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Iraqi dogs rescued by troops welcomed at JFK

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Liberty and K-Pot, named after the Kevlar helmet he was found inside, served as security dogs for an undisclosed Army unit, according to Terri Crisp, manager of Operation Baghdad Pups for SPCA International, a non-profit working to bring rescued Iraqi dogs to the U.S.Liberty, a 4-month-old mutt, was found by an Army lieutenant during a raid on a home in northern Iraq. K-Pot, a 3-month-old mutt, was rescued by a medic after being stuck in a razor wire fence.The dogs now have new homes in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., after SPCA International was able to make arrangements to bring the mutts to the states. Crisp said it took two months to get clearance to get the dogs out of Iraq and had to spend $6,800 on a security firm to protect the non-profit's employees in Iraq."This was a very important mission because these dogs were part of a unit that was ready to relocate," Crisp said, noting that nobody else could take care of Liberty and K-Pot. "The soldiers are friends to these dogs. They've been the highlight of their day."Liberty will be staying with Amanda Lehneke, the Washington, D.C. wife of an Army lieutenant named Daniel. Lehneke said her husband has a different last name than hers but chose not to disclose it to protect his security. K-Pot, named because he was sitting in Kevlar protected helmet when he was rescued, will be cared for by Danielle Berger. Her brother Matt was the medic who found K-Pot.Both women said the dogs have been a morale booster for their loved ones."My husband was very close to Liberty," said Lehneke, who did not disclose her husband's name to protect his security. The soldiers "were brothers over there and [Liberty] was accepted as one of them."She said she mainly communicates with her husband through e-mail and that he would send her pictures of Liberty.After meeting Liberty for the first time Sunday at JFK, Lehneke said, "It was like an instant connection. It was a realization of why my husband loved her."Berger said K-Pot was "an amazing dog. He's very lovely."Crisp said that dogs known to befriend American soldiers are treated cruelly by Iraqis and face possible torture or even death.Had the non-profit not stepped in to bring Liberty and K-Pot to America, she said, "neither dog would've made it."SPCA International is currently working to bring another Iraqi dog, Socks, to the United States.Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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