On a recent sunny morning at a remote U.S. base in northeast Syria, Rumi is sniffing around. She has white fur and black markings on her face. Some here call her “the raccoon dog.”

“Rumi first started showing up in early January,” says 1st Lt. Shelby Koontz. “She was really emaciated, caked in mud.”

Even though the dog didn’t look pretty, 25-year-old Koontz immediately fell for her.

“You could tell she wanted to be around people,” Koontz says. “She’s very playful.” Koontz says Rumi would see a group of soldiers going for a run, and she’d think, “Oh, I want to come too.” Rumi would also follow soldiers when they were getting ready to go on patrol.
Soldiers’ emotional well-being can be tested when deployed to a war zone — especially if it’s their first experience.

The name Rumi is a play off one of the nearby towns. Koontz says that at the beginning the dog was curious though a bit skittish — the way abused dogs behave.

Animals are frowned upon on U.S. military bases. They can bring disease or cause problems with security — especially their barking. But Koontz’s higher-ups gave her the green light to keep Rumi. She started feeding her every morning after overnight shifts as a fire support officer.

She quickly got to work finding Rumi a forever home.

“Initially I posted a picture on Facebook just asking if anybody would be interested in adopting a dog from a war zone,” Koontz says.

She warned that it wouldn’t be easy caring for Rumi.

“The dog would need a lot of training,” Koontz wrote.

To her surprise, a lot of people reached out wanting to take Rumi in.

“The response was overwhelming,” Koontz says. The lieutenant says she felt a huge responsibility to find a caring, loving home for Rumi. “I didn’t want her to end up in a shelter,” she added.