U.S. Army Specialist Holden Schoenig is in the middle of a rescue mission. His team includes family, two fellow soldiers, a nonprofit group based in Texas, and even a boy who just got bar mitzvahed in Georgia.
But Schoenig needs much more help if he’s going to raise enough money to rescue a litter of five puppies and their mother from death, or a life filled with horror on the war-torn streets of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Schoenig, who’s serving with the 10th Mountain Division, adopted the family while on routine patrol in Kabul in August.
Or as he puts it, they adopted him. That includes his favorite of the litter, Lucky.
“I was walking out of the compound to the truck and they just came running up to me,” Schoenig said via text message from Kabul. “After that, I started giving them food and water and thought about seeing how to get them out of here and to America.”
To do all that costs money, to the tune of $4,500 per dog. Each dog needs to be flown to the U.S., then quarantined for 30 days, vaccinated and provided shelter care before finding loving homes in the states.
Schoenig’s mom, Melanie Schoenig of Bellport, has set up an online fundraiser to raise the balance of the money that’s needed to get Lucky and his mother, Scarlet, back home.
That money is also needed to get the other pups — Copper, Chase, Bear and Sophia — to the U.S. as well.
Since it’s too expensive to ship the dogs one at a time, they either all get rescued, or none do, Melanie Schoenig explained.
Holding back tears, she described in great detail how her son, a combat medic and 2011 Bayport-Blue Point graduate, came “two hours” from dying from a MRSA bacterial infection he contracted in June — just one month after his deployment.
It was only after her son returned to his base weeks later that he found comfort with his newfound animal friends, especially Lucky.
“There’s something about Lucky,” she said. “Lucky just stole his heart.”
Melanie Schoenig said she first received a text message from her 22-year-old son about the dogs on Sept. 4, when he asked her and his father, Kurt, if they still wanted a puppy.
“I texted back, ‘No,’ but with multiple o’s,” she said. “Then I asked why. And he just sent a picture of a puppy and I was sold.
“But he knows I’m a sap like that.”
After getting clearance from mom, Holden Schoenig did some research and got hooked up with a rescue group in Texas, called Puppy Rescue Mission, which was founded by an American soldier’s fiancé. That group then arranged to get the dogs to the Afghan Stray Animal League, a safe house that was founded by a freelance reporter.
While the money is being raised, there are homes in the U.S. being readied for the puppies, including with two fellow soldiers and a cousin of the Schoenigs who lives in Georgia.
Together, the adopters will be pooling about $3,500 toward the total cost of rescuing the dogs.
And to help those matters along, a 13-year-old boy named Noah Sherman, who had been fundraising for Puppy Rescue Mission as part of his Bar Mitzvah project, is chipping in another $4,000 that he’s compiled online.
The litter and their mom are being called the Kabul Commando by those involved in the rescue.
“Final update!” Noah wrote on his fundraising page eight days ago. “Thanks to all of my generous supporters, we were able to get Lucky to his goal. Hopefully he is going to be in the USA before Thanksgiving! My mom is going to transfer all the money raised to Puppy Rescue Mission and we couldn’t have done any of this without you!”
However, as Melanie Schoenig reminds, it’s all or nothing when it comes to rescuing the dogs.
Either way, she said, her son wouldn’t leave any of the animals behind to suffer.
“Animals in Afghanistan are literally treated like trash, used for target practice, blown up, run over and used in fights,” Holden Schoenig wrote in his desperate online plea for help. “If an animal is lucky enough to find it’s way to a U.S. base and is befriended by the soldiers, then the base becomes the animal’s home, a sanctuary where the animal finds love for the very first time in the animal’s life.”
“My son is so attached to Lucky, and I guess it’s hard to explain,” Melanie Schoenig said. “This is what happens when soldiers find a rescue pet. That’s their baby. That’s it.
“He calls him his little boy.”
If all goes well, come this February, when his 9-month tour in Afghanistan is over, her little boy and his little boy will all be reunited.
And there’s already a camouflaged collar here waiting for the puppy.
It reads “Lucky.”
All photos courtesy of SPC. Holden Schoenig