30 January 2004
Among the casualties of the war in Iraq are the countless house pets that were abandoned by the princes of the past regime as they headed for the hills (or spider holes) to escape the approaching Americans.
Faithful dogs stood among the growing grass of unkempt yards waiting in vain for their less loyal masters to return. Many of these helpless ones died of neglect or were accidentally struck down by screaming convoys of wheeled and armored Detroit vehicles.
In our compound, there are a few survivors. Although it is against the rules, most of these little fellas have been adopted by clusters of kind-hearted soldiers. The role of best friend has been reversed for awhile; Man can often be seen in the mornings squishing an MRE into a bowl or in the afternoons throwing sticks to creatures whose joyous days of playing fetch were so suddenly interrupted. (One resourceful warrior even employed Uday Husseinís German shepherds as guards for his unitís motor pool.)
What will happen to these harbored hounds when the Americans pull up stakes and leave is unknown. There is an NGO who will fly furry friends back to the States for free, and a humane society has been set up in town to try to find permanent homes for these four-legged orphans.
There is something very, very sad about seeing an animal suffer. Perhaps it is because of the severity of the situation that my opinion of cats has changed. Antebellum Sosnicky was not terribly fond of felines, but over here I took a liking to the cat that hung around our house. This was most likely the pet of the previous occupants, whom we believe to have been a Special Republican Guard colonel and his family. While the cat never felt comfortable enough to let us pet her, she did accept our offers of army rations. Turkey breasts and wild rice pilaf seemed to be her favorites.
My housemates and I all delighted when our little lady gave birth to three healthy kittens. At breezy twilights, I would sit cross-legged beneath a gently swaying date palm, weapon and headgear put to the side, and watch her nurse her litter on the now-mowed lawn. This scene of tranquility made me forget completely, if only temporarily, my actual location.
One night, in an act of God no less consequential to the animal community than the liberation of Iraq, a large branch and its attendant outcroppings of deciduous leaves succumbed to its own weight, and with a loud creak and snap, came crashing to the ground.
In the morning we found her dead. Three kittens huddled nearby, not knowing what to do.
That afternoon, Mark and Wes buried her deep in the ground next to the big stump of an old tree. They were silent as they worked their picks and shovels; sweat forming on the backs of their brown T-shirts. They didnít say much as they went back inside to clean up afterwards.
Now three kittens, like so many other creatures around here, depend on us to survive. We are determined to see that they do.