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A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

by Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-59228-980-0
Publisher: Lyons Press

A Marine deployed in Iraq becomes mush in the presence of a puppy and devotes the remainder of his tour to trying to ship the charismatic canine home.

Securing an abandoned building during the first week of the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, the First Battalion, Third Marines, heard a strange noise. Turning the corner, the Lava Dogs (their training moniker) discovered a “ball of fur not much bigger than a grenade.” Named in honor of the battalion, the three-week-old puppy was taken back to the compound, de-wormed with chewing tobacco, washed in kerosene and fed MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). The Marines were in direct violation of General Order 1-A, which forbids pets, and they had another serious problem: Independent contractors were shooting all abandoned, non-military dogs. Unwilling to destroy Lava, Kopelman decided to violate the order and smuggle the puppy out of Iraq. With only a few weeks left on his third tour of duty, he worked fast, asking favors from local Seabees (who built the rowdy pup a crate), NPR correspondent Anne Garrels (who provided babysitting) and the Iams pet food company (which helped arrange exit transport). The narrative, which covers a six-month period, feels rushed, thanks in part to Kopelman’s breathless prose: “I call friends and family back in the States and tell them about Lava and ask for help. . . . See, they’re all scared that if I don’t get killed, I’ll lose my mind in Iraq. . . . Like, when I call one of my best buddies back in San Diego . . .” Fortunately, the group effort produces a happy ending, and Lava and Kopelman now enjoy the good life in Southern California.

Not a masterpiece of wartime literature, but sure to please dog-lovers.