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Puppy adopted in Afghanistan settling into new suburban home

Kaydee Johannsen and Leonidas

Kaydee Johannsen and Leonidas

Kaydee Johannsen doesn’t have her husband for comfort right now. Sgt. Tim Johannsen, of the First Infantry Division based at Fort Riley, Kan., is deployed a world away at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

But the 22-year-old Downers Grove resident now has Leonidas – Leo for short – a once-homeless mutt her husband adopted from the Afghan countryside.

Ending a month-long journey, a plane carrying the Army sergeant’s loyal companion touched down at O’Hare Airport on Sept. 25. Now the puppy who took cover with his master during shelling is adapting to life stateside. (Photos: Leo at home in Downers Grove)

Showing some anxiety at first, the dog is calming down, Kaydee Johannsen said. He seems terrified of riding in cars and tried to bite a driver in New York, she said.  The pup is confined in the basement of her parents’ house because he hasn’t learned to get along with the family’s golden retriever. To keep him company at night Kaydee Johannsen sleeps on a nearby couch.

“He’s having that separation problem,” she said, referring to the dog but adding that the statement applied equally to her husband. “Now Tim’s over there and he doesn’t have Leo … he misses him more than anything”

Leo’s trip oversees was largely due to the work of the Puppy Rescue Mission, a Colorado-based volunteer group that raises money to ship soldiers’ adopted companions home. The organization and the couple’s money-raising efforts to bring Leo home were the subject of a recent Tribune story.

Although soldiers officially aren’t allowed to adopt pets while serving overseas, strict enforcement of that order isn’t always a priority, especially in a war zone, said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

The Johannsens and Puppy Rescue mission received an outpouring of financial support from as far away as California, Texas and even France, Kaydee Johannsen said. The cost of bringing a dog to the United States is around $4,000, though the exact amount of money raised by the Johannsens was not immediately available from the rescue organization.

“Leo it turns out is a very loved dog across the country,” she said. “Like my mom said, you always hear about bad people, and this makes you realize that there’s so much good out there. We’re definitely going to pay it forward.”

Now Kaydee Johannsen says she’s working with the Puppy Rescue Mission in hopes of finding a local company or corporation to sponsor the group’s animal saving efforts.

Tim Johannsen first laid eyes on Leo a few months into his deployment when he saw a pack of dogs ganging up on a puppy who had wandered into camp looking for food. So he peeled the dogs off, fed the pup and gave him a flea bath. Since last spring the two have been inseparable.  The dog brought an air of normalcy to an otherwise challenging environment.

But at the beginning of August the soldier faced a tough decision. With planned stateside leave on the horizon, he would have to abandon Leo for a few weeks. Once he returned, he knew he would be transferring to a new area – a move complicated by military rules banning pets from traveling in army vehicles.

So with enough money raised to send his dog home, the sergeant decided to ship Leo out months before his own tour would be finished.

Bidding his partner farewell, he loaded Leo on a courier’s truck near his outpost, beginning a journey that would take the pup though Taliban-patrolled areas on his way to a Kabul animal shelter for a month-long stay, before the eventual flight home.

“It’s kind of surreal. That first morning he woke me up at 6:15 slobbering on my face,” said Kaydee Johannsen. “With Tim recently leaving again it brought back a sense of happiness.”

Though he won’t have Leo for the rest of his tour, expected to end in January, the sergeant kept a promise he made to himself and the dog. Like soldiers who fall in combat, he did not leave his companion behind.

Until her husband can return, Kaydee Johannsen says she’s grateful for that.

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