Former Bulgarian Street Dog Now Raising Awareness for Military Heroes’ Pets While They’re Away
Meet Linda Shapiro, the DoD's 2021 mascot! No, not that DoD, Linda is the canine face of Dogs on Deployment: a non-profit that helps connect military pet parents with a network of volunteers who will board their dogs (and cats, bunnies, birds, and other companion animals) free of charge while they are deployed. The goal is to ensure that no military, veteran, or first responder is forced to relinquish their pet to a shelter due to the demands of their job.
Each year DoD selects a doggy mascot (the public votes and the top three canine-idates advance to the next round, then an overall winner is chosen by DoD judges). The mascot serves to raise awareness about the organization's mission, as well as to celebrate and promote responsible pet ownership. As the 2021 mascot, Linda's story is one of success and resilience—two characteristics that make her the perfect fit for the face of this organization.
A Chance Encounter
It was a stormy night back in 2013 when Air Force officer Philip Shapiro first encountered Linda. Lt. Col. Shapiro and his crew had just arrived in Plovdiv, Bulgaria for a three-week exercise with the Bulgarian air force. They had gotten in late, and as they were rushed off to their quarters, Shapiro spotted Linda in the darkness.
"As a dog lover, I was immediately shaken by her heart-wrenching appearance. Not only was she was emaciated and drenched from the rain, but she was also holding her left hind-leg tucked up near her belly," Shapiro writes on the DoD website. She allowed him close enough that he was able to see that she was injured—her leg had been shattered by a bullet, and was now infected.
Shapiro was shocked the next day when Linda came limping over to greet their van—he had not expected her to have survived the storm. He would eventually come to understand that this pup was one tough cookie, and had survived much worse during the harsh winters. Her fighting spirit touched him, as he himself was going through a hard time: "Helping Linda became a mission that gave me a sense of purpose and got me on track spiritually," he writes.
A New Mission
Shapiro took it upon himself to bring Linda food and clean water each day, and over the span of a few short weeks a bond was formed. "She was always there when I arrived and quietly watched our crew van drive away at the end of each night," he recalls. When the time for the crew to return home to the States grew near, Shapiro realized he had to do something for Linda, telling Daily Paws that his original plan was "just to take her to a vet to get her leg fixed so she could have a fresh start [in Bulgaria]. The Air Force officer didn't think it would be possible to get her all the way to the U.S. for treatment.
After considerable effort, and with just three days left to departure, Shapiro was able to locate an English-speaking Bulgarian vet, Dr. Kostadinov, who informed the officer that he lacked the surgical equipment and expertise needed to treat Linda's injured leg in Bulgaria. It was a minor setback that would lead the duo to an even better solution, as Dr. Kostadinov and Shapiro worked out a plan to get the pup back home to Texas. The vet agreed to board Linda for 30 days after she received her rabies shots (a necessity for entering the U.S.), treat her for worms and ehrlichiosis, and administer palliative care for her wounded leg. Shapiro's friend Boiko, a C-27 pilot in the Bulgarian Air Force, volunteered to be Linda's sending agent so that she could clear customs and come start a new life with her new dad in America.
A Flight, and a Fresh Start
After a long 30 days, Linda was flown to meet Shapiro in Dallas, where he’d scheduled her surgery for the next day. Throughout the entire ordeal, Shapiro says Linda was a trooper: “She handled the whole thing calmly, and seemed to know we were all acting in her best interest.” The pup’s surgery was a success, and she now has partial use of her hind leg.
Contrary to early warnings that her traumatic experience as a "street dog" might make her incapable of life as a well-adjusted household pet, Shapiro says Linda took quite naturally to life as a member of the Shapiro family. "We say that she was always meant to be a house dog," and it would appear Linda is not just meant to be a family pet—she was destined for the finer things in life!
Shapiro says the only minor challenge Linda faced was learning how to get up on furniture. Thankfully, Shapiro says his wife Kirsten, also a military officer, showed her the ropes, and now the couch is her favorite place to lounge. A far cry from her days as a stray, Linda also loves going to the beach, and her favorite city to travel to is Napa, Calif.. (We're here for it—go ahead and treat yourself, Linda!) Shapiro also adds that nowadays, Linda would much prefer to stay dry when the weather threatens to rain out her parade. "She loves her walks, but you have to force her if it is raining out," he says. "We did get her a rain slicker, but she hates wearing that too so it's a lose-lose." We don't blame you, Linda. You're a celebrity dog now—why wouldn't you expect the Red Carpet treatment?!
How to Get Involved With Dogs on Deployment
Do you have room in your home (and heart) to board pets while their military moms and dads are away during training and deployments? You can apply to become a temporary home for pets whose parents are in the military by checking out DoD's resources for potential boarders who decide to care for a service member's pet for an extended period of time.
As with introducing any new pet into your home, DoD says the first consideration before deciding to become a temporary foster should be making sure you and the dog or cat will be a good match. Next, you'll meet with a potential boarder and get acclimated to each other (including other pets in the home). DoD also suggests arranging a "trial run" before the pet parent departs to make sure the pet is comfortable. During the stay, open communication will be key to a successful boarding experience for both sets of humans and pets. Once it's time for that wonderful homecoming, grab your tissues: there's nothing more heartwarming than watching a military hero reunite with their four-legged pal you've grown to love.
Becoming a foster for a dog or cat while their fur moms and dads are away isn't the only way you can help. The Dogs on Deployment Facebook and Instagram accounts frequently share photos of pets who need a place to stay, and sharing their stories is another way you can help find them temporary homes.