Sean Laidlaw was nervous. After everything he and his rescued puppy had experienced in war-torn Syria, they had formed a close bond. But a lot can change in nine months. Would the grown dog he was about to meet resemble the puppy that he had had to leave behind?
Although 30-year-old Laidlaw, from Essex, England, currently manages a gym, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, he used to serve as a lance corporal with the Royal Engineers. Furthermore, earlier in the year, Laidlaw had been part of a privately contracted bomb disposal team.
During this time, Laidlaw found himself operating within Raqqa, Syria, disarming explosives for the U.S. State Department. But in February 2018 the soldier discovered something surprising in the most unlikely of places. It all began when he heard a noise coming from a ruined school.
Laidlaw subsequently followed the sound and found a disturbing scene beneath a concrete block. Five little puppies lay on the ground, and four of them were dead. However, the last one was very much alive. That must have surprised the soldier, considering the devastation.
The puppy had apparently not only survived the collapse of the building, but also the explosion that caused it. Unfortunately, the traumatized baby was scared of Laidlaw and wouldn’t go near him. Instead, the soldier kept an eye on the pup and tried to earn its trust.
Laidlaw left food and water out for the baby, and over time it got used to his presence. Three days later they’d formed a strong bond, so Laidlaw called the dog Barrie, on the assumption that it was a boy. He later found out Barrie was a girl, but he’d become accustomed to the name by then.
Barrie and Laidlaw comforted each other through some dark times, as the soldier told The Daily Telegraph on November 7, 2018. “I feel like it may come across that I saved Barrie’s life,” he revealed. “But I feel like she saved mine.”
“Working in a war zone, coming back to camp you sit in your room on your own,” Laidlaw continued. “To have a companion you can play with and train, it kept my mind away from all the things I was seeing and doing out there.”
The soldier elaborated, “You can only imagine how bad Syria is. And to be able to come back to the camp and train her for three hours, take her for a walk… things like that really took my mind away from where I was.”
“It gave me a bit of normality, she definitely kept me sane,” Laidlaw explained. “She stayed with me all day, every day. She did jobs with me, I’d wake up, she’d come eat with me. She’d then sit in the passenger seat of my car when we drove to Raqqa.”
Laidlaw looked after Barrie in turn and provided what comforts he could. For example, the soldier made his dog a toy from an old pair of jeans. He even used the material from a bulletproof vest to create Barrie a harness for their walks.
Laidlaw and Barrie were inseparable for two months, but in April 2018 the soldier took a trip home. Although he expected to be back in Syria sooner or later, Laidlaw received an unexpected call. It was an order for the soldier to stay in England.
Laidlaw described what happened to U.K. newspaper The Sun on November 7, 2018. He said, “I thought there might be a security issue. But then I got a call that night saying the contract is cancelled and that everyone is being sent back home.”
The soldier’s immediate thought was for Barrie, so he rang a charity called War Paws. The Iraq-based group is dedicated to saving dogs from war-torn areas such as Syria. In addition, it also helps process official papers and veterinary precautions mandatory in moving those animals across borders.
“I put the phone down and immediately called the charity,” Laidlaw told The Sun. “I didn’t think of anything else and tried to see how I could get Barrie home.” He couldn’t face the thought of living without his best friend.
However, the transfer took longer than Laidlaw hoped. After the dog’s vaccinations, required quarantine and a few bumps in the road, seven months had passed. But after what must have seemed like a lifetime for Laidlaw, the day finally came for him and Barrie to be reunited.
In fact, Laidlaw traveled to Paris to collect Barrie from War Paws! Despite his excitement, though, Laidlaw had his reservations. “One of my biggest fears was that she wouldn’t recognise who I was,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Or that she would be a different dog to the girl I left.”
But he needn’t have worried. As recorded footage of their reunion reveals, Barrie remembered Laidlaw. The two had a touching reunion full of emotion and lots of belly rubs for Barrie. “It was pure joy when she realized who I was,” he said. “She’s exactly as she was back in Syria.”
“It was just great to have my dog again,” Laidlaw said. Now he and Barrie can enjoy life at a much more leisurely pace than they did in Syria. “Everyone’s got their lives. My parents and girlfriend are at work, and so when I get back I at least know I’ve got my dog. And she’ll always be there.”
“I think as soon as Barrie and I bonded, where I could pick her up, for me she’d already become my dog,” Laidlaw concluded. “Having a companion is one of the best things to help with PTSD. A dog always makes you happy, always wants to be with you.”