Powerful friends in Washington, D.C., and a worldwide outcry by dog lovers have prompted the U.S. military to agree to release Ratchet, the Iraqi puppy an Army sergeant from Spring Lake Park is trying to get to her Minnesota home.
But the black-and-white mutt isn't home free, yet. On Wednesday, because of what a rescue group says was a slow release by the military, the pup missed the flight that would have gotten him out of Baghdad.
Operation Baghdad Pups will make a special trip back to Iraq on Sunday to try to retrieve him.
Sgt. Gwen Beberg, who adopted Ratchet as a tiny 4-week-old pup after fellow soldiers in Baghdad rescued him from a pile of burning trash, sent her mother a short e-mail Wednesday when she heard the news.
"I AM THRILLED THAT RATCHET IS GOING HOME," she wrote.
But Beberg's mother, Pat, said she won't relax until the dog is in the hands of Operation Baghdad Pups. The branch of SPCA International, which was founded a year ago and relies on donations to rescue dogs and cats adopted by American military personnel in Iraq, has flown more than 50 dogs and cats to the United States.
"It's wonderful," Pat Beberg said. "But until he's in the hands of the Operation Baghdad Pups people, we still have to be a little reserved and cautious."
Gwen Beberg has described the puppy as a comfort during a rough year in Iraq. She is supposed to return to the United States next month, and she tried to get Ratchet to her parents' home in Spring Lake Park before she was transferred to a new base in Iraq last week. But a superior officer confiscated the dog on the way to the airport. Military regulations prohibit soldiers from adopting pets in Iraq.
Pat Beberg learned that Ratchet's departure from Iraq had been cleared when Sen. Amy Klobuchar called her cell phone as she was driving to the dentist. She hopes Ratchet's case might get the military to reconsider its policy against pets.
"I want to make sure that other soldiers do not encounter this," Beberg said. "[Gwen] is using a puppy to handle stress. Isn't that so much better than popping a handful of pills?"
Ratchet's case has ignited a firestorm of interest on the Internet. By Wednesday afternoon, petitions demanding clemency for the dog had been signed by more than 50,000 people around the world, and the pup's story was posted on almost 27,000 websites. Supporters called congressional offices and Army headquarters this week demanding that something be done to save the dog. The offices of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., also pushed for the dog's release.
Northwest Airlines has offered to fly Ratchet from Kuwait to Minneapolis. Beberg's parents would keep Ratchet until Beberg leaves the Army early next year. Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380