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Bringing Syri home
Mike Richardson and Syri
Mike Richardson with Syri in Richmond Hill. Richardson, a Marine and Army veteran working as a contractor in Syria, found the dog as a puppy and brought it home with the help of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International. Photo provided.

Richmond Hill resident Michael Richardson was working in February as a civilian contractor at a site in northern Syria when he found the puppy. She was dirty, hungry and had an injured tail, and that wouldn’t do.

“The soldiers (at the site) immediately took her in and started taking care of her,” said Richardson, an Army and Marine Corps veteran with 30 years of military service and a number of combat deployments to places such as the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq under his belt.

That changed, over time. The dog, named Syri by the men who cared for her, became a caregiver of sorts.

“Just having Syri around raised the morale of everyone that met her. No matter what kind of day someone was having they couldn’t help but stop and pet her and talk to her in a high pitched ‘puppy’ voice and walk away smiling,” Richardson said, in answer to a list of emailed questions. “Having her there was therapeutic for deployed soldiers, and I feel military leadership really underestimates the morale and mental health benefits Syri and other stray animals like her provide soldiers and civilians in deployed environments. She just captured everyone’s heart, and we all knew we had to do whatever it took to get her home. She couldn’t be left behind.”

In April, Richardson reached out the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International to apply for help getting Syri back to the U.S. through Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide Program. He was put in contact with the SPCAI’s Kurdo Mustafa, who “was more than happy to help get her rescued,” Richardson added.

In mid-summer, Syri was flown out of Syria to Iraq. After a stay there and another stop on the way, the dog arrived at JFK International Airport in New York in late September. Syri was driven from there to Richmond Hill, where she was reunited with Richardson on Oct. 3. From start to finish, the SPCAI said, the puppy’s journey from Syria to Richmond Hill took about six months.

“Even after all that she adjusted immediately and fit right into our lives,” Richardson said. “It is amazing how adaptable she is, and how she has handled so many new experiences.”

Right off, Syri made a new friend, Richardson’s wife, Lauren, who rescues and fosters cats through Georgia Rescue, Rehabilitation and Relocation (GRRR) and was at first nervous about how the dog would react to the family’s feline rescues.

“(Syri) absolutely loves my wife,” Richardson said, noting the dog also “adapted quickly to being surrounded by cats and loves to watch the foster kittens run and play.” Syri has also developed a bond with the family’s other dog, Ronin, “and follows him everywhere,” Richardson added, calling the transition easier than he expected. “It has been so much fun watching Syri explore and discover all the new things in Georgia that she never experienced in Syria or Iraq.”

There was a cost to get Syri to the U.S., much of it covered by donations. SPCA International covers the cost “associated with the care and export within their country and origin and transport to the US.,” an SPCA representative said in response to written questions. “OBP servicemembers are responsible for $700 to cover the fees associated with domestic transport costs.”

The total cost can range from $3,000 to as high as $9,000, SPCA International said, “depending on the location and length of time the animal needs to stay in our care until they meet all US important requirements.”

Donations pay for “the most expensive portion of these missions, such as everyday care, veterinary care, costs associated with export paperwork, travel to the US, and boarding at US port of entry until final transport,” the SPCAI said, adding that support from donors “ensures that the furry friends our US service members befriend in the battle zone are well cared for before they can be reunited.”

For Richardson, Syri did more than just befriend the soldiers and civilians at the site in northern Syria – many of whom still reach out to him to find out how the dog is doing.

“Thanks to Syri’s rescue and the amazing generosity of the SPCA International, we were able to save eight dogs and eight cats during my time in Syria,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about the SPCAI and the work they do to reunite military members and the animals they have rescued. Without them, none of this would have been possible.”

Lauren Richardson with Syri.
Lauren Richardson with Syri.
Michael Richardson with a younger Syri in Syria.
Michael Richardson with a younger Syri in Syria.
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