Refugee dog Nubs takes celebrity in stride
Just two years ago, he was a no-name cur with cut-off ears scrounging for scraps in the desert. Now, Nubs is barking up his new book with the national media, getting belly rubs from celebrities like Sharon and Ozzie Osborne, and taking up couch space with appearances on the "Today" show" and "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." There's talk of a movie deal, too. Nubs is lapping up all the attention. "I keep telling him he's going to get a big head," says Maj. Brian Dennis, the career Marine from St. Petersburg who rescued the German shepherd mix from Iraq. "Really, though, he's handling it like a pro. He's definitely on board for the adventure."There's never been a doubt about that. Dennis and Nubs' tale of resilience and loyalty is now a new children's book, "Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle." How Nubs evolved from a feral dog of war to a faithful companion now living with Dennis in San Diego is chronicled through photos taken by the Marine and emails to friends and family. In this week's edition of "People," the two are profiled in the magazine's "Heroes Among Us" feature. In December, Reader's Digest will publish their story. And at 10 p.m. Sunday, they're included in the documentary "No Dog Left Behind" premiering on the Military Channel. "I think people are intrigued because there are so many powerful lessons to be learned here," says Dennis, who attended Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg. "Starting with doing a simple act of kindness, and see how it is repaid. And how to overcome adversity in the worst of situations." Man and dog met during a chance encounter in October 2007 on the Iraq-Syria border, where Dennis led an 11-man U.S. Marine counterinsurgency force. Troops in the region are accustomed to seeing wild dogs living on desert rats and scraps left by Iraqi soldiers stationed at the fort. But there was something different about this one, apparently the alpha in the pack. His ears had been crudely hacked off, presumably to make him a "dog of war." He and Dennis, who dubbed him Nubs, took to each other almost immediately. They shared a meal of spaghetti, Cajun beans and rice, polishing it off with a strawberry Pop-Tart. It's against military rules for active personnel to befriend found animals. It can be dangerous and distracting, especially in wartime. But Nubs didn't follow the rules. He insisted on hanging around, joining Dennis on nighttime guard duty and serving as mascot-protector of the unit. When the soldiers left for temporary encampments, Nubs always awaited their return. But when the patrol transferred to an outpost 70 miles away, Dennis was convinced it was the last he would see of his buddy. He watched what he thought was his last glimpse of his loyal companion running behind the Humvee until the dog collapsed, exhausted and alone. Two days later, Nubs limped into the new outpost. He'd been attacked by other animals, dogs or wolves judging from the bite marks, and he'd made his journey in sub-freezing temperatures. Dennis knew he had to find a way to get Nubs back home to San Diego, where he could have "a nice sunny life and never be cold again." With a four-day deadline from his higher-ups to "get rid of the dog or else," Dennis launched a frantic email campaign to friends and family in the States, hoping to raise money for Nubs' evacuation. They responded with nearly $5,000. In January, Nubs got his first check-up from the king of Jordan's veterinarian, then made a 10-hour flight from Amman, Jordan to Chicago, where he stayed with friends of Dennis. Two months later, with his master's tour of duty concluded, the two had an exhilarating reunion of wet dog kisses and human tears of joy at Camp Pendleton. Now Nubs enjoys beach walks and Bow Wow Brownies from a local bakery. He's earned straight A's at obedience school. His once-coarse fur is soft and shiny. And when he travels, it's in a super pimped-out doggie mobile home. Life is good. Although Dennis, who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Bosnia, expects to be deployed to Afghanistan next year, he's made sure that his best friend won't feel abandoned. Nubs has a whole circle of friends in San Diego, and they'll take care of him until Dennis returns. "He's one special guy," Dennis says. No doubt Nubs, if he could talk, would say the same thing.
Michelle Bearden can be reached at (813) 259-7613.