Saving Private Smoke: Wounded Soldier and War Puppy Reunite
A wounded soldier and the puppy he rescued on the front lines of Afghanistan in exchange for three cigarettes have been reunited after months of separation.
A mortar attack severely wounded Private First Class Donny Eslinger in September 2011. He was swept into emergency medical care, first at Kandahar Airfield, then Germany, and now at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He never had a chance to say goodbye to his beloved pup, whom he had named Smoke Pup Barbarian, and toted around in his backpack when he could.
But the squad leader of Eslinger's platoon didn't want to see Eslinger without his dog, or the dog without Eslinger. He wrote to a magnificent group called The Puppy Rescue Mission, whose motto is "Soldiers Saving Puppies, Puppies Saving Soldiers":
"Smoke was the only bit of morale that made these kids forget where they were and cope with the tragedy we just experienced. It is amazing how therapeutic a little creature can be. Donny took care of that dog up until he was injured. Many of us in his Platoon would love nothing more than to see Smoke reunited with Donny. It would be the only decent thing we would see come from this place."
After a great deal of paperwork and fundraising, the two were reunited at the hospital this week, and word is that the two couldn't be happier. Check them out in the photo below.
Smoke has grown up since last seeing Eslinger. They've both been through so much since September. And now the pup who was rescued by the soldier may well help rescue the soldier.
(I wrote a book about the soldier-dog relationship, in case you'd like to read more about the incredible bond they form. It's called Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes. It's coming out in March, and I just rolled out my Soldier Dogs website a couple of days ago. Please come visit and have a look around. The site features some wonderful bonus photos of dogs and their soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.)