National Guard.

According to Darwin, it cost approximately $7,000 to get the dogs transported half-way around the world to Cassville. When asked if bringing the dogs home justified the cost, Darwin didn't hesitate in answering "yes."

"I know this seems like a lot to go through for just a dog," said Darwin. "But this dog means a lot to me."

Turd, who will live with Darwin and his family in Cassville, as well as Left Eye, who will eventually make his home in Ohio with an Air Force officer, were trusted companions to the small group of U.S. military personnel stationed in Asadabad where they were imbedded with the Afghan Army.

Turd and Left Eye's heritage was also important to the American servicemen. The two dogs are the offspring of a beloved stray named DOG (Dee-Oh-Gee), who served as the guard dog at the base where Darwin was eventally transferred.

"DOG was very protective of the U.S. soldiers and always went with them when they walked outside the FOB (forward operating base)," said Darwin. "When any Afghans were around, she would get between them and the U.S. soldiers and growl at the Afghans unless she was called off by one of the U.S. soldiers."

By the time Darwin arrived at the base, D-O-G was gone. She had been shot and killed while the Americans were out on a mission, leaving behind a litter of young pups.

The two males were eventually given away but the two females, Turd and Left Eye, remained at the base. When Darwin arrived there, he volunteered to feed the dogs and keep an eye on them.

"The dogs provided a pleasant distraction," said Darwin. "They also brought me back a little bit of home life."

When it came time for Darwin and other members of his unit to leave Afghanistan, there was talk of what would become of Turd and Left Eye when the soldiers left.

"When it was time to come home, we got to talking about taking the dogs home," said Darwin. "Dogs in Afghanistan are treated cruelly and have an average life expectancy of about three years. I looked at these little pups and thought if we don't do anything for them, their fate is sealed.

"Also, after caring for these dogs, I became pretty attached to them," added Darwin, who describes himself and his wife, Kim, as dog lovers.

The soldiers learned about an organization known as Tigger House that had helped other soldiers bring dogs home to the U.S. Eventually, Darwin found out the process would cost about $2,500 per dog. At this point, Darwin said he sent an e-mail to family and friends outlining the story of the pups and seeking assistance.

Several residents from Cassville donated money toward the cause after reading Hukill's e-mial. Money also came pouring in after the dogs' story appeared in a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper.

"I received 100 e-mails in one day after the story ran," said Darwin. "The newspaper actually had to write another story asking people to stop sending money, because we'd already raised enough."

Darwin said due to the generosity of the many dog lovers who responded to Turd and Left-Eye's story, a donation will be made to the Tigger House. The donation represents the amount of contributions received above the cost of bringing the dogs to their new home.

Eventually, Darwin and Kim want to thank individual donors by e-mailing them photos of the dogs they helped rescue from Afghanistan.

"We really appreciate everyone's help, and we've kept track of every donation," said Kim, who works at Cassville Veterinary Clinic with Dr. Chip Kammerlohr.

Darwin said he was amazed by the letters he received from people after they read about his quest to bring the dogs home.

"I got a couple of donations from Vietnam vets," said Darwin. "In one letter, the soldier said he was assigned a dog while he was in Vietnam, but he wasn't allowed to bring him home. The military put down all the dogs before leaving Vietnam, and this man told me it broke his heart when he couldn't bring his dog home. And that's why he wanted to help me."

The dogs' journey from Afghanistan to the U.S. was an interesting one. Initially, Darwin had to get the dogs transported from the FOB to Jalalabad and then from Jalalabad to Kabul. This process involved paying drivers to take the dogs from one location to the next.

"I just kept my fingers crossed that the dogs would get there," said Darwin.

Once they arrived safely in Kabul, Turd and Left Eye were transported to Pakistan where they were boarded for three weeks until they could be booked on a flight to New York City. The process also involved a four-week quarantine.
Kim and Darwin used their post-deployment vacation time to drive to New York City and pick up Turd and Lefteye from JFK Airport on May 30. The two dogs arrived in very good shape, slept most of the way home to Cassville and are now getting acclimated to acres of green grass, fresh air and the Hukills' three other dogs.
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  • Lisa:

    Great article. I feel like these dogs belong to our entire family. Thanks for recognizing this good deed. We are thrilled to have Darwin back hom.

    Kathi Hukill Pellegrin

    -- Posted by Kathi in Houston on Mon, Jun 16, 2008, at 12:02 PM
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