Nick Kingsley holds Puma on the day he rescued the pup and took her to a vet in Kosovo in November. Paws of War photo

Soldier Nick Kingsley was about to have lunch at a mess hall in Kosovo where he was stationed when he came across a hungry stray puppy sitting outside.

Nick Kingsley at home in Rhode Island with Puma, after they were reunited this month. Lisa Kingsley photo

Kingsley, assigned to Eastern Europe with the Massachusetts National Guard, took a closer look at the small pup that frigid day in November and saw that she was injured.

“I noticed she had a puncture wound on her head,” said Kingsley, 29, who then scooped up the dog. “When I picked her up and held her, I could see she wasn’t doing well.”

Kingsley said he snuggled the little black pup and fed her some of his chicken lunch, then tracked down the only veterinarian in the area.

“I knew she didn’t belong to anybody because an animal shelter had closed up the road, and they’d released all their dogs into the streets,” he said.

Many of the pups ended up at the base, drawn by the aroma of food.


The vet told Kingsley that the pup had a bad infection, but it was treatable. After a course of antibiotics, the dog, which Kingsley named Puma, hung around the base and followed him everywhere.

Puma after she was treated for her injuries in Kosovo in the fall. Paws of War photo

“She was really small and only about 6 months old,” he said. “I didn’t want her to go back to the streets, and there were already a lot of stray dogs running around the base.”

Kingsley liked the dog so much he told his mom and sister in the United States that he wished he could bring Puma home when his year of service ended in March. He said they did some research and learned the organization Paws of War might be able to help.

The Long Island nonprofit is among a handful of agencies in the United States that help reunite military members with stray dogs and cats they bonded with while deployed overseas.

Kingsley said a volunteer near the military base offered to foster Puma for the remainder of Kingsley’s service in Kosovo because dogs were not allowed in the barracks. Paws of War then paid to have the pup flown to Kingsley in the United States after she’d had all of her vaccinations.

“It meant everything to me,” Kingsley said. “I didn’t want to leave her to get dumped off somewhere and end up dying.”


Paws of War is now working to retrieve another 18 dogs and three cats from Kosovo before the soldiers who cared for them return home. The organization recently reunited National Guard members in Indiana with dogs they bonded with in Kenya, according to local newspaper the Republic.

Indiana National Guard soldier Zach Green with stray puppies in Kenya earlier this year. He named one of the pups Jonesy, and had Paws of War fly the dog to the United States after his service. Paws of War photo

“It’s a big mission — all of the animals have to go through quarantine and get their shots and approval to leave the country,” said Robert Misseri, co-founder and president of Paws of War. “But we’re determined to get them all home.”

“It’s a complicated process because when you’re in the military, you can only leave with what you came in with and what was sent to you from home,” he explained.

Because stray pets aren’t military service animals, it is against Defense Department policy for soldiers to have companion pets, adopt them while overseas or transport them on military planes, Misseri said.

But stray dogs and cats often find their way onto overseas bases, and military members feed them and bond with them, he said. The animals then return repeatedly to the base for food and comfort.

“Soldiers grow attached to the animals and find they provide companionship in a remote area, away from home,” Misseri said.


For some soldiers, he said, a stray animal can become their best friend.

“When soldiers fall in love with a stray dog or cat and can’t take the animal home, they have to say goodbye,” he added. “It leaves a huge hole in their hearts.”

Rueda with Jack. Daniel Rueda photo

“Getting a dog home is tougher than people think,” Kingsley said. “In the military, it’s not like you can just go online and fill out an application, then ship the dog home. There’s a ton of administrative work, plus the cost. It can be overwhelming.”

Since 2014, Paws of War has used donations to reunite about 600 pets with soldiers at a cost of between $7,500 and $10,000 per animal, Misseri said. The charity also rescues shelter dogs in the United States and trains them to be companions for military veterans.

The cost to transport pets from remote locations overseas is high, he said, and each animal needs a veterinarian visit and vaccinations. Once the pets are in the United States, Paws of War pays to have them quarantined for 28 days to make sure they don’t have any medical issues.

In about 80 percent of cases, Paws of War arranges to ship the animals home on commercial airlines to other family members or foster homes before a soldier’s term of duty is over, Misseri said.


When that isn’t possible — if a soldier is rapidly deployed to another country, for example — Paws of War will send volunteers in to find the pets and care for them, and try to reunite them with the soldier.

“I don’t want to jinx myself, but we always find them,” Misseri said. “We make sure we don’t leave without that cat or dog.”

Jack the cat with Daniel Rueda in Kosovo, where the cat showed up one day at a U.S. military base. Paws of War photo

Earlier this year, Paws of War sent volunteers to an isolated military base in Kenya to find five dogs that were left behind and send them to the soldiers who had cared for them, he said.

“We deployed locals in fishing boats and used hand carts and little donkeys to get the animals out,” he said. “The people who’d had to leave them behind in that harsh area were desperate for us to help. Those dogs provided comfort and a sense of normalcy during a tough time.”

That’s how Daniel Rueda bonded with a stray cat named Jack while he was stationed in Kosovo with an Army Rangers National Guard unit.

“I met Jack when he showed up at the base one day while I was having lunch,” said Rueda, 33. “We weren’t allowed to keep animals on base, but strays would come and go at the entrance gate.”


Jack strutted around the barracks like he owned the place, and everyone loved him, including the staff sergeant, he said.

“Jack would come hang out with me while I was stuck on base for three months because of an injury,” Rueda said. “He helped me from getting bored and it was fun to play with him and feed him grilled chicken.”

A volunteer helps transport five dogs from a remote military base in Kenya for Paws of War earlier this year. Paws of War photo

Rueda said he formed an immediate bond with the frisky black cat.

“Whenever he would show up, I was happy to see him,” he said. “It got to the point where people would say, ‘Your cat is looking for you. He’s out in the hallway.’”

Jack was flown to the United States by Paws of War and put into quarantine, then a volunteer picked up the cat on April 20 and drove him to Rueda in Rhode Island.

“I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving him there and not knowing what happened to him,” he said, noting that pets help members of the military mentally and physically.

“Now Jack’s home with me, he’s exploring and he’s happy,” Rueda said. “And he’s probably gained two pounds from eating chicken.”

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