Wartime tail: Nonprofit reunites soldiers with dogs
An Afghan kuchi named Poptart and more than 700 other animals are building new lives with their battle buddies through The Puppy Rescue Mission.
Army Sgt. Sarah Dean’s spirits sagged in her Kabul, Afghanistan, barracks. The numbers on the computer screen told the story. Despite her unit’s fundraising efforts, without an additional $2,300, she wouldn’t be going home to Las Vegas with the beloved kuchi dog who’d brought her hope amid the horrors of war.
That’s “Poptart” ― a stray she ran into one day while meeting with tribal leaders as an advisor to the Afghan army.
“She walked up to me and was so hungry,” Sarah says. “The only thing I had on me was Pop-Tarts®, so I broke off a piece and shared it. She gobbled that one, and then another, and then another, and I thought, ‘Poptart is your name, girl!’ ”
“We became fast friends, and I knew that whatever happened, she’d be there waiting for me. One touch and a look from her would bring a smile, peace, comfort, and hope. With everything bad going on around me, she reminded me that, ‘Something good is going to come out of this.’ I couldn’t leave her behind.”
Turns out, she didn’t have to, thanks to Linda Norwood, a graphic designer with Wells Fargo’s Wealth, Brokerage and Retirement (WBR) team, and The Puppy Rescue Mission ― a Texas-based nonprofit that works to reunite soldiers with the pets they befriend in war zones around the world. Founded in 2010 by a military wife, the organization has since rescued more than 700 animals.
A web search quickly linked Sarah to the nonprofit, and Linda, the nonprofit’s volunteer graphic designer, took her ‘Vegas or Bust’ photo with Poptart and created a rescue story page to help with fundraising.
The results stunned Sarah. “Within 12 hours, I had the rest of the money to get Poptart home,” she says. “It was overwhelming.”
Linda also designs calendars, holiday cards, and other items for the Puppy Rescue Mission, which sells them on its website. Each September, she makes hundreds of handmade greeting cards her WBR team sells, too, during Wells Fargo’s Community Support and United Way Campaign. Proceeds benefit Puppy Rescue Mission and other nonprofits such as Community Concern for Cats ― where Linda adopted her cats, Greta and Divot.
She got involved with Puppy Rescue Mission in 2010 after reading a New York Post story about three stray dogs in Afghanistan that foiled a suicide bomber’s attack.
“What they were doing really struck a chord in me, and I started donating, helped organize a fundraiser here in San Francisco, and offered to help out with graphics for their holiday greeting cards and other projects,” Linda says. “We’re all working to support the real heroes: our service members and their battle buddies.”
In 2013, Linda’s hours at the computer for service members were among the more than 1.6 million hours donated to charities by Wells Fargo volunteers.
Michelle Smith, executive director of The Puppy Rescue Mission, says Linda’s designs reflect the value of donating professional services.
“She’s brought a professional look to our greeting cards, rack cards, web story outlines, T-shirt designs, and other projects that has directly increased our support so we can save more animals,” Michelle says. “We’re grateful for every hour she volunteers.”
Linda is part of a vast network of volunteers working behind the scenes for Puppy Rescue Mission to make the reunions possible. Volunteers arrange flights and shelter stays in the Middle East during the mandatory 30-day waiting period after rabies vaccinations, meet dogs at the airports, foster them until soldiers get home, and more.
Sarah experienced the power of the network firsthand with Poptart, from the flight out of Kabul in February 2011 to reunion day in April 2011 at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, her current duty station.
“When Poptart arrived at JFK airport in New York, a Puppy Rescue Mission volunteer greeted her and got her through customs,” Sarah says. “When she got to Las Vegas, someone from Puppy Rescue Mission was there, too. Without all these volunteers, none of these animals would be coming home with us. They’re changing our lives.”