Army Reserve Sgt Tracy McKithern said she ‘fell in love immediately’ when she found a dirty little white stray sniffing around the camp she was stationed at during a one-year deployment in Iraq.
After a long process of vaccinations, documentation and fundraising, the dog she named Erby was set to go to the US to make a new home with McKithern and her husband.
However, another deployment coming around for Sgt McKithern meant more than two months away from her new pup.
McKithern, a combat photographer from Tampa, Florida, was stationed in Iraq from April 2017 to January 2018.
Stray dogs are common there in Iraq where there is a less-than friendly culture toward pups.
Erby and her mom were kicked and hit with rocks daily and starving. But despite the rough human experiences, Erby took a liking to McKithern almost instantly.
‘She loved everyone,’ said McKithern. ‘She is the sweetest little soul. She came up to me immediately, probably hungry, but gentle. I think she was looking for love more than anything else.’
McKithern and soldiers from the Italian and German armies her unit was partnered with, cared for the small dog.
They named her Erby Kasima, after nearby Erbil, the largest city in northern Iraq, and ‘Kasima’ being the Arabic name for ‘beauty and elegance.’
‘She ran up to our convoy every day,’ McKithern recalled. ‘She was so tiny she would fall and trip all over herself to get to us.’
After nourishing Erby back to health, McKithern’s time overseas was ending. She began looking for ways to bring Erby back home to Florida with her.
‘One night I posted a pic of us on Facebook, with a caption that read something like ”I wish I could take her home,”’ McKithern said.
‘I went to sleep, woke up and my friends and family had posted links to various rescue groups. I reached out to one of them, the non-profit Puppy Rescue Mission, and they responded immediately. We sent them $1,000 and they set up a crowd fund to get the rest. We needed an additional $3,500.’
It did not take long for a flood of support to come in, with most of the money from strangers.
With the help of Sgt McKithern’s team, they got all of the paperwork in order for Erby to go to the US.
McKithern returned home and Erby was set to follow her several weeks later.
However, after being home in Florida for just a month, McKithern was called on a 67-day mission to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which left March 11 – the same day Erby was scheduled to arrive in New York.
‘I couldn’t believe it!’ said McKithern. ‘But I’m a Soldier first, and my commander received an email looking for volunteers. The need at Fort McCoy was desperate at the time. It is a gunnery exercise, which was an opportunity to expand my skills and knowledge as a soldier.
‘It killed me that it was going to keep me away from Erby for another two months, but it’s an important mission. It will all be worth it in the end.’
McKithern’s husband Sgt Wes McKithern met Erby at the airport and drove her home to Tampa, where she had been assimilating into an American life and waiting patiently to be reunited with her rescuer.
Weeks later, McKithern flew home to finally be with her rescue pup.
SOURCE: Dailyail, by KAYLA BRANTLEY