Looking at Arty, one would never think he had been a shy, timid dog when he was retrieved from the Houston airport after traveling thousands of miles from Kabul, Afghanistan.
He greets newcomers with a friendly nose and maybe a jump to get a closer look. A few weeks later, he’s finally starting to act like a puppy, according to his owner, Teresa Ridenhour.
Arty was the companion of Teresa’s brother, Eric, a warrant officer stationed in Afghanistan earlier this year. At every base, they would bring in a street dog to live there. The dogs make a great extra layer of security, alerting those there when something is amiss.
“We don’t train them in any way to be that extra layer of security, but like any dog, once they figure out what’s their home, they bark at anything that’s strange,” Eric said.
But the dog’s first purpose is to be a “morale dog,” helping those on the base.
“It kinda helps guys doing what has to be done overseas … to be able to come back to a relative safe place or safer place and play with the dog,” Eric said.
Eric would send pictures of “Captain Arty” at his Afghanistan home to his family. He was easy to love from afar, with floppy puppy ears and a calm face. Teresa knew she wanted to bring him back to the U.S.
“When I saw the pictures of Eric playing with him over there … I felt like I had to save that dog,” Teresa said. “It felt like it was a part of him.”
The main issue was that it would cost about $5,000 to bring Arty to the U.S. She turned to GoFundMe but had only raised a couple thousand, mostly from family donations, when Purina Dog Chow donated the remaining $2,000 needed to bring Arty home. Teresa was in the car when she got the news and immediately started crying.
Arty’s story made it to the Purina office in July, right as their Service Dog Salute campaign was launching. It wasn’t hard to decide they wanted to help.
“We know how difficult it is to bring a dog back from a situation like that,” said David Knospe, an assistant brand manager for Purina Dog Chow.
He’s not wrong. Eric first had to coordinate Arty’s transfer from the base to a shelter in Kabul run by Nowzad, a charity specializing in rehoming animals from Afghanistan. There, Arty spent 60 days quarantined before flying to Dubai, then to Houston, landing there Sept. 13. After a few days at Teresa’s parents' house, Arty came home to Teresa’s on Sept. 23.
Before, the plan was that Arty would be a “family dog,” cared for by Eric’s family members while he was deployed until Arty could go home with him, and Eric got to see Arty during a brief visit in early October. But Eric ultimately decided Arty belonged with Teresa and her family — the day after Teresa brought Arty to her home, Teresa had to put down her own beloved boxer, Simone. Since then, Arty has helped Teresa and her family heal from the loss.
“(Eric said) ‘Deep down inside I think he was meant for you all along. I think God meant for you to have him,’” Teresa said.
Now, Arty gets to be a regular dog. He came home to a family ready to love him, 3 acres to run around on and a year’s supply of Purina Dog Chow. He’s gotten to experience grass and car rides and soccer games and the joy of sleeping on soft surfaces.
But most importantly, Arty has helped Teresa heal from the loss of her dog and feel close to her brother while he’s deployed. Arty has become such a part of her life that the first time she went on a car ride without him after a few weeks of helping him get used to the car, she was sad he wasn’t there with her.
“I just love him to death,” Teresa said. “I don’t know who needs who more.”