Grieving Family Fetches Soldier's Dogs from Iraq

Army Sgt. Peter Neesley feeds dogs Mama and Boris. i i

Army Sgt. Peter Neesley, who died on Christmas in Iraq, feeds the stray dogs he cared for, Boris (front) and Mama. Courtesy Neesley Family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Neesley Family
Army Sgt. Peter Neesley feeds dogs Mama and Boris.

Army Sgt. Peter Neesley, who died on Christmas in Iraq, feeds the stray dogs he cared for, Boris (front) and Mama.

Courtesy Neesley Family
Peter Neesley with the doghouse he built for Mama and Boris. i i

Peter Neesley with the doghouse he built for Mama and Boris. Courtesy Neesley Family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Neesley Family
Peter Neesley with the doghouse he built for Mama and Boris.

Peter Neesley with the doghouse he built for Mama and Boris.

Courtesy Neesley Family
Peter Neesley with his dog, Boris. i i

Peter Neesley, who died in his sleep on Christmas Day in Iraq, holds Boris. Courtesy Neesley Family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Neesley Family
Peter Neesley with his dog, Boris.

Peter Neesley, who died in his sleep on Christmas Day in Iraq, holds Boris.

Courtesy Neesley Family

On Christmas Day, Sgt. Peter Neesley of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., died in his sleep in his Army barracks in Baghdad. During his tour in Iraq, Neesley had started taking care of two dogs, a stray Labrador mix and her pup.

He named them Mama and Boris and even built them a doghouse just outside the military base. When Neesley died, his family decided to adopt the dogs and bring them to the United States.

His sister, Carey Neesley, tells Melissa Block that bringing the dogs home was one of her brother's wishes.

"He had said to us in numerous phone calls and e-mails that his intentions when his tour was ended in July [were] to find a way to bring them home," she says. "I have them here now and hold them. They're giving us exactly what they gave to Peter."

Neesley says her brother, whose death is still under investigation, loved the brown-and-white pup, Boris, and his mother very much.

To bring them to Michigan, Neesley says her family started by reaching out for help through the local media.

"Through that, we got a phone call from Rich at the Best Friends Animal Society, and they're an animal rescue group in Utah, so they kind of spearheaded the whole thing for us," she says. "We also got a call from ... the vice president of Gryphon Airlines — this is the only private airline that is allowed to fly in and out of Baghdad — and he called us and volunteered the services of his plane to transport them in and out of Baghdad. And certainly none of it would have been possible either without the help of our local government officials."

Neesley says both Mama and Boris are "very sweet and very mild-mannered dogs," but Mama is used to having to protect her pup, as well as her food and territory.

"So we're just kind of trying to ease her into the fact that she's safe and sound here, and nobody's going to hurt them," Neesley says.

The dogs also have to adjust to the Michigan winter.

"They're not used to the cold and especially not the snow," Neesley says. "I have to carry the puppy out in the snow; he will not go. He goes to the bathroom right away and wants right back in the house.

"I think they'll adjust. You know, right now, their coats are very thin because of the weather in Baghdad. And I think, you know, [once] their coats get a little bit warmer and they get used to it, they'll be OK, but I think right now it's a shock."

Neesley says the family is thankful for all the help they got with the dogs.

"They're tremendous dogs, and we are so fortunate to have them and so grateful to everyone who played a part, down to the soldiers who were caring for them on the base, you know, making sure they were safe and fed until we could get them," she says.

The family still keeps in contact with those soldiers, Neesley says.

"There are two in particular ... who were very concerned about the dogs' welfare, and were very close to Peter, and we exchange e-mails," she says. "I think part of what we've learned from all of this is that there are so many good, kind people in this world. There really are."

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