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'Cat Lady of Baghdad' Saves Iraqi Strays

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    Cat Lady of Baghdad Saves Iraqi Strays By BRADLEY BROOKS,AP 2008-04-29
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2008
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      'Cat Lady of Baghdad' Saves Iraqi Strays

      BAGHDAD (April 29) - The mission was to get Simba al-Tikriti out of
      Iraq and to a new life in Britain.

      Photo Gallery
      Denis Poroy, AP Baghdad Rescuer Is Cat's Meow Dennis' family and
      friends raised the money to fly Nubs to the U.S. Here, Nubs is
      welcomed with a hug from Kelly Williams after arriving in San Diego on
      Feb. 22. When Dennis' tour of duty ended in March, he returned to the
      U.S. and was reunited with Nubs. Sources: AP, www.baghdadcatrescue.com

      First, a roadside bomb nearly wiped out the taxi heading to the border
      with Kuwait. The next step was to hide under tarps in the back of a
      truck. More hardship awaited: six months caged by authorities in England.

      But freedom eventually came for Simba, who walked away from captivity
      with tail held high.

      So began the improbable work of the self-proclaimed Cat Lady of Baghdad.

      "Some people buy flash cars, others flash clothes. But it's my animals
      that float my boat," said Louise, a security consultant in Baghdad who
      moonlights as a one-woman animal rescue unit that may be the only such
      organized effort under way in Iraq.

      Since Simba's journey three years ago, she has managed to send four
      more cats and two dogs back to her native England. The costs -- which
      can run up to $3,500 per animal -- are covered by donations and her
      "old stuff" sold on eBay.

      "Collectibles, Cabbage Patch Kids, toys, the lot," said Louise, who
      asked that only her first name be published because of security worries.

      Louise -- a tall, blond and blunt-speaking former soldier with an
      accent as thick as Yorkshire pudding -- also has private battles to
      wage with Iraqi bureaucracy. Completing mountains of paperwork, calls
      to countless officials and, on one occasion, bursting into tears at
      the airport have all been required to get animals out of the war zone.

      By law, any animal imported to Britain must go through a six-month
      quarantine. There are also required vaccinations.

      It all started when Simba, a white cat with "tabby bits," strolled
      onto a U.S. military base. Soon came the planning for Operation Puss
      'n' Boots -- as the Simba journey was dubbed by Louise's colleagues
      when she worked at the Army outpost near Tikrit, about 80 miles north
      of Baghdad.

      An Iraqi working with Louise was heading to Basra in southern Iraq.
      She asked if he could take Simba to the border with Kuwait, where an
      English friend would be waiting.

      Just south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded a few yards from the cab,
      but no one was hurt. At the border, the friend crossed into Kuwait
      with the cat hidden.

      There may even be a bit of aristocracy among the felines Louise has

      A popular urban myth in the Green Zone is that the area is overrun
      with cats because Saddam Hussein kept hundreds in and around his
      former presidential palace, which now houses the U.S. Embassy.

      "Two of my cats -- Googles and George -- have Ocicat markings," Louise
      said, referring to a highly prized spotted breed that originated by
      interbreeding Abyssinian, Siamese and American Shorthair cats. The
      theory goes that few in Iraq, other than Saddam, would have had such a

      It is impossible to gauge how many dogs, cats and other animals have
      been rescued in Iraq in the past five years by soldiers and foreigners.

      In March, Marine Maj. Brian Dennis, was reunited with Nubs after his
      family and friends raised the costs to fly the 2-year-old mutt from
      Iraq to San Diego. Dennis found the hound stabbed with a screwdriver
      in Iraq's Anbar province and nursed him back to health. He named him
      Nubs after learning someone cut the ears off believing it would make
      the dog more aggressive and alert.

      Many Western companies also have one or more pets living in their
      compounds, and cats and dogs are often seen on military bases.

      It can be a strong dose of culture shock for many Iraqis who are
      unaccustomed to having pets and who especially -- following widely
      held Muslim tradition -- eschew dogs as unclean.

      In January, Iraqi security guards and maintenance workers watched with
      bemusement as Zeus -- one of the dogs Louise rescued -- was lavished
      with belly scratches and other doggy treats by Westerners before it
      was flown to England.

      But when Iraqi workers came near, Zeus would bark savagely and nip at
      their heels. Louise denied that the pooch had something against Iraqis.

      "He just senses their fear, that's all," she said.

      According to an official with the Jordan office of the London-based
      Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad, there are no established
      groups actively working in Iraq to rescue small animals. Veterinarians
      have been targeted by insurgents and fled the nation in droves.

      "This has left a huge black hole for all animals in Iraq," said Dr.
      Ghazi Mustafa, the group's director in Jordan.

      The State Department, through its provincial reconstruction teams, is
      working on livestock care, providing free vaccinations and funneling
      in as many military veterinarians as possible.

      But about the only time smaller animals see a vet is to be put down.

      Thousands of stray cats and dogs in Baghdad's Green Zone and on U.S.
      military installations across Iraq have been trapped and euthanized
      for health reasons under a program carried out for the military by the
      contractor KBR Inc., a former Halliburton subsidiary.

      "No one involved in the animal control program enjoys the task," said
      Lt. Col. Raymond F. Dunton, chief of preventive medicine for the
      military in Iraq. "Unfortunately, it is critical that we continue this
      work to protect the health and safety of our service members."

      Stray dogs and cats, Dunton said, can spread rabies and other diseases
      that could be transmitted to soldiers.

      Last year, nearly 7,100 animals were caught in humane traps by KBR
      workers, Dunton said. Of those, about 5,300 were euthanized.

      At least four of those were cats that Dennis Quine said he had been
      planning to take back to his native England.

      Quine, a former contract maintenance worker for the British Embassy in
      Baghdad, befriended five feral cats last August. When he returned from
      a vacation in December, he learned that his cats had been caught by
      KBR workers.

      Quine spent several evenings searching for the cats. Finally, after
      about a week, the lone survivor -- Missy -- turned up. Quine knew he
      had to get her out of Iraq.

      He had heard of Louise by word of mouth.

      After leaving Iraq in December on a Royal Air Force flight -- which
      did not allow pets -- Quine returned on a commercial flight to be
      reunited with Missy, who had been under Louise's care. Quine and Missy
      then made their way to England, where the cat is now in quarantine.

      "Friends have said it is stupid, asked why I'm doing this," he said.
      "I tell them, 'Hold on, this is nothing less than what I'd do for a
      friend.' I was prepared to risk my life to get my cat out."

      For weeks, Louise had sworn she could no longer take any more pets
      back to her family home in England and would only act as matchmaker
      for strays and new owners. "I've got five cats, two dogs, four guinea
      pigs, some fish and two parents at home," she said.

      But as she left Baghdad for a vacation this month, there beside her
      sat Tigger, a skinny street cat with half a tail, on his way to Britain.

      For more information about Louise's rescue work, visit



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