But that’s just what happened the day he and fellow soldiers found a dog nursing puppies.
“She had sought refuge on the base from attacks by local residents,” says Stapleton of the white dog, who they found tucked among wreckage and broken machinery on one of their daily trips to a nearby Afghan Army compound. “She was a good mother and nursed the pups even though it was taxing her body and you could count all of her ribs.”
The soldiers started bringing the dogs food, naming the mom Sarina. As the puppies grew older, Afghan commandos took all but one little white puppy.
“The little white pup was fearful of the soldiers as they prodded her with sticks, trying to get her out from under a temporary hut,” Stapleton says. “We tried explaining to them that this only makes an animal scared, but I do not think we got our point across.”
Then one day Sarina wasn’t waiting for dinner at her usual spot. “We called to her but she would not come,” he says. “As we came closer, we could see her final pup lying beside her. [The pup] had been run over and left beside the road.”
So the soldiers decided to “adopt” Sarina, building her a plywood dog house on the base.
“She became protective of all of us, and would charge at the Afghans, barking ferociously,” he says. “We knew then if we did not get her out of there, she would end up like her last pup.”
Finding Sarina a permanent home in Afghanistan turned out to be a tall order. “Dogs are considered scroungers, and only valued if they are good fighters,” he says.
An Internet search led to Pam Constable, a journalist for the Washington Post who had established a small animal shelter in Kabul. Pam offered to help organize Sarina’s transport to the U.S., where she will live with Stapleton in a rural area of his native Oklahoma.
“She will have a good home in the country,” says Stapleton, whose tour ends in March. “The first thing we will do is to let her run in the grass, which she has never seen.”
Sarina’s transport to U.S., including 60 days of quarantine, will cost $3,100. Stapleton and others have raised nearly $2,000. If you would like to contribute, donations can be made through Constable’s charity, Afghan Stray Animal League. (Be sure to note the money is for Sarina.) Donations over $100 are tax-deductible.
And while the soldiers hope to give Sarina a new life in the U.S., the biggest gift may have come from Sarina herself.
“Sarina was our comfort during dark, cold nights in Afghanistan, where normality does not seem to exist,” Stapleton says. “She kept us company, reduced the stress, warmed our hearts and helped us to survive mentally. We need to repay her.”