Rescue group leaves Baghdad without puppy

October 15, 2008 5:50:02 PM PDT
An animal rescue group left Baghdad on Wednesday without a puppy whose cause has been championed by thousands of people from around the world. But the group said the U.S. military had cleared the dog to leave and was hopeful to get it out of the country as soon as Sunday.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International says the military finally agreed to allow the dog, Ratchet, to leave the country, but only 30 minutes before the flight out, too late for the dog to make it. SPCA's Operation Baghdad Pups flight left with six other dogs bound for the U.S.

The military responded that it did not hold the dog or order it to stay put at a U.S. military base.

Army Spc. Gwen Beberg, 28, of Minneapolis, adopted Ratchet after she and another soldier rescued the puppy from a burning pile of trash in May. But Defense Department rules prohibit U.S. troops who are deployed from caring for pets in theater or taking them home.

Baghdad Pups tried to collect Ratchet two weeks ago, but said a U.S. commander had intercepted a military convoy carrying the dog to Baghdad and sent it back to Beberg's former base. More than 45,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Army to let the puppy come to the U.S.

Baghdad Pups has brought more than 50 cats and dogs to the U.S. to be with their owners. The group says it is both rescuing animals who face abuse in Iraq, as well as helping soldiers who benefit from the bond developed with the animals.

Beberg, who plans to return to the U.S. next month, was ecstatic about the news that her dog was cleared to leave.

"I am thrilled that Ratchet is going home!!" she wrote in an e-mail to the SPCA and others Wednesday, adding that she planned to do a "victory dance" on Sunday.

Maj. Daniel Elliott, a spokesman for U.S. forces south of Baghdad, said in a statement Wednesday that the military had no control of the dog.

"Our military working dogs carry rank and are afforded many of the rights and privileges of their fellow soldiers," he said. "Ratchet is a wild dog indigenous to Iraq. A stray, befriended by a soldier. As such, we do not control him, nor can we 'order' him not to leave" the base.

Elliott added that there was nothing preventing SPCA from picking up the dog.

Besides the thousands of petition signers, Ratchet had champions such as Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, as well as both of the state's senators, Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Norm Coleman, all of whom wrote letters to the military asking them to review the case.


On the Web:
Ratchet petition:

Baghdad Pups site: