updated 12/08/2008 AT 11:25 AM ET
•originally published 12/03/2008 AT 1:00 PM ET
Gwen Beberg helped the Army battle insurgents in Iraq, but when it was time to come home she found herself battling Army brass to bring back a little black puppy she loved. Her unit had rescued the dog from cruelty on Iraqi streets.
Beberg’s friends started an online petition that tens of thousands of people signed. Finally, the Army relented and Baghdadpups.com brought the pup to keep her parents’ house in Minnesota. PEOPLE Pets recently had the opportunity to talk with Beberg, who hopes to join Ratchet in January.
How have you been doing through all this?
I’ve been away from Ratchet two or three months now. That’s the hardest part.
With no dog food in Iraq, how did you feed Ratchet?
I discovered that Petsmart delivers to APO [military] addresses. And that he really liked dog food. But Friday was still steak night. I’m a vegetarian, so I gave him my meat ration.
Where did Ratchet sleep?
Because of health concerns or whatever he couldn’t sleep with me. I got him a big shipping container, a cardboard box, but when I would leave him he would whimper. So I would rock him to sleep at night then tuck him in. I didn’t want to chance it too much.
What did the other soldiers think of Ratchet?
Oh yeah, people would be having a bad day and I’d hand them a dog treat and say go feed the dog and they’d be gone 40 minutes. Just the fact that we were allowed to keep the puppy means people were willing to look the other way.
Did you see other soldier’s pets in Iraq?
The exact location where I was stationed two other dogs made it home. Everyone knew them. Gizmo was the resident guard dog. Roscoe was more a morale animal. I think every place I’ve heard of had some pet – hedgehogs, pet turtles. People really have a craving to have animal companionship.
Did you know any that didn’t make it?
We did have another puppy wander into motor pool at one point. They said we can’t keep another one; you’re going to have to send him back over the fence. I know another group of soldiers had a dog that had 10 puppies. One had mange…. they were ordered to shoot the puppy. He licked them muzzle of the rifle before they pulled the trigger and that traumatized them.
How does Ratchet like Minnesota?
He had no idea what to make of snow. Then he discovered that it was edible. He discovered squirrels for the first time and finds them extremely entertaining.
What’s next for you and Ratchet?
Massage therapy school. And I’m going to train Ratchet as a therapy dog to go to schools and hospitals and VA centers. I want to really let him do what he does best, which is helping people.