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Puppy makes journey from Afghanistan to Arlington home

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Bear, a 1-and-a-half year old mutt, may run around in Holly Barnes' Arlington yard like any other dog. However, it's his upbringing and life before finding a Northern Virginia home that sets him apart from the rest.

The fact that he even survived to live with Barnes is remarkable in itself.

Bear was born on a United States Marine base in Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan after his mother, Claire, was taken in by troops from the streets. As a pup, he went out on patrol and survived on food scraps from MREs.

That's where Holly, who was deployed to the region by the government as a civilian, first fell in love with the then 6-month-old puppy.

"I was just drawn to him immediately," Barnes said.

However, when a new command took over the base, Bear and three other dogs, including Claire and another dog, Jack, were found to be a distraction. USMC leadership was also concerned about risks like rabies. An order was given to put them down.

The fourth dog in the litter didn't survive, but Barnes worked desperately with the Marines to save the other three. They were flown by helicopter to the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, where they lived for 6 months until her deployment ended.

Finally, this past April after thousands of dollars from donors to the Soldiers' Animal Companion Fund and thousands more of her own, Bear arrived safely in the United States.

"To watch him later that night feel grass for the first time...it was like a dream come true," Barnes said. "He really has become the center of my world."

Barnes says that Bear even as a special gift of companionship and plans to certify him as a therapy dog to help returning troops adjust back to civilian life.

"He's the best therapy I could have had," she said. "I think we're both meant to be together."

As for the other two surviving dogs, Jack is living with a family in Texas and Claire is with a Marine in North Carolina.

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