Bolt, the dog that Shaun Duling befriended in Afghanistan (Photo courtesy of Shaun Duling)
Former Marine Shaun Duling, 27, is taking the Corps' creed, "Leave No Man Behind," to a whole new level.
When Duling completed a year-long contract in Afghanistan earlier this month, he was heartbroken that he had to leave behind one of his closest companions, a dog named Bolt.
"He was always by my side, which was really difficult because when I had left Afghanistan for good, he tried to jump on the helo with me. He usually doesn't like to go toward the helipad and he was right there with me," Duling told ABCNews.com. "I got on, and they had to come pull him back. It was pretty hard saying goodbye to him. And that's when I definitely made the decision to do what I had to."
Duling had heard about an organization called Nowzad, which helps rescue stray and abandoned animals in Afghanistan. But in order to bring Bolt home with him to Alexandria, Va., Duling would have to raise the necessary $4,000 for the dog to make the 14-and-a-half-hour trip from the other side of the world.
"They set up the fundraising page, and they told me to put it on Facebook and spread the word via Facebook. And before I knew it I was getting 50 friend requests a day. People all over the world were donating money," Duling said.
Now, helped by the overwhelming response, Duling and Bolt will be reunited once the dog gets out of quarantine, probably within two and a half weeks.
"Now it's just a waiting game. They'll give me a time and a date to go pick him up. I held off on buying anything because I didn't want to jinx it," Duling said.
However, he and his cousin did just buy a new house together, which Duling says he is excited to share with Bolt.
"It's got a huge yard. It's right near the Potomac River with great running trails. I'm gonna take him out on nice walks. A lot of my friends out here have dogs, so we're gonna have a welcome home party," said Duling.
The homecoming will certainly be a great accomplishment for Duling, as it's been a long road to recovery for Bolt since their first encounter on Duling's first day as a contractor overseas.
"I got over to Afghanistan to my site last October. My team lead picked me up from the helipad, and we had this 4X4 golf cart thing. We called it 'The Gator.' We were driving back to the tent and I noticed there were two dogs, one running to the left and one running to the right," Duling said.
Duling quickly learned the female's name was Xena, and the male was Bolt. Although they were brother and sister from the same litter, Xena had been very well-taken care of, but the same couldn't be said for her brother.
"I was stationed with the German army. The German guys were taking care of Xena. They had built her a little house, feeding her two to three times a day. Bolt was kind of left outside. No one really gave him food. He was very malnourished, very skinny but still a very happy dog," Duling said.
Having always grown up with dogs as pets, Duling had an instant soft spot for Bolt. So he and another friend started feeding the dog, and ordered Bolt dog food to put more weight on him.
"After that, Bolt just stuck with me. I would go out on my morning runs and he'd be right there running with me. I was the 3 a.m. to 12 p.m. shift, and he'd walk up to the office with me. He's very obedient, very smart. I taught him to sit, lay down and shake in less than a week," said Duling.
The two grew very attached in a short amount of time. But one day, Duling's commander suddenly made the decision to get rid of all the dogs on base.
"There were probably about 20 dogs on base. They were very aggressive, and they were getting into the trash. So he made the decision all the dogs had to go. So we rounded them up, and obviously Bolt was one of them, and I did my goodbyes. They took him off base, about 12 and a half miles away," Duling said.
But Bolt refused to be away from his new owner.
"They dropped him off at this village and all the other dogs ran away and scattered, but Bolt stayed by the vehicle. They noticed Bolt was running behind them the entire way home for about 10 miles as they were leaving. They finally stopped, and the commander of the convoy put him the backseat and brought him back to base. They said he could stay."
Duling was ecstatic to get Bolt back the first time they were separated, and now, the truly determined dog will be making his trip home.
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