I have a new hero.

Her name is Anna Cannan. She’s a dietitian and part-time waitress in Maine.

Anna’s never fought in war, but what she’s done to bring home dogs befriended by American soldiers in Afghanistan is amazing. Anna knows that dogs in this war-torn country have saved U.S. soldiers’ lives on patrol and on bases. They’ve served as companions, warmly greeting soldiers as they return from missions.

So Anna has spent countless hours raising money to fly these animals to the United States to live out the remainder of their lives with the soldiers who love them so much.

Just look up The Puppy Rescue Mission (TPRM) on the Internet or Facebook and you’ll see her work depicted in photographs of mixed-breed dogs like Jamal.

A soldier named Mike wrote this about Jamal: “He makes every dismount patrol with us and fights off the other feral dogs ... When we patrol I am the point man and ... he never leaves my side. I always felt like he was pulling security for me. That is why I want to take him home. He deserves a place where he will be taken care of and loved.”

Anna’s dog-gathering efforts began in 2009 when her fiancé, Christopher Chiasson, was deployed to Afghanistan. Shortly after Chris arrived on base, he learned how weeks prior to his arrival a suicide bomber had come to the place. Three dogs — Target, Rufus and Sasha — started barking and attacked the bomber. Realizing his cover was blown, he blew himself up — never making it into the soldiers’ living quarters.

Sasha died, but the other two survived. By the time Chris’ unit arrived, Target had given birth to puppies and he fell in love with one named, Bear.

“I didn’t get to talk to him very often, but one night he called and told me the story. It absolutely captured my heart,” she said in a telephone interview.

At Chris’ request, Anna looked into how she could bring Bear to the U.S. She found an organization, based in the United Kingdom, which would fly the dog to America for $3,000.

At the time, Anna was in college. How would she get that kind of money?

She spoke with family and decided to do fundraisers. A week later, she got another call. Soldiers on Chris’ base wanted to bring other pups home.

Now, not just one — but seven — dogs were in the equation.

“I had to raise $21,000 to get all the dogs home,” she said.

And she had to do it quickly. Dog mascots aren’t allowed on bases, but the commander on Chris’ base gave soldiers some leeway since he knew they were trying to get the dogs home.

In the face of a daunting deadline, Anna started The Puppy Rescue Mission Facebook page, sharing soldiers’ photos and stories of how the animals had impacted their lives. She spent hours using social media and people from across the nation began donating.

“I was amazed that people from so far — who don’t know me from a hole in the ground — would donate so much money to help me get these dogs home for the soldiers,” she said.

Anna sold raffle tickets and candles and had garage sales. She had help from some local Army wives, but most support came from across the country.

In less than three months, she had the money to bring home the “Lucky Seven.”

Anna thought she was done, but people began saying that she should help other soldiers.

So she did, realizing it kept her busy during her loved one’s deployment.

Moreover, she would realize how much these dogs do for the soldiers, warning them of hazards on base and patrol.

“The dogs have saved countless lives,” she said. “They bark or warn them (soldiers) when someone is in the bushes. They have an amazing instinct for danger.”

Anna cites the case where a stray dog dug up dirt around an IED (improvised explosive device), alerting soldiers to it.

The dogs also bring a small sense of normalcy to soldiers who are so far from family — and in a place where life is less than ideal. Soldiers go for days without showers. Chris’ unit ran out of food and water for a short time on one mission when sandstorms kept supplies from reaching them.

To return to the base after missions and be greeted by excited puppies with wagging tails was wonderful.

“It made all the bad go away for that short moment,” she said.

Thus, Anna has embraced the big mission.

“Nobody wants to leave a ‘Battle Buddy’ behind,” she said. “When you form a bond with an animal like that — going through so much with them — leaving them behind would make adjusting to civilian life that much more difficult.

“I’ve seen first-hand the impact these dogs have on their (the soldiers’) readjustment back into civilian life.”

Chris would return home to not only Bear, but another dog named Alphy.

“When he walked through the door and was greeted by the two dogs that were with him in Afghanistan, it was like he related with them in a different way. It was like they understood what they all went through together,” she said.

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The soldiers and dogs have an unbreakable bond that Anna finds astounding.

Today, TPRM is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Anna, who is president, said she has an awesome team with volunteers and supporters from across the nation.

It now costs more than $4,000 to ship a dog. Depending on the animal’s height and weight, it can cost $5,000 to $6,000.

To date, TPRM has brought home more than 300 dogs and cats and Anna plans to continue her mission as long as American soldiers are in Afghanistan.

Such determination takes a lot of faith.

“I have a very strong faith,” she said. “I leave a lot of it up to God.”

Therein lies the key to accomplishing what would seem impossible.

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20).

I think Anna has that mustard seed faith.

Is she moving mountains?

I don’t know, but she’s moving dogs. And she’s helping soldiers — who give so much for this country — to bring home some good after the horrors and hardships of war.

To me, Anna is another example of how God can turn one person’s step of faith into miles of miracles — continually showing us that he hears the cries of our hearts.

And answers us with something as tender as the love of a dog.

A postscript: Jamal had a rabies shot and should be in the U.S. in about three weeks. Another mixed-breed pup, named Dog, just arrived in the U.S. after 10 years of protecting soldiers in Afghanistan. For more information about Anna’s organization visit: www.thepuppyrescuemission.org.

Tammy McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She can be reached at 402-721-5000, Ext. 1433, or via email at tammy.mckeighan@lee.net.

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