- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - They met in northern Iraq under the most trying of circumstances. Army Sgt. 1st Class Russell Joyce and his unit needed a guard dog. A scruffy, rail-thin German shepherd needed a home.

Though most of the soldiers in the Special Forces unit thought the dog looked too frail, Sgt. Joyce felt it deserved a chance. He fed it, trained it and, almost as a joke, named it Fluffy.

Through it all, man and dog forged a commitment that lasted through war and government red tape, and all the way back to a reunion and a new home in North Carolina.

“What makes this dog so great is, look at the irony,” Sgt. Joyce said. “We took this dog from Iraq, we trained it and we used it for our own security.”

Sgt. Joyce adopted Fluffy out of necessity. His unit, 3rd Group, Special Forces, Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, had used a dog to ward off intruders when stationed in Afghanistan and wanted another in Iraq. In March, they asked Kurdish soldiers in the area to search the streets for a suitable stray.

The Kurds came back with a gaunt German shepherd with scars on his head and legs, and missing several teeth.

“When we got him, he was pretty thin. He didn’t have much pep in his step and he was pretty scared,” Sgt. Joyce said. “He literally didn’t move for a day.”

Because Sgt. Joyce didn’t have any dog food, he fed the dog mutton, chicken and rice out of his hand. He taught the dog basic commands like heel and sit, and how to walk as a sentry dog — stay on the left side and near the handler.

Within a couple of weeks, Sgt. Joyce and his fellow soldiers noticed the dog was becoming aggressive to outsiders. At one point, Fluffy chased a Kurdish soldier over a fence, tearing off his pants.

“It definitely looked after us,” he said. “If any American went to walk guard, meaning walk patrol, he would go right to their left side and he would stand right by them.”

Sgt. Joyce and Fluffy worked together until he returned home from Iraq on May 10. The dog wasn’t allowed to go along because he hadn’t come from the United States with the troops.

Unless Sgt. Joyce could find him a good home in Iraq or some way to bring the dog with him, Fluffy would be euthanized.

Fluffy stayed with the 506th Security Forces Squadron in Iraq while Sgt. Joyce started his anxious campaign at Fort Bragg.

Sgt. Joyce began with e-mails and calls to the State Department, U.S. War Dogs Association President Ron Aiello, and Monty Moore, a former Vietnam dog handler running a Web page dedicated to war dogs.

Mr. Aiello wrote Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and set up a page in Fluffy’s honor on his Web site (www.uswardogs.org). Within days, Sgt. Joyce had received more than 1,500 e-mails inquiring about the situation. More than 32 U.S. senators also contacted him, asking what they could do to help.

By the time Sgt. Joyce called Fluffy’s caretakers in Iraq to tell them the machinery was in motion to bring the dog to the United States, the Pentagon already had contacted the squadron to ask about Fluffy.

The military found a way to bend its own guidelines to allow for Fluffy’s transfer: It designated him an honorary working military dog.

Nearly 30 people in the military hierarchy had to sign off on the transfer and bring a successful end to what supporters called Operation Free Fluffy.

The Army footed the $274 to fly Fluffy to North Carolina, where Sgt. Joyce was reunited with the German shepherd June 7.

The dog has won over his children, Sam, 12, and Elise, 6, and his wife, Caroline.

“He’s doing great here,” Sgt. Joyce said. “He plays with my kids, and he’s not shown any aggressive behavior. We’re working to deprogram him.”

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