SCOTT SIMON, host:
Sergeant Terry Young says that when he was a U.S. Army medic in Afghanistan, soldiers were drawn to stray dogs who wandered onto their base in the Paktia province, searching for food and warmth. Our rooms could be mistaken for kennels, he wrote, with the cement floors, smell of urine and feces, razor wire and chain-linked fence all around the compound.
A suicide bomber launched himself into those barracks last February. Three dogs who'd been essentially adopted by U.S. soldiers, and named Rufus, Sasha, and Target, snarled and snapped at the bomber. The man who'd come there to blow himself up cringed at the loyal ferocity of dogs and set off his bomb outside. Five soldiers were injured, but no one died.
Well, not quite. Sasha was killed. Rufus and Target were wounded. But the medics lavished extra care and love on them, and as they all healed, the soldiers and the dogs grew even closer. They had shared fear, loss and courage. When the soldiers returned home, they raised thousands of dollars to bring their dogs too. They saved our lives, they wrote Army officials. We want to make them a part of our families.
Rufus joined a family in Georgia. Target came to live in Pinal County, Arizona this August with Terry Young's family. Target was celebrated in the community and cherished by the Young family, especially their three children.
Last Friday, Target strolled through the doggie-door of the Young family's home and out into her neighborhood. She was found and taken to the animal control center and later identified by Sergeant Young from an online photograph. But before Terry Young could take Target home, someone at the center made a terrible, thoughtless mistake, for which they make no excuses. Target was mistaken for another dog and euthanized.
I'm heartsick over this, says Ruth Stalter, the center director.
The employee who put down Target has been placed on leave; an investigation has been ordered. A former worker at the center told local press that other lethal mistakes nearly occurred in the past. Miss Stalter points out that people who work in animal control centers must love animals. But I've done enough stories in animal shelters to know that kind people working there might sometimes numb their nerves to put down so many dogs and cats day after day.
Sergeant Young wept this week as he told reporters how his four-year-old daughter cries and says, Daddy, bring Target home. A dog who saved warriors was killed by a careless mistake. But Target risked her life to save others and lived to feel the love of a family. She died in the line of duty.
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.