The city of Syracuse was, for the most part, asleep. But, one resident was on her way to Newark, New Jersey. Driving through the night, she hoped to make it to there by the time the plane landed. Her schedule said 6 a.m. It's a four hour trip.

Lauren McEntire has business in Newark, but nothing like what we've all seen in the stereotypical sense. She's picking up cargo that is being delivered from half a world away by a chartered plane.

The cargo is a shipment of dogs and cats, brought over from Kabul, Afghanistan. The recipients are U.S. soldiers who had been deployed there, but have returned, and have been waiting for a chance to reunite with their four-legged friends.

McEntire, a college student, is volunteering with The Puppy Rescue Mission and is making her first trip to participate. For her, the decision to help with the program's inaugural visit to Newark was easy.

"I've always said that I wanted to do something with animals," McEntire said. "With this being different than just going to shelters and doing rescues and stuff, and helping the soldiers on top of that, it definitely held a big place in my heart and I knew I had to be a part of it."

The Puppy Rescue Mission was founded two years ago by Anna Cannan, after her fiancée was deployed to fight in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber had attempted to blow up the soldiers' post, but several dogs alerted them before he had a chance to finish the attack. Soon after, soldiers like Chris began to care for the dogs, becoming fast friends in the process.

On this trip, ten dogs and one cat will be flown in via a donated plane from Kalitta Air Cargo. The volunteers will clean the animals up, let them run for a little bit and give them a throughout check-up. Then, they'll be taken to a shelter south of Newark for a 24 hour observation.

After that, the animals make their way home.


"They will be flying all over the country," McEntire said. "There's one going to Texas, two of them are going to Florida. One is going to Georgia, and one is actually going out to Chicago."

If the soldier lives close enough, a volunteer delivers the animal. The special delivery strikes an emotional chord, both in the heart of the soldier and the volunteer.

"After seeing all of the emails I've gotten from the soldiers so far, they're excited about getting their dog," McEntire said. "I want to see that in person."

The cost to ship an animal from Afghanistan is high, totaling about $3,000 dollars per animal. But, money raised through TPRM's website and Facebook page goes towards shipping each animal to their destination, vaccinations, food and other needs. With donated flights, the cost has dropped but still remains high.

McEntire hopes that as the program gains more attention, additional funds can be raised to bring more animals home.

"With this being our first big transport, we're going to be doing a lot more of them," McEntire said. "I'm hoping that more people are going to start hearing about it and being able to be a part of this. I mean, it has such significant effect on our soldiers. This is something that is so small, an animal, that is kind of helping all of that."

There is also evidence from several studies saying that animals of any type, not just those from Afghanistan, have proven to be invaluable in the treatment of PTSD. According to Elements Behavior Health, "for the soldier troubled by recurring thoughts of a traumatizing experience, it is helpful to have an animal near at hand which requires the focus to be shifted away from self and toward them and their needs."

McEntire says she also believes in the strength these animals provide.

"To think that these dogs are helping with such a horrible thing that they're having to endure in Afghanistan, I think is amazing," McEntire said.

But, as the night sky fills her vehicle with the sweet smells of summer, all Lauren McEntire can think about is getting to Newark on time. She doesn't want to miss a second of the action.


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