By a twist of fate, an Afghan military dog is about to be reunited with its owner in the United States
During tour of Afghanistan in 2019, Kristen St. Pierre, a female platoon commander in the Georgia National Guard, became very close to a colleague she thought she would never see again: her bomb-sniffing dog Chase.
St. Pierre, 30, was Chase’s handler as she led her platoon of 38 soldiers on “guardian angel” missions through Kabul and surrounding areas. Chase, whose skill set was explosives and narcotics, would lead the road and conduct perimeter security sweeps before meetings. She spent almost every day with Chase: he slept in her room while she fed him and took him for walks.
“It brought so much relief and a piece of humanity to have a dog on base,” St. Pierre says.
When the St. Pierre tour ended, Chase stayed behind to work. She missed him terribly but received daily updates via texts and photos about the pup’s adventures from this new master.
Then Kabul fell.
On August 15, 2021, the The Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan and its capital, crowning a 20-year struggle after their ouster by a US military coalition. Chaotic weeks and months followed as American troops withdrew and Afghans fled in droves.
St. Pierre reached out to the Chase manager hoping he would be able to get out.
“I heard that Chase and other dogs would be on flights to the United States and Europe,” she says. “The next day I heard that dogs weren’t allowed on planes and had been released from the airport with little chance of survival.”
For months, St. Pierre was in the dark about Chase, fearing the worst. The winter following the American withdrawal was severe; security conditions in the country rapidly deteriorated as food and fuel became scarce. Families have struggled to survive in a rapidly changing landscape, with the Taliban rolling back media freedom and the rights of women and girls.
The sudden waves of desperate refugees and the economic downturn grabbed headlines around the world as a country of 40 million people plunged into deep crisis.
But for the American founder of Kabul Small Animal Rescue, Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, the work continued.
It was her determination and a twist of fate that brought news of Chase to St. Pierre — and now they’re about to be reunited after a two-year wait.
Maxwell-Jones has lived in Kabul since 2015. She first arrived in 2010 to conduct fieldwork for a doctorate in classical art and archeology from the University of Michigan. She fell in love with the country and its people, lived there part-time while she got her PhD, and in 2015 came back for good.
While working for various non-profit organizations and conducting independent research, Maxwell-Jones began rescuing stray dogs and cats. She founded Kabul Small Animal Rescue in 2018 and formalized the organization in 2019. The organization, which operates with funds from individual donors, has grown to 15 clinics and a staff of 85.
But since the Taliban came to power, the challenges have grown considerably. Maxwell-Jones returned to Afghanistan before the fall to make sure she could stay in the country and help the animals.
Maxwell-Jones had to transition to an all-male staff and navigating new laws that seem to be coming out daily has been difficult, she told CBS News. When the Taliban took over, Kabul Small Animal Rescue was told it couldn’t have female staff, she says. The organization continued to pay the employees’ salaries until many left for Pakistan and two female vets went to the UK, she said.
“We miss the mixed environment, but we are committed to helping the animals and will do so under all applicable laws,” Maxwell-Jones said.
Despite the difficulties, Maxwell-Jones, 40, tried to keep Kabul Small Animal Rescue focused on its core mission. She has returned dogs and cats to the United States with the help of Dubai-based organization Pawsome Pets, which helps rescue groups relocate abandoned pets to facilitate animal export. In January, KSAR shipped 11 dogs. The plan is to send Chase home with four other dogs. “Ideally, we’d like to do at least 10-12 a month, but that’s tough,” says Maxwell-Jones.
Maxwell-Jones is staying in part because she loves the country, but she’s also worried there “won’t be enough glue and motivation to make this place work.” If KSAR has closed, she says, no other organization exists to care for animals, especially stray dogs and cats.
Maine-based veterinarian Susan Chadima travels to Kabul every few months to provide medical training for the KSAR team.
“KSAR has become the only organization left, providing care for owned and street dogs, and helping facilitate the transportation of loved and owned pets to their owners in the West,” she says.
For nearly a year, St. Pierre heard nothing from Chase until a mutual contact told him about KSAR. Unbeknownst to Saint-Pierre, Maxwell-Jones had found Chase in kennels belonging to a local mine detection company north of Kabul in late November 2022.
“It was pretty sad, he was in terrible shape,” Maxwell-Jones said. The hairy brown-spotted white spaniel was nervous but affectionate when he was found, she said.
Back in the States, St. Pierre searched KSAR’s social media accounts daily, hoping to see a photo of Chase. One day she did.
“I gasped,” says St. Pierre, who said her mother-in-law ran into the kitchen to make sure everything was okay. “I shouted ‘Chase! Chase! Chase!’ I just couldn’t believe he was alive.”
She contacted KSAR and told them about their time in Afghanistan and the work Chase was doing. She asked about the process to bring him to the United States and if it was possible to pass him.
Together, they were able to piece together Chase’s story and organize a $3,500 fundraiser to bring him home. On the first day, they raised $4,405 in six hours, St. Pierre said.
In the meantime, St. Pierre has started a new chapter in his life; she retired from the army and now works as an operating room nurse. She is also pregnant with her first child.
“Chase is very well loved and a lot of people are ready for him to come home,” she says.
Maxwell-Jones struggled to obtain clearances for Chase to leave Afghanistan, but paperwork and bureaucracy delayed his departure. When Chase will be able to leave the country and reunite with St. Pierre is still unknown.
Reporting provided by Ahmad Mukhtar