No place like (a new) home for Ratchet

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2008 - 10:01 AM

Senators and strangers worked for his cause: to get to Minnesota and be with Army Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Spring Lake Park, who befriended him in Iraq.

The most famous dog in the world -- for this week, at least -- arrived in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Ratchet, the rescued Iraqi puppy, blinked modestly in the glaring lights of TV cameras, gazed at a U.S. congressman and looked around at people wearing T-shirts bearing his puppy picture.

Then he lowered his jet-lagged body onto the linoleum of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and slept the sleep of the dog-tired.

Ear rubs and even a dog biscuit failed to wake him. For Ratchet, who for two weeks was the subject of a tug-of-war between a Minnesota soldier in Baghdad and a military that prohibits pets, it's a peaceful ending to a story that outraged people around the world, via the Internet.

Ratchet was a tiny pup when he was rescued from a burning trash heap by American soldiers in Baghdad on Mother's Day. Army Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Spring Lake Park adopted the dog, calling him a comfort during a stressful year-long stint in Iraq. On Oct. 1, in preparation for a transfer to the United States, Beberg tried to get the seven-month-old border collie mix out of Iraq and to her parents' home in Minnesota. An officer confiscated the dog as he was on the way to the airport.

Beberg told her parents she was devastated at the thought of leaving the puppy in a country where few dogs are kept as pets and wild dogs are often treated like vermin. She posted the story on Facebook.

Katie Konrath, a college friend from White Bear Lake who had been following Beberg's postings about the puppy, blogged about Ratchet's situation, posted it on the website Digg, and asked friends to read it, drawing attention as more people read the story. From there Ratchet's story went viral.

An Internet petition demanding clemency for the dog was signed by almost 69,000 people around the world. Minnesota's members of Congress pressed for the dog's release.

Last week the military relented. Ratchet was rescued by Operation Baghdad Pups, a group that tries to get dogs and cats adopted by American military personnel out of Iraq.

Konrath was at the airport, wearing a shirt with Ratchet's photo on it.

"I think it's a testament to how compassionate people are," she said. "If this can help other soldiers keep their pets and their humanity over there, it's worth it."

While Ratchet's story has fascinated dog lovers, some question the uproar over an animal when so many people need help. Rep. Keith Ellison, whose office helped speed Ratchet's release, said the story is about more than a dog.

"He's a human way for people to connect with Iraq and a young soldier who is in a war zone," Ellison said as he waited for Ratchet to be unloaded from the jet. "He was source of comfort for Gwen and the soldiers around her. It makes the world a little bit more livable."

Operation Baghdad Pups, a branch of SPCA International, spent $4,000 getting Ratchet out of Iraq, even with free transportation from Kuwait to Minneapolis from Northwest Airlines. Terri Crisp, the program director of Operation Baghdad Pups, who flew with Ratchet to Minnesota, returns to Iraq next week to rescue 21 dogs and cats in a mission that will cost about $35,000. The group relies on donations and is using Ratchet's journey in an effort to raise money. Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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