With no shortage of national news coverage, Puppy Rescue Mission (PRM) may ring a bell, but few may know Celina’s connection to its global network.
The nonprofit organization helps deployed soldiers transport and care for their pets around the world, but the organization’s executive director, Celina resident Michelle Smith, said the Metroplex remains a bit of a logistical headquarters for the international movement.
Founded by Anna Cannan, board president from Fort Kent, Maine, PRM’s conception involved only a single mission. A few weeks before her then-fiancé Chris’ arrival in Afghanistan, his combat post fell target to a suicide bomber. As the bomber attempted to enter the U.S. soldiers’ living quarters, a group of highly protective dogs that had “adopted” the post chased him away. They forced the bomber away as he blew himself up, and as a result, all of the soldiers survived the attack. While several of the dogs sustained injury, all but one, Sasha, survived.
“Many of the dogs in Afghanistan are Anatolian shepherds, a flock-guarding breed that’s existed for thousands of years,” Smith said. “They’re called kuchis and they’re very self-sufficient – they can fight off bears and wild animals looking for sheep – but they also become very attached to their owners.”
When Chris arrived, it was often weeks between Skype conversations with Cannan. But, she soon noticed that the times he seemed happiest and most at peace were when he was talking about the dogs near the camp. The soldiers often fed them from their own plates and cared for them, relishing the small sense of normalcy they provided. Though she was a working student at the time, Cannan resolved to honor the life-saving dogs by bringing them to safety in the U.S.
Initial fundraising included selling candles and social media initiatives. Soon, PRM afforded transportation and logistics to bring home Chris’ puppy, Bear, part of a group now called “The Lucky Seven.” While Cannan didn’t intend to continue the effort after the dogs from Chris’ post were adopted, PRM had already developed a life of its own.
Today, it helps transport dogs soldiers have adopted overseas, houses stateside pets while their owners are deployed, and addresses health care needs. A special section of its mission, “Sasha’s Legacy,” named after the dog that gave her life chasing away the bomber, relocates and finds home for dogs soldiers bond with but are unable to adopt.
Numerous sources have written about and lauded the organization. From DFW’s CBS 11 to CNN and even “The Today Show,” PRM captured the nation’s heart during the long years of seemingly endless war.
But, with help from Good Samaritans around the world, PRM’s grassroots remain firmly planted in Texas, where all of its financial organization is handled. In addition to Smith in Celina, its treasurer lives in Dallas and its accountant is in Wolfe City.
“We only have two paid employees, plus an accountant,” Smith said. “We don’t keep a kennel or an office to keep overhead costs as low as possible so that 90 percent of funds raised go to the animals directly.”
Celina is home, too, to at least one of PRM’s rescues. Smith adopted Scout, a kuchi rescued from Kandahar City.
In Afghanistan, Scout survived in a hole and was plagued with TVTs, a treatable, transmissible cancer, that Smith said is common among stray dogs. She was spayed at Celina Animal Hospital and still suffers from PTSD, particularly during thunderstorms, but Smith said she’s less skittish and a little calmer with each new storm.
Other dogs have been able to use such experience in warzones to help returning soldiers.
“Back in the states, the dogs seem to know instinctively what’s going on with owners who are suffering from PTSD,” Smith said. “Suicide rates for returning soldiers are very high, but we’ve heard time and again of how these dogs act as service animals, saving lives by being attuned to their owners’ anxiety.”
Smith said the organization’s collection includes seemingly countless stories from soldiers about the dogs that protected them overseas.