Gwenie’s Story

A Very Gwenie Moment


Air Jordanian

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Jordanian Snow Dog

_DM43191Dear Friends,


I do hope the holiday season has treated you and your family well. We here in Independence, Oregon were blessed with a rare break from Hurricane Gwenie, a storm system that has been ravaging the house for a year now. For whatever reason, Gwen decided to allow the presents to live, the tree to not be wrecked and the new “training” couches to go uneaten. She did decide to decapitate our Santa Claus and left his crushed, severed brain pan on the front entryway floor in a small pile, along with Santa’s arms and part of Rudolph. Nevertheless, the big stuff survived, so I’m calling it a win. Progress. Baby steps….

Anyhoo, yesterday, I took Gwenie and Ryder up to Cabanistan, where we drove into a small snow storm. As you may recall, Gwenie experienced snow (and hypothermia) the first weekend she arrived in the United States in November 2014. She got a small taste of it again a few weeks ago at Cabanistan when we got about a quarter inch.

This time, we arrived in our favorite spot in the Oregon woods to find some decent sized drifts and perhaps six inches already on the ground. Not sure how Gwenie would respond to it, I turned her loose with Ryder. I’ll let the photos I tell the rest of the story. Suffice to say, while our Jordanian refugee lacks the proper camouflage for winter conditions, she clearly has a snow dog’s heart._DM43189


Best wishes to all of you in 2016, and thank you so much for making this little corner of the web such a success,


John & Gwenie












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The Jordanian Comes of Age

11218233_10206445599236191_6241923071895765755_oAs you may recall….

A year ago, the awesome Captain Cassie Wyllie rescued two pups from a military base in Jordan. With the help of the equally awesome folks at Puppy Rescue Mission, the two made it to the United States. One, Gwenie, reached Independence, Oregon where she has spent the last year eating furniture, getting us both covered in skunk stench, digging massive holes in the backyard, destroying the back fence and otherwise committing dog-atrocities while simultaneously fearing random things like naked cherub statues and most people. She goes absolutely berzerk when two high school lovers stop every day after school to canoodle on the sidewalk beside the house, so apparently she is not a Must Love Dogs fan.

When Gwen first came to Oregon, I could not get her to walk on a leash more than twenty or thirty feet from the house. Everything terrified her. She would venture a little ways out then freeze up. Looking sad and pathetic, she’d try to return to the front yard, growing increasingly frantic if I held firm on the leash.12027538_10206663754649940_7146249913541483235_n

Thanks to Ryder, Renee’s happy-go-lucky Aussie Shepherd, Gwenie gradually emerged from her shell. Her first Christmas was spent at the Oregon coast, where she explored on the beach with Ryder and the rest of the family. Since then, she has become a little more daring every day.

What we didn’t see was any happiness in her. She would explore and run around. She would come home to eat another section of the couch. She’d sleep beside me at night, but she always had such a lost and sad expression on the face that I wondered if she would ever know anything but degrees of less anxiety.


First beach trip about 5 weeks after Gwen arrived.

Today all that changed. I’ve been up in the woods working on the edits for Indestructible and I woke up this morning to snow. Snow is a big deal for me. Being from the Silicon Valley, I only experienced it a few times as a kid on ski trips. Renee and Ed have inherited the same exuberance for snow that I’ve got, so I gave the family a call and asked them to come up. Jenn stuffed two kids, one adult and three dogs into my Pontiac GTO and drove up here. Seriously, when they arrived, it looked like a Bruning clown car exploded. Dogs and kids running about joyfully, parents looking happily chagrined.


Today at Detroit Lake.

We walked around Detroit Lake and over to Piety Island (currently a peninsula) and I noticed that Gwen obeyed everything we told her. When she got too close to a cliff and we called out to her, she came back over to us. When she was hassling our little dog Mizette and we told her to stop, she did. Far from the unruly hurricane of chaos and mayhem we’ve come to know and love, she was playing within the rules today.

I started taking pictures, and right away I saw something different through the view finder. Gwen raced around us, letting Ryder chase her. She is fast and graceful and lithe, a beautiful sight to behold when she is in full stride.


Today, I swear she was smiling. Lit up, happiness radiating from her, she played and capered with all of us. She chased snowballs and jumped into a pond to wade around in search of driftwood to carry back ashore. This was a totally unexpected development, as she has always feared water. Today, she had no fear.G86A9675

As I took photos of her and the family, it dawned on me that she’s settled down. Whatever horrible things happened to her before she reached our loving arms no longer plague her. This is her home now; she has started to love it, and find comfort and tons of fun within the circle of her adopted family.G86A9655

Tonight she is with me at the cabin. The family went home at dusk. She’s exhausted and filled with warm chicken soup, which she convinced me to share with her by putting her chin on my lap as I ate. As I write, she’s curled up in front of the wood stove, eyes closed in peaceful repose.

My wild little pup has come of age.G86A9638

Now, if we can just get her to stop murdering innocent rolls of scotch tape and eating the kids’ home made Christmas ornaments…. baby steps. Baby steps.



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Skunk-smell-DTAs you may recall…


A year ago, Gwenie arrived from Amman, Jordan, saved from certain death by my dear friend Captain Cassie Wyllie, whom I’d met in Afghanistan during an air-ground engagement in the Hindu Kush. Gwenie’s arrival in our little Oregon town turned the household into utter chaos, and it has yet to settle down as Gwen blazes a trail through life that is one part raging curiosity, one part stark terror at everything, and three parts hurricane-force destruction.

I love this dog.11218233_10206445599236191_6241923071895765755_o

So, there we were, out in the ‘hood for a midnight walk not too long ago. I had just purchased a new leash for Gwenie which is a little longer and more robust than the ones we’d been using. As we stopped for a restroom break on my lawn, a dark shadow flitted across my neighbor’s driveway. Gwenie saw it first and bolted straight for it without any warning. Seriously, she went from full squat to Carl Lewis on fire in an eyeblink. She moved so fast and with such surprising power that she tore the leash right off my wrist before I could even react.


Last photo from that fateful walk….

I charged after her, but had only take  two steps when she collided with the dark shape and seized it in her mouth. Appalled, I shouted at her, thinking she’d attacked one of the local cats. I reached her as she was about to shake the poor creature back and forth. Before she could, I grabbed her collar and pulled her upward. She dropped the critter right on my foot.

I looked down. NOT a cat.  No not a cat indeed.skunk

For a fleeting instant, I thought she’d caught our black-and-white Gaulic stink badger (Mizette the papillon, which is a breed of dog I adore but am not convinced it is truly canine. More like the missing link between cats and dogs, with a strange stray gene set from Mephitis mephitis). That fear lasted only a second, though, as my eyes registered what was sitting atop my favorite pair of topsiders. Yep. A severely annoyed skunk.


North American Gaulic Stink Badger (easily misidentified with skunk).

Now, some may argue that Gwenie’s nibbling on the skunk made the poor creature feel unsafe. It was perhaps a microaggression; I will concede the point. However, I would also like to point out that this particular skunk has been a carpet bagger for months now, living under my house and nocturnally raiding the cat’s food for goodies. A few months back, I was out late and coming home when I encountered this little Oreo devil standing on my porch. It saw me, puffed up its tail and hissed. Yes, the thing actually hissed at me. Ingrate.


In the days before the Skunkpocaylpse, Gwen met her first goat. Here I am trying to keep her from freaking out when the goat walked up to her.

So there this skunk was, sitting atop my boat shoe looking terrified, annoyed and indignant.  I never saw it raise its tail. I never saw a stream of skunkstench. There was just a moment when I swear I was engulfed by greenish-yellow mist and the most repellent, noxious and nauseating smell ever to reach my nose assailed me. That’s saying something too, dear readers. I’ve been to New Orleans.

What followed seems to have happened in slow motion. The skunk waddled off to go hide under the house. Gwenie chased after it, but lost interest as I screamed at her while trailing in her wake. When I finally regained positive control over my Jordanian refugee, the skunk had disappeared under the house, leaving the entire neighborhood smelling like a cross between a sewage lagoon and a tire fire.

Gwenie looked pretty shell-shocked. I was trying not to barf. Together, we trudged to the front porch and I knocked on the door, not wanting to go inside in our current state.


In the pre-skunkpocalypse days, we were free to roam among our fellow humans, unfettered by stink badger stench. Here my daughter Renee and Gwenie pick out a a future rotting porch decoration during our refugee’s first ever trip to the local Halloween corn maze and pumpkin patch.

When the fam came to the door, our stench assailed them. Undeterred, Renee and Jenn swung into crisis mode. Jenn went to whip up anti-skunk potion #9: dish soap, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide–while Renee took the Jordanian Pup straight upstairs and dumped her into the tub.

Despite our best efforts, the entire house filled with skunk stench. It lingered for days, got into everyone’s clothes and wrecked the upstairs bathroom and dog-washing tub for human use. Vinegar and lots of disinfectant had only limited success. Meanwhile, in the ‘hood, the skunk’s WMD detonation filled the block with the wretched reek for two days even though it rained the entire time.

Meanwhile, the skunk has not been seen since the incident, which leads us to believe it is under the house, plotting revenge, possibly with the help of a domestic ISIS cell.

I sat down with Gwenie the other night to discuss the incident with her. I wanted us to both smell better before we had our little face-to-face. I told her we needed to chalk this incident up as a learning experience in her continuing education on life in America. Of course, I told her that she needed to rethink chasing after non-cat critters who are smaller than she is, lest she encounter something with even nastier defensive mechanisms, such as a porcupine or a badger or a wolverine. Her new motto: Can’t we all just get along?


Get along with all but the couch anyway. Came home to this scene not long before Skunkpocalypse night. Now, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions as to who might be responsible for this destruction, but….

Apparently, that will remain an open question. Cause even a week later, we still stink and nobody wants to be around us. 🙂

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Back from the Writing Marathon


Cabanistan, my writing retreat.

Friends and Readers,


11221573_10206454206571369_6050521751551336693_n - Copy

Digby in the woods during a rare break in his woodland critter spree killing.

My apologies for being absent from this page for these past few months. Gwen and Digby (another foundling cat) have been up in the Oregon mountains with me as I’ve separated myself from daily life to get the Indestructible manuscript finished. Frankly, it got pretty lonely up there in the Cascades away from the family. At times I went two weeks without seeing anyone besides the clerk at the nearest market four miles away.  The last month up there is all sort of a blur, but I do believe I began to talk to the trees and at some point befriended a mouse that kept getting into the cabin to eat my English muffins. At one point, he ate half a tomato sitting on the kitchen counter while I was in the shower and Digby the cat sacked out on the couch. That level of brazen had to be rewarded, so I began feeding him too. Digby and DeShawn (the mouse) entered into some sort of unholy domestic-woodland creature alliance that ensured there would be no bloodshed between them.


The family came up with Ryder for a weekend. I wanted to sing Some Enchanted Evening when Ryder and Gwen spotted each other for the first time in a week. (Ryder is the blur at the bottom left).

When at home in the Willamette Valley, Digby is a lazy, dump truck sized cat with a big waddle of fat that slops from side to side on those rare moments where he engages in any sort of cardio exercise. See the video below for his inspiring mellowness. If he were a person, he’d be that 25 year old kid playing Xbox all day in his grandma’s basement eating funions and drinking Mountain Dew. Passive, perpetually happy and mild mannered, Digby turned into a murderous beclawed machine of death when I took him up into the Cascades with me. Seriously, I thought I brought a furry lump with which to decorate the couch. Instead, I unleashed a spree killer on the local woodland creatures. He’d go outside, and within minutes, voles, mice, rats, chipmonks and even a salamander ended up victimized. So I ended up living for a month with the feline version of Hannibal Lechter, yet he never ate DeShawn–the one creature inside the cabin.11885276_10206361739579752_7239250386173235472_n - Copy

Gwen hung out with me at times up there too, but our now-full grown Jordanian refugee spent her time in the woods pining for Ryder, our Aussie Shepherd. As much as she is my dog, her heart belongs to the Aussie. While I wrote, she would pace restlessly around the cabin, occasionally howling as she looked around for Ryder and wondered why anyone could be so cruel as to separate her from her pack.  Long walks and runs to the lake didn’t seem to calm her down. At one point, she decided to eat some of my secondary sources including a volume of Cate & Craven’s history of the USAAF during WWII.  I draw the line at chewing up books, so Gwen went back to the valley and Digby stayed with me to ensure the enforced solitude would not cause long-term insanity.

12036634_10206655641207109_1316856930533506941_n - Copy

Thanks to the drought, not much water in the lake this summer.

Anyhoo, once I finished Indestructible, I came out of isolation and have been enjoying some much needed family time. My daughter Renee is a senior in high school now, and I am determined to see as much of her final year as I can. Ed is a freshman, just had his first slow dance, and is in the school’s fall musical. So, I’ve been spending my time photographing their fall term and taking lots of walks with Ryder and Gwen.

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Renee’s first day of senior year with her new ride, which was my first ride. Anyone know what it is??

I’m back to it now, and in the coming weeks, we’ll have some unusual stories to share here, including an update on the Last Lost Letter,  a story about a legendary Marine’s shower shoes, and how they went from Guadalcanal to Tarawa with two different great American warriors. We’ll also have more stories to share from the Japanese side of the Pacific War and some fantastic photographs from the Korean War So stay tuned, and happy Fall to all of you!


Ed and I on prom night last spring, right before I went into the woods for the first major writing session for Indestructible.






John R. Bruning


Warriors of the Homeland. Eugene Police Department training in an active shooter exercise.


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Gwenie’s Story: The Only Thing To Fear is…Well, Everything and Everyone.

G86A0327As you may recall, Gwenie came to me via Puppy Rescue Mission, Cassie Wyllie and an epic aerial journey that took her from Amman, Jordan to the green Willamette Valley in Oregon. Since arriving here in November 2014, Gwen has eaten one of the couches, dug up the entire back yard and redecorated the house with random things she has found in her foraging expeditions.

Most recently, she has taken to leaving piles of Legos, barbecue brushes, brooms, bits of plastic Easter eggs and other random stuff heaped before the front door. She lays next to her little offerings, waiting for our return so that she may jump all over us, thus ensuring our clothes are properly coated with muddy puppy prints.

I love this dog. I’m not sure the house is going to survive her.20150404_113333

Early on, we realized this pup needed exercise. Problem: she doesn’t want to leave the yard. Next Problem: she hates car rides and vomits a lot in them. Recently, I took her up to the cabin in the Cascades I use as an alternate, back up writing lair when I need to focus. This was the second attempt to get her up there. She sat in the back of our Explorer thoroughly unhappy, howling and making whiny, gurgling sounds. About an hour into the drive, she projectile vomited all over the back of the car. I mean, barf was dripping from the ceiling, splattering the windows, etc. The smell was beyond description and almost rivaled post-Katrina New Orleans.G86A0295

She yakked twice more before I got to our woodland destination.

Walking her through the neighborhood is problematical as well. At first, the neighbor’s statue terrified her, and getting her beyond it turned into a major hurdle. I am pleased to report that we’ve overcome that one. Now, any time she sees people, or another dog she doesn’t know, she tries to jump into my arms Scooby-Doo style. Since she now weighs over forty pounds, it can be a bit disconcerting when she flings herself at me all amped on terror-spawned adrenaline.

20150322_111242Now, this dynamic totally changes if Ryder is with her. Ryder is our seven year old Aussie Shepherd and fullback for the street football squad here. He is a brilliant animal, knows the difference between a pro-set and an I formation, can run a couple of pass routes and loves the pitch & sweep. He is fearless, perpetually happy, and Gwenie has fallen into his orbit. She reveres him and is so connected to him that if he leaves the house without her, she flips out and throws herself against the front door and utters long, tortured howls.

If he gets in the car, she will consent to getting in with him. If he walks through the hood, she wants to be right beside him. And if we’re out walking and he gets ahead, she will grow anxious and start bucking against the leash to try and catch up. With Ryder around, she is fearless and will adventure anywhere.20150321_145344

After we discovered this, we took them over to the beach in Newport. It was raining and cold, but Ryder jumped right out of the car and bolted for the water. He and my daughter, Renee, love to play in the surf together. Gwenie padded after them, unsure of the wet sand at first. Gradually, she grew emboldened. When I took her off the leash, she streaked up and down the beach, chasing Ryder and playing gleefully with him.

Alone, she never would have even gotten into the Explorer. With Ryder, well, she gets by with a little help from her friends.




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Gwenie’s Story, Part III: Terror in the ‘Hood

IMG-20150115-WA0009So, as you may recall, we have a Jordanian puppy that came to us through the combined awesomeness of Captain Cassie Wyllie and Puppy Rescue Mission ( In her first days in America, she and I ended up marooned in the Cascade Mountains in the middle of the Willamette National Forest, about as un-Middle Eastern-like terrain as we could have selected for Gwenie’s debut in the Pacific Northwest.

Back in the valley the next morning after our mountain adventure, I figured I ought to show Gwenie the neighborhood. The leash was not something she was terribly thrilled with at first, but she soon got used to it as I walked her around the front yard. That said, the sad puppy eyes she kept flashing at me suggested I was crushing her little soul with this new torture device. Resigned and broken, she trudged around whining every few minutes to let me know she was not okay with this gig. Fortunately, after a bit, she perked up and began bouncing along beside me as we explored the yard. I bent down and pet her and said, “Not so soul-sucking after all, is it dog?”  She ignored that and did her best to still look wounded every time she caught me looking at her.

Now it was time to introduce Gwen to the neighborhood. we stepped across the front lawn, crossed the threshold of the sidewalk and out into the street. The minute we left the property, she fell behind me. I turned and looked at her. Here was my puppy, a world traveler, survivor of snow and car marooning in the mountains, staring at me with an expression of abject fear.

She got up off her haunches and tried to leap back toward the yard, bucking furiously against the leash. I tried to calm her down, but she would have none of that. So, I moved back to the lawn. The minute we made landfall at Chez Bruning, she calmed down and sat quietly beside me.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. The last warrior animal I had, Volunteers the cat, tore around the neighborhood at Mach 2, getting into everything, attacking dogs, making friends and reveling in every bit of trouble he could find. He once chased a tennis ball for blocks after Renee threw it for him down the street. I had to run after him to make sure he didn’t get gobsmacked by a commuter returning home.

Volunteers eagerly awaiting Ed's next throw of the tennis ball. This was a game that went on for months between the kids and our Katrina refugee.

Volunteers eagerly awaiting Ed’s next throw of the tennis ball. This was a game that went on for months between the kids and our Katrina refugee.

Gwenie saw everything beyond the realm of our yard as a potential threat. For two days, I worked to coax her off the lawn. I have a place of my own that is my writing refuge about a half block from the house, and I was able to convince her to go back and forth between them. But stray from that pattern, and she would flat out refuse to budge. At times, I even had to carry her between the two places.

So, I had a puppy I couldn’t take for a walk. I had no idea what to do. Clearly, my pup had suffered trauma. She’d watched two of her litter mates die in Jordan. Her mom had vanished long before that. Before Cassie found her, she was slowly starving to death in a little den, only a few weeks old. Combine that background with the car rides, plane flights, cages and disorientation over coming to America, it was no wonder she wanted to stick close to the one place familiar to her.

Each night, I took Gwen out and inched her a little at a time, out of her comfort zone. Within a few days, we could make it across the street, outside the normal path we took to get to my other place. I was excited, things were looking up.  I have plans for her–road trips back to the woods and nights on the beach in Aptos, California. But first, we needed to be able to walk around the block. Baby steps.

One evening, I put the leash on Gwen and took her out front. She padded across the lawn, nose pointed for my other place. But I stopped her and said, “Okay, darlin’, we’re going up the street tonight.”

She whined. She gave me the Please, Writer, noooo! look of pure, doggy anguish. We needed to do this. I was not swayed.

I stepped off the curb, and Gwen reluctantly followed. She bolted toward my other place, but the leash stopped her cold. Then she tried to make a break back to the house. Nope. That didn’t work. I waited patiently. It was a cold night, and our breath was fogging around us. The lamp posts nearby cast orange pools of light on the asphalt. Beyond them, the ‘hood was unusually dark. Clouds overhead blocked the starlight and the moon. Gwenie scoured the blackness, looking for threats. I stood and let her do her thing until she calmed down at last.

We started walking up the street, the opposite direction from my writing loft. Gwenie trailed behind, whining periodically. We reached the edge of our property which sits on the corner of two cul-de-sacs. I paused and let her get used to being beside in me in the street, twenty feet from her familiar lawn.

“Okay, ready?”

She didn’t really look ready. But I think I saw her muster up some courage, and I took a step. She followed. Two more and she was trotting next to me.

“Good girl!”

She jumped up and pawed my hip, so I stopped briefly to stroke her head.  She was building herself up for a new adventure, and perhaps she was starting to trust me a little. All that she had known for the last few weeks now was not going to go away. She wouldn’t be torn again from what she found safe. She would be with me, and it would be okay.

We moved forward together and I sensed confidence flowing into my little refugee.  I wanted to make it to the intersection about three blocks north of our place. If we could do that, I figured she’d be able to do anything with me.

We reached the edge of the next cul de sac over. Suddenly, Gwenie recoiled. She keened and kicked backwards, uttering sounds I’d never heard come from a canine before. Fearing she’d cut her paw on something, I spun around to check on her. Terror filled her eyes. Her mouth hung half open, and she was desperately backpeddling. What had happened? There weren’t any people out. No other animals.

“Gwenie! Gwenie! You’re fine, relax!” I kept telling her. She didn’t believe me. Something was about to get her, and I was keeping her from escaping.

I knelt down and tried to coax her over to me. She tugged hard at the leash to get away. That’s when I realized she wasn’t even looking at me. I followed her gaze. She was staring at the naked cherub statue in my neighbor’s front yard.

A faux stone statue had panicked my puppy.

I scooped her up–she weighed all of about fifteen pounds at that point–and carried her home. Enough for one night. We’d try again tomorrow.



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The Jordanian Puppy School of Interior Design


Remodeling takes a lot out of a pup.

Okay, so I was going to sit down tonight and write a new post about the second book I had published. I’m way behind on that section of this website, and call this ego, but I hate seeing only Crimson Sky up there when I’ve written sixteen others. 🙂

But, it has been a long day. Both kids are in the school play, Oklahoma, and opening night is tomorrow. As a result, they’ve been at the theater every night until at least 10 pm, and they are totally smoked. Half the cast is sick, and if anyone had gone to Disneyland over the holidays, we’d all probably have measles too.

Oklahoma dress run through. Ed's at far left in the back row.

Oklahoma dress run through. Ed’s at far left in the back row.

So, I returned to an empty house tonight. Well, not so empty. Gwenie has decided to redecorate the living room. With shoes. Boots. A toilet brush, which she artfully used to bedazzle the couch. A couch, by the way, that she has done her best to eat. Good thing it was twenty-one years old anyway and in desperate need of replacement. There also appears to be a torn up, unraveled roll of toilet paper coiling around the furniture and leading, like a white ribbon, into the kitchen. Where the trash has been thoughtfully placed on display across the floor. Just in case we accidentally threw something away that we needed. The new floor, which was mopped and scrubbed two days ago, is covered with muddy puppy prints and long paw skidmarks from where Gwenie was learning to drift I guess. She’d be great at that–she’s got a supercharged V8’s worth of energy and is all wheel drive.

Add to the mix a few socks, some kitchen towels, a couple of pillows, some chewed up nerf darts and a couple of Legos  caged out of Ed’s room, and I have a near complete remodel here.   I believe the style is called Early Jordanian Puppy.

I think this was payback for not taking her for a walk. In the meantime, she has now captured a feather duster and is sampling its feathery goodness.

I need to teach her to mop the floor. Seriously, it was spotless on Monday.

I need to teach her to mop the floor. Seriously, it was spotless on Monday, and Jenn bought the runners so the dogs would dry their feet as they came in and padded across them. Hasn’t worked out that way.

That’s all for now, I have some cleaning to do….





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Gwenie’s Story Part II: American Homecoming

Cass in her Apache's cockpit. See Part I of Gwenie's story for how we met in Afghanistan, and how Cass and her fellow pilot, CW5 Reagan, saved a lot of lives (including my own) over Ajerestan in September 2010.

Cass in her Apache’s cockpit. See Part I of Gwenie’s story for how we met in Afghanistan, and how Cass and her fellow pilot, CW5 Reagan, saved a lot of lives (including my own) over Ajerestan in September 2010.

A few weeks back, I wrote a story about my dear friend Cassie Wyllie, ace Apache pilot and animal lover. Cass and I met in Afghanistan during the Surge in 2010 and have remained close friends ever since. In 2013, we saw each other for the first time since our time at FOB Shank, meeting up for the absolutely awesome Reno Air Races. (side note: if you love aviation and have never been to Reno, go. There is nothing like the sight of Sea Furies, Bearcats and Mustangs tearing around pylons a few dozen yards off the desert floor at four hundred miles an hour.)Gwenie to Oregon

Anyway, Cass was deployed to Jordan last fall in what would be her final overseas trip for the Army prior to her retirement. While on post there in the Middle East, she discovered four orphaned puppies huddled in a make-shift den. They were starving, and there was no sign of their mom. Animals on American bases are strictly prohibited, so these four little guys were almost certainly doomed. Cass rescued the four and got them off post to a foster home in Amman. Two of the pups died while in foster care, but Gwenie and Penny survived. Determined to get the pups back to the States, she started a campaign that raised several thousand dollars to cover their expenses. Partnering with the epic and well-organized Puppy Rescue Mission, a non-profit totally devoted to bringing home the animals our service men and women bond with while in combat theaters, the two pups were saved and sent to the United States.

Gwenie and Penny in Chicago. Some truly dedicated and awesome volunteers there took great care of these two during their layover, for which we're extremely grateful.

Gwenie and Penny in Chicago. Some truly dedicated and awesome volunteers there took great care of these two during their layover, for which we’re extremely grateful.

Three years and half a world removed from that day we met in Afghanistan, Cass and I reunited at the Reno Air Races. Our mini-reunion one of the unforgettable moments of my life.

Three years and half a world removed from that day we met in Afghanistan, Cass and I reunited at the Reno Air Races. Our mini-reunion will always be one of the unforgettable moments of my life.

Just before Thanksgiving, Gwenie and Penny were flown from Jordan to Chicago, where the PRM folks fawned all over them, giving them tons of love and comfort in what had to have been a very taxing journey for them. From there, Penny went to Texas to await Cassie’s arrival home. Gwenie flew to Portland.

On the day she got into PDX, my family climbed into our ancient but much-loved Ford Explorer and drove up to the airport’s cargo center. Waiting for us was a twelve pound, tan pup with big doe eyes who starred out from her crate’s barred door with a look of interminable sadness. My daughter, Renee, bent down and began stroking her nose. My son Ed, quickly joined her. The two soothed and calmed our new pup as I filled the paperwork out officially transferring her to my care.

Gwenie sat huddled in Ed’s lap during the drive home. He stroked her head gently and sang to her. His voice did the trick. Soon she was sound asleep in his arms as we rolled down I-5 for our little Oregon town.

In the days that followed, Gwenie’s transition was probably a bit harsher than we had intended. I do a lot of writing up in the Cascade Mountains, and my plan was to take her up to the cabin I rent in the Willamette National Forest so the two of us could get to know each other. So, the day after she arrived, I put her on a blanket in the right seat of my Pontiac GTO and headed up into the mountains. Gwen was not sold on automobiles, and she quailed for much of the trip.


Our first view of Gwenie at the Portland Airport.

In Detroit, a tiny resort town that has about 75 permanent residents, I stopped to get food and give her a chance to stretch her legs. There was a bit of snow and ice in the parking lot, and Gwen was fascinated by what must have looked like white sand to her. She pawed a sheet of ice, recoiling as its cold registered on her pad. She sniffed it, then backed away frightened. For a dog that had known little but heat and desert, this was totally new territory for her, and she was not happy. She eagerly climbed back into the GTO, then realized that she hated that too. So, as I climbed back into the driver’s seat, I had a seriously homesick and miserable pup sitting beside me.

That seat she was taking up had once belonged to Volunteers, my bad-ass warrior-rescued feline who was the one good thing to come out of my experience in post-Katrina New Orleans. He loved the GTO, loved exploring Oregon with me, and wherever we went, we made friends. Gwenie was the exact opposite: a dog destined to be at least 60 lbs whose fear dominated her. Volley knew no fear and lived life on fire 24/7.  More than anything, I wanted to pull Gwenie out of that place and draw her out into the world so we could go adventure in it together.

Ed and Renee, eager to go in and see the our new family member.

Ed and Renee, eager to go in and see the our new family member.

Well, we drove up to the cabin as I started to worry about the amount of snow on either side of the main highway. The pavement was clear, but I’d not seen any news about snowfall in the area. The GTO is a fair weather car, and I had no chains for it.

We turned off the main highway and started up into the Willamette National Forest. Snow and ice covered the road. I inched the GTO along, feeling it slide around.  The last stretch to the cabin included a steep grade to a gate. I made it up the grade, but when I stopped to punch in the key code to open the gate, the GTO lost traction and wouldn’t go any further. I backed down the hill and tried again, with the same result. A third effort found me sliding toward a drainage ditch, so I put the Pontiac in park, grabbed my gear and Gwenie, and hiked the quarter mile to the cabin.


Renee during a pit stop on the way home from PDX. Gwenie weighed about 12 lbs when she reached us. As of Feb 2, she weighs 33.

Gwen padded along beside me, unsure of the environment and very unhappy with the leash I’d put on her. She stayed close to my legs, and a few times she actually tried to jump into my arms as something scared her.  But we made it to the cabin, and I hustled her inside so we could get warm. I got a fire going, turned on the power and prepared to settle in. Then I remembered I needed to turn the water on. Outside I went, found the valve and opened it. With Gwenie standing in the snow next to me, the valve burst and sprayed water over both of us before I had to shut it off from the road.

So now, dusk was approaching. It was probably 25 degrees or so, and I was wet, Gwenie was wet, and the cabin was non-useable without water. We went back inside, and sure enough, the fire I’d started in the wood stove had gone out.


Gwenie snuggles with Ed on the way home from the airport.

Time for plan B. I decided we needed to close up the cabin and get back out onto the main highway before dark. I grabbed all my gear and headed back for the car. As we hiked back down to the GTO, Gwenie was clearly getting into the whole concept of snow. I let her off the leash, and she raced around, making circles around me. Periodically she’d stop to dig furiously, then would bound off at Mach 1, tearing through the snow like a desert-colored blur.

We made it to the car, I loaded it back up and got Gwenie settled.  But, when I tried to back down the hill, the Goat wouldn’t move. I was stuck fast.


Our Katrina rescue, Volley with the GTO at Camp Adair. The two of us went everywhere in the GTO for five years before Vol died of a heart attack while I was in Afghanistan.

For the next two hours, I tried to dig the car clear using boards as traction. I could move it a few feet, but each time, I risked sliding the car into the ditch. Finally, as the sun went down, I called for a tow truck and got the Goat pulled out to safety. Or so I thought.

Turns out, in trying to get the car clear, I had damaged the radiator. I hadn’t gone more than a mile when the engine overheated. I pulled over and called the tow truck again. By now, I was shivering cold and soaking wet. The outside temp had plunged, and with the engine off we had no heat. Gwenie was only about 10 weeks old, and I was worried the cold was going to really affect her. So, I kept her wrapped up in a blanket and a whoobie I’d been using since Katrina for my cabin trips. She settled down, stopped shivering and watched me with those big, doe eyes.

Before the tow truck arrived, I could feel myself getting sluggish and confused. I was having a hard time making decisions, and I realized I’d probably become mildly hypothermic. By the time the truck arrived, I was in a pretty unhappy state. The tow truck driver took one look at Gwenie and I and ordered us into his cab. We climbed aboard, and he blasted the heater full bore at us until I dried off and warmed up. Gwenie sat in my lap and snuggled against me.

The Cedars, the only place open that night when Gwenie and I sought refuge from the cold.

The Cedars, the only place open that night when Gwenie and I sought refuge from the cold.

The driver towed the GTO to Detroit, where we left the car and went to the one bar in town. Pup and writer drank soup together as some of the locals shot pool and snatched sidelong glances at us. We were a sorry sight. An hour and a half later, Jenn Bruning came up and rescued us. The GTO was towed another 70 miles home the next morning, where it received a brand new radiator. The first one had lasted 112,000 miles and had been in almost twenty states during my various road trips, so I’m hoping this one will last as long. 🙂

Gwenie on her first walk at Camp Adair, Oregon. I took this a few days after we got back from our aborted cabin trip.

Gwenie on her first walk at Camp Adair, Oregon. I took this a few days after we got back from our aborted cabin trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of our adventure in the mountains–I was too cold and miserable to document it!

Through all the craziness, my Jordanian pup and I bonded. That night, as I slipped into bed, Gwenie jumped up beside me and curled up, her warm fur a comfort in the darkness. she slept with her head on my pillow and a paw across my face. The next morning, as I got up to get my day started, she would not leave my side. We’d gone up into the mountains as strangers, but we’d come home as something unique in my life. I was her human now, and she was my dog.



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