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Reuniting Air Force veteran with service dog becomes officials' mission

Air Force veteran Amjad Kirrish holds Harley, a

Air Force veteran Amjad Kirrish holds Harley, a 1-year-old service dog, in an undated photo. Credit: Amjad Kirrish

Air Force veteran Amjad Kirrish took from his deployment to the Middle East memories of the esprit de corps among his fellow service members but recalls just as fondly the bond he formed with a four-legged civilian named Harley — the pup he  returned to after long days of battle.

"She’s my little dog," said Kirrish, 30, who lives in Ventura County, California, where he returned two months ago. "Being overseas, it gets hard at times and having her there was a real morale boost for me. … She just wanted to give love and be loved back."

But now, even after he adopted Harley and expected to welcome her to her new home last month, bureaucratic red tape is delaying her arrival and could send her back to the Middle East.  Kirrish and several members of the Long Island congressional delegation fear she could be euthanized because U.S. authorities had rejected her documentation of rabies vaccination due to a clerical error. 

A bipartisan group including Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Peter King (R-Seaford), Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), have written to federal Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield to ask if she can be released and sent to Kirrish.

"There was a small clerical error," Rice said in a telephone interview after sending the letter Tuesday on behalf of the other members of Congress. "We implore him to do the right thing here … this is ridiculous."

The lawmakers said Harley arrived for a layover in Kennedy Airport on Aug. 25 from Amman, Jordan without the name or address of her veterinarian on papers documenting her vaccination for diseases like rabies.

The absence of that information prompted federal health authorities to keep her isolated at the airport — where she remains — and prepare her for a return to Jordan even though Paws for War has since provided the necessary documents, Rice said.

The CDC was not immediately available to comment.

Kirrish adopted Harley through the Nesconset-based Paws of War, which matches rescue dogs with veterans experiencing the emotional effects of war.

Rice and the other lawmakers,   said keeping the dog from returning to Kirrish could have devastating consequences for the battle-tested veteran who came to rely on Harley in a war zone like a member of his family.

Rice, who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee, said she had seen dramatic change in shellshocked veterans who befriend a therapy dog: They are calmer, can adjust to civilian life better and more readily be constructive members of society despite the horrors they have seen and experienced.

Kirrish said he hoped to soon introduce Harley to his wife, who he said had come to know her through their video chats over Skype and through pictures.

"My wife grew to love her just as much as I did," he said, adding that the couple have no children yet and are smitten with Harley. "She knows how much this dog meant to me over there … She knows what Harley means to me and, in turn, she means that much to her."

With Joan Gralla

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