'Reminder of home' has new home
The (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union
"Harris," a six-month-old puppy with a shaggy coat, reunited with Army Maj. Drew Pinckney in leafy Rensselaer County Thursday night, capping a six-week journey from a desert outpost in western Afghanistan.
Pinckney, 40, commanded a 12-soldier unit near the Iranian border, where the servicemen grew attached to a stray dog they named Sheba. The canine hung around the base and joined the soldiers on patrol missions. The New York Army National Guardsmen were among the only Americans within a 200-mile radius from January to August. Sheba provided them comfort, Pinckney said.
On March 23, the 65-pound mixed breed gave birth to seven puppies in severely cold weather. As Sheba nursed her babies, she began to lose weight.
The soldiers realized how important the dogs were to their mission. They built a shelter and brought Sheba food and water. Within weeks, the guardsmen were sharing their military rations and beef jerky. They called the puppies "The Magnificent Seven," and named them Cadence, Rocky, Sarah, Jack, Buckeye, Breezy and Harris.
"We were surrounded by just desert, gloominess and poor people who had lived really hard lives," Pinckney said Thursday. "The dogs kind of served as a reminder of home, that there's some good out there."
The story does not end there. When the soldiers heard the U.S. military would close the combat outpost at Islam Qala, six wanted to adopt the dogs and take them home. They embarked on an expensive mission that ended late Thursday, when Staff Sgt. Edwin Caba of Long Beach, Nassau County, delivered Harris — the last pup awaiting a new home — to Pinckney's five-acre property in North Greenbush.
"He's the Alpha male of the bunch," said Pinckney, who called Harris "Wardog" in Afghanistan. "He was the biggest dog and kind of lazy, too. We'll see if he's changed at all."
Pinckney grew up in Waterford and joined the Army in 1996. A field artillery officer, he served in Kosovo in 1999 and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005. He returned to Afghanistan this year as leader of a small squad assigned to advise and assist Afghan infantry units. The soldiers landed at Islam Qala with little backup, no medical team and hardly any technical support, Pinckney said.
"That was my biggest fear as a commander," he said. "We were pretty vulnerable out there. We were so small."
Getting mail required a more than two-hour ride through the unknown, sometimes under fire, Pinckney said. The 12-man team was the last to work at the base before Americans left it. All the guardsmen returned home safe last month.
While in Afghanistan, Caba contacted home to try to adopt Cadence. Five other guardsman also wanted puppies. Guardians of Rescue and the Save-a-Pet animal shelter — Long Island organizations that remove dogs from combat zones — raised donations to bring Sheba and her entire litter to the U.S. The dogs arrived last week at John F. Kennedy International Airport after a 30-day quarantine. Sheba is on Long Island, being assessed to see if she would make a good companion dog for a veteran with post-traumatic stress.
The groups worked through a Kabul-based organization called Nowzad, which rescues stray and abandoned animals in Afghanistan. The entire operation, vaccinations included, cost about $18,000, said Dori Scofield, founder of Save-a-Pet in Suffolk County. It was their largest reunion to date.
Pinckney couldn't attend the reunion with dogs and soldiers on Long Island last week, so Caba brought Harris to him. Pinckney and Harris didn't necessarily share a special bond in Afghanistan, as duties often preoccupied the commander.
Pinckney and his wife, Jaye, have three young children. They already have two dogs, Mr. Spock, a three-year-old French bulldog, and Meeka, a two-year-old Pomeranian. It took some convincing to allow Harris into their lives, but Pinckney said he promised those he served with that he'd take a puppy if no one else from the unit wanted one.
"He's going to do well," Pinckney said. "We're excited to get him integrated someplace stable. He's been in transit now for several weeks, and he deserves something better than that."