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Mr. March 2010 - Ramadi
Iraq War Veteran With Four Legs

hen fireworks go off, or lightning strikes, many a canine in Oriental trembles in a corner, or under a bed. Their hearts pound out of their chest.

Not Ramadi. The sleek dog is unfazed by back-firing cars and forward-firing guns. Thunder doesn’t ruffle his white-and-faintly-freckled coat. And fireworks, to Ramadi, are a pale imitation of the real thing — the war in Iraq — in which he spent the first few months of his life.

Ramadi, Mr. March.

For his cool, his sang-froid and his war veteran status, Ramadi is Pet of the Month for March.

Ramadi is named for the central Iraqi city where he was born. That’s where Marsha Shirk’s daughter, Andrea, a photojournalist was covering the war when she first saw him. Andrea was following the exploits of a US Army unit, and this small white puppy starting following them and became embedded, too.

Ramadi’s first Thanksgiving, in the Iraqi town that gave him his name. That’s Ramadi at right – just a tiny puppy then. (Andrea Bruce photo)

Marsha Shirk says that it took some doing for the soldiers to keep the little dog with their unit. For one, dogs in Iraq get routinely abused and don’t enjoy the same status they do in the US. Knowing that cultural difference, and the way US forces might welcome a dog in to their midst, Marsha says there were instances of the enemy strapping bombs to dogs. Against that backdrop, the military didn’t want dogs around the US forces.

Despite those security concerns, the little white pup that would be named Ramadi, found some friends among the soldiers and became their mascot during their turn in that embattled city. One photo that Andrea took shows the small puppy in the Army’s rough encampment in Ramadi, while two soldiers eat their Thanksgiving dinner.

Born in Iraq, now settling in to life in Oriental. Ramadi in Marsha Shirk’s living room. Behind Mr. March, Michael Nugent plays with Ramadi’s feline housemate, Lucy.

While the soldiers grew attached to their mascot, they had to hide him from their higher ups. One day when an inspection was announced, the soldiers in the unit hid Ramadi on the roof of a building in their compound. There he stayed, quietly, not only during the inspection, but through an enemy attack. Marsha says a bomb dropped through a hole in the roof next to him and exploded below. Ramadi stayed mum.

When the soldiers were set to leave the town of Ramadi, they couldn’t tuck the puppy in to their vehicles. Andrea, though, was due to fly out of Ramadi to her next assignment in Baghdad. The soldiers asked her to take the puppy with her. She smuggled him in her camera bag, on board a Blackhawk helicopter. Marsha says she’s not entirely sure that the pilot didn’t know what was up…

Photographer’s dog’s favorite food? Say cheese.

In Baghdad, Ramadi could more openly live with Andrea. She found a vet there and he lived with her there until they flew first to Germany and then to the US. He made the trip to the US on a commercial plane flight, this time more openly than on the chopper ride out of Ramadi. Marsha says Andrea had no problem getting him through customs, but did have to relinquish the several cans of Purina dog food she’d packed for him.

A full circle tail.

Ramadi lived for a few years just outside of Washington, DC where Andrea’s lives. Some of the Army soldiers from the unit visited him there. Last year, Ramadi traveled with her to Jerusalem where she worked for a while. A few months ago, Andrea got assigned to go to cover the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, again. Which is what brought the well-traveled dog to Oriental, and Marsha.

Ramadi is sleek and streamlined, his white coat, on closer inspection has tawny spots. As for his mixed-breeding, Andrea thinks he is a mix of several breeds from that part of the world. He’s thought to be part Saluki, which DNA testing suggests is one of the first canines to evolve from wolves. They were bred, like greyhounds, to cover a lot of ground fast. They’ve also been called Persian Greyhounds and, because kings of long ago would race them, the Royal Dog of Egypt.

Despite that background Ramadi tends more to walk rather than run.

Unfazed by explosions, but not a fan of spritz from the spray water bottle.

He shares the house by the Duck Pond with Beanie, a mixed-breed who himself is a veteran of being abandoned in a Pamlico County bean field a few years ago; and Lucy a cat.

Marsha Shirk and Amanda Nugent taking Ramadi (at right) and Beanie out for an afternoon walk.

Ramadi takes walks a few times a day. Marsha who had some knee surgery, needed help with that and after placing an ad, found Amanda Nugent and her son Michael. They help with the dog-walking every morning and afternoon. An interesting dynamic has fallen in to place that still involves Marsha in teh walking. Beanie won’t go for a walk unless Marsha goes, and Ramadi who needs to stretch his racer legs, won’t go far unless Beanie — and by extension Marsha — goes the whole distance too. There’s been a lot of walking the streets of Oriental.

Marsha says that Ramadi “misses Andrea something awful.” But he is adapting. The pup who stayed quiet on the roof during a bomb explosion now barks at those he doesn’t know. But from inside his fence, he is getting to know the UPS truck, the water meter readers, the propane deliveryman.

This summer’s humidity in Oriental may be a test for the dog who comes from the desert conditions of Iraq. But it’s a good bet the Croakerfest fireworks display will not bother him.

Ramadi’s Bio

Celebrity Pet Most Resembles: Peter O’Toole
Likes: Sand.
Dislikes: Water.
Biggest Adjustment To Oriental Humidity, wet muddy, ungranular ground.
Favorite Food: Cheese
Favorite Smell: Rabbits
Favorite Word: Walk
Greatest Misunderstanding: Being confused with a hotel chain.
Favorite Branch of the Military: The Army
Favorite Accessory: Camera bag

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Know a pet that is a standout? Send in some details and a photo to pet@towndock.net. Tell why that pet deserves the coveted TownDock.net Pet of the Month Prize Package --- accolades, a pat on the head (snakes excluded) and a box of Milk Bones ( or snack suitable for the species).

We regret that we cannot offer a college scholarship to Pet Of The Month winners.

Animals caught near the HarborCam attempting to suck up to the judges will be disqualified.