Trigger an Afghan Kuchi dog, arrived at J.F.K. airport on...

Trigger an Afghan Kuchi dog, arrived at J.F.K. airport on Thursday, with the help of Guardians of Rescue, Nowzad, and Hammer Out Animal Cruelty. (Feb. 16, 2012) Credit: Uli Seit

Trigger, a 70-pound stray dog taken in by a U.S. Army soldier in Afghanistan last year, rolled on his back Thursday after arriving at Kennedy Airport from Kabul, one stop in a journey that will reunite him with his rescuer in Washington state.

Matthew Festa, a volunteer with the Port Jefferson animal rescue group Guardians of Rescue, which brought Trigger to the United States, scratched the dog's belly and encouraged him. "Breathe that air," he said. "That's war-free air."

The dog was then driven to Hounds Town USA's charity team, which operates an animal-rehabilitation center in Port Jefferson, where he'll be taught "Doggie 101" -- living as a domesticated pooch, said Festa's wife, Meredith Festa, another volunteer. She said that includes "being house trained, walking with a leash, sitting, staying."

Trigger was rescued by soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan about seven months ago and quickly bonded with the unit, said the soldier who found him. The soldier, now stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Fort Lewis, Wash., would not give his name because of security concerns. "He'd come no matter where you were on the base when you called," he said.

A second dog, Savannah, was adopted by another soldier in the unit, who also did not want to be named. That soldier's cousin, Ashley Olmstead of Chicago, said he also had been working with the Guardians to have Savannah brought to the United States, but the dog was found dead in Afghanistan, she said.

"You come home at the end of a horrendous day and you're greeted by a big, loving face," said Olmstead. "When you're away from everything that is familiar to you, it meant a lot."

When Savannah was killed, Olmstead, the Guardians and a Pennsylvania rescue group raised the money to send Trigger to New York and on to Seattle. Meredith Festa said the reunion with the soldier could come in a few days.

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