Dog injured in Afghanistan finds new life in Indiana
Kyle Huttenlocker, who worked as a security contractor at Camp Grizzly near the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, visits with Darak on March 21, 2012 in Bloomington, Ind. The mixed-breed dog was injured when it was struck by a car in Afghanistan and is finding a new life in southern Indiana. (AP Photo/Bloomington Herald-Times, Jeremy Hogan ) (March 27, 2012)
The van stops, and a 30-year-old man climbs out.
"Hey, buddy," the man says, extending his hand. "Remember me?"
The dog, which has an unsightly hump on its surgically repaired back, carefully studies the man. For the past five months, the two of them have been a world apart, separated by an ocean and 7,000 miles. But the dog seems to detect something familiar about the man — his voice, his mannerisms, his scent.
Suddenly, the dog flattens its ears against its head and begins wagging its tail. Then, moving with a noticeable limp, it hobbles over to the man and burrows its snout into his thigh.
"How you doing, Bub?" the man says, scratching the dog behind the ears. "It's good to see you again. You're one lucky dog."
The dog slathers the man's hands with a wet tongue, panting between licks with an open mouth that looks for all the world like a smile. The dog remembers.
In late 2010, Kyle Huttenlocker was in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for a security company hired by the U.S. State Department to protect the U.S. Embassy there.
"There was a stray dog that lived in an alley right behind our camp that we were all very fond of," said Huttenlocker, a Bloomington native who previously spent a year in Iraq as a member of the U.S. military. "We named him Darak after the neighborhood he lived in, which is called Shash Da Darak."
Darak was leading a difficult life — scrounging for food, sleeping on the hardscrabble terrain and running for his life from unfriendly people.
"Afghans don't treat dogs very well," Huttenlocker said. "They throw rocks at them and hit them with sticks. Darak figured out really quickly that we treated him a lot nicer."
Huttenlocker would often take bologna from the dining hall, place it on a white paper plate and give it to Darak — who must have thought he'd died and gone to heaven as he voraciously devoured the meat.
"Darak would hang out with us behind our camp, and bark at the Afghans whenever they walked by," he said. "We were clearly his favorites."
One day Huttenlocker got a phone call from one of the camp's guards, who told him he saw an Afghan motorist intentionally drive his vehicle over Darak. Huttenlocker and some friends rushed to the area and found the terrified dog hiding inside a pipe that ran along the base of a ditch.
"He was scared and in pain," Huttenlocker said. "But we were able to loop a leash around his neck and drag him out. We could tell he was seriously injured because he was dragging his rear legs behind him."
Huttenlocker and his friends pooled their money and gave $400 to a dog rescue kennel in Kabul, which housed Darak for three weeks and gave him some antibiotic shots, but was unable to diagnose or treat his injuries. The kennel contacted the Rescue Puppy Mission, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to help American soldiers bring their furry friends home.
The mission raised more than $4,500 to transport Darak to a veterinary clinic in Pakistan, where he got some cursory care, and then fly him to the U.S. for more extensive treatment.
Three months ago, Huttenlocker's mother, Beth Sherfield, picked up Darak at the Indianapolis International Airport while a television news crew filmed the scene.
"We got home at 1 in the morning, and I quickly realized that he was more than I could handle," said Sherfield, who already has two dogs and six cats. "Cats were probably part of his regular diet in Kabul, so he really went after them. Once I was holding him on a leash, and he pulled so hard I actually fell down."
Sherfield took Darak to a Bloomington veterinarian, who found not only that his spine had been fractured, but his abdomen contained three deeply lodged bullets. She then took him to Wayport Kennels, and hoped a Bloomington family would open their home to a 60-pound dog with a battered body but a sweet heart.
When Steve and Kathy Headley heard Darak's story from a friend, they contacted Sherfield and told her they wanted to adopt Darak.
"We needed another dog like we needed a hole in the head," said Kathy, who along with Steve already had three inside dogs and three inside cats. "But when we heard the story, we couldn't refuse. Because Kyle had gone through all that effort to bring Darak to the U.S., there was no way we weren't going to adopt him."
For the Headleys, the first order of business was paying $4,000 to an Indianapolis veterinary hospital to have Darak's broken spine repaired and the bullets removed.
"He still walks a little funny and has that hump on his back," she said. "But now he can at least use his back legs, and his back right paw is no longer curled up."
Kathy said Darak has adjusted to his new life in America. Still frisky at just one year of age, he loves to fetch plush toys in the Headleys' fenced-in backyard or luxuriate in the lush grass — taking long naps in the warm sunshine. Inside, he's always up for a game of tug-of-war using one of his soft blankets, or a nap in his downy soft doggie bed — perhaps dreaming of the rocky ground in Kabul.
Kathy said Darak gets along well with the family's other dogs, except at dinnertime.
"We have a sweet boxer, Lucy, who Darak allows to eat with him, but he goes after the other two if they get near his food," she said. "He used to go after our cats, but we have a big tomcat, Big Boy, who smacks him on the nose if he comes after him, so he's learning that's not a good idea."
Kathy said Darak is outgoing and sweet-natured, but still has a lot to learn.
"He tends to run into our sliding glass doors," she said. "He's never seen them before."
Huttenlocker is gently stroking the white hair on top of Darak's head. Darak's eyes are closed contentedly and he's panting softly — his tongue hanging sideways out of his open mouth.
Huttenlocker tells Darak he has something special for him. He pulls out a package, opens it, and hands him six slices of Oscar Mayer bologna.
The dog gives the meat a brief sniff. Then it is gone.
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com