July 4 Heartwarmer: A Marine and His Miracle Dog

While in Iraq, Marine Major Brian Dennis and an Iraqi stray dog — later named Nubs — developed a friendship that turned into a lifelong companionship. Major Dennis (along with Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery) has since written a children’s book about his buddy: Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle.


Dennis and his unit, part of a Border Transition Team, were deployed to help train Iraqi soldiers at a fort 15 miles east of the Jordanian/Syrian/Iraqi border, traveling between the fort and their forward operating base. During one of those visits, as Brian stepped out of his humvee, a mid-size dog resembling a German shepherd came up to the major. Nubs was the alpha dog of a pack of 12 to 15 strays. Says Nethery: “It was like the alpha dog meets the alpha Marine. It is definitely fascinating how that happened.”

The bond between Dennis and the dog was instantaneous and surprising, since there was little reason for a wild dog to trust a human. Dennis named the dog Nubs because an Iraqi soldier had cut the dog’s ears off to make him into a fighting war dog — tougher and more alert.

Dennis explains to PJM:

[The bond started] by the unit showing Nubs kindness. I don’t think that dog had ever experienced kindness from any person or creature until he met us. The more time our team spent with Nubs, the more he seemed to love us. Between border visits (after two to three days the unit would leave for other destinations, and return every 2 to 3 weeks) I was always wondering if Nubs was okay: how was he doing?

As time passed Nubs would run after Brian’s humvee as they were leaving, forcing the major’s driver to lose the dog by speeding up. The reason for this was that Brian could not violate the Marine rule: pets are not allowed in combat zones because of the possibility that the animal would have a disease which would be passed on to the soldier.


During a winter visit to the fort, Brian saw that Nubs did not come up to greet him. He was gaunt and weak from a stab wound to his side that punctured his lung. Says Brian:

Some of the locals who didn’t like us saw that we had grown to like Nubs and they were just trying to get back at us. We never found out who did it. But I told the local Iraqi fort commander that if I found out who did it, I would do the same thing to them that they did to Nubs.

Kirby Larson reasoned that Muslim culture is not fond of dogs, unlike our culture — as evidenced by Major Dennis — that wants to protect, love, and care for domestic animals.

After trying to care for Nubs as best he could, Brian once again had to leave. Two weeks later the unit returned and saw the dog was healing well.

This is the miracle part of the story: after the unit left, Nubs — determined to be with Brian – traveled a 70-mile stretch in a two-day period, enduring major hardships. Nubs found Dennis.

Dennis speculates:

Dogs are smart and there are many accounts of them tracking their owners or finding their way home over long distances. Nubs knew which way we went, and he just started walking. Maybe he tracked the Hummer or perhaps the vehicles left a scent.

After being reunited with Dennis, the unit decided to adopt Nubs. Says Dennis:

Nubs was a huge morale booster. Dogs just make people smile. They can brighten your day in a pretty gloomy, tension-filled place.


Nubs was given a Marine collar, food, and love. Unfortunately, it was not yet a happy ending: two soldiers not in the unit reported Nubs. The unit was ordered to “get rid of the dog, or else.” Knowing he was not going to lose Nubs again, Dennis successfully raised, in two weeks, the $2,000 needed to bring Nubs to San Diego, California. Nubs is currently staying with friends of Dennis while he is deployed. Brian is expected to be permanently home sometime this year.

Brian writes in the book:

This dog who had been through a lifetime of fighting, war, and abuse was going to have a nice sunny life and would never be cold again.


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