From Syria to Essex: Pooch travels 3,000 miles to reunite with soldier who saved her from a explosion
By Joe Pagnelli
A soldier and a pup he saved from rubble in war-torn Syria have finally been reunited after seven months apart – but he says it was his furry companion that ‘saved his life’.
The heart-melting journey that brought a soldier from Essex and an abandoned dog from Syria together finally came to its culmination on Saturday, November 3, when they reunited at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France.
Sean Laidlaw, 30, was stationed in Syria in February 2018 as a private contractor leading a bomb disposal team when he found whimpering Barrie surrounded by rubble after a building had exploded around her.
Sean and his ‘man’s best friend’ have gone through five countries, two war zones, 3,000 miles and a 12-hour drive to be together in what he says is his ‘happiest moment ever’.
Sean, from Hornchurch, Essex, said: “I feel like it may come across that I saved Barrie’s life, but I feel like she saved mine.
“Working in a war zone, coming back to camp you sit in your room on your own. 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“Going to Paris was both exciting and nerve-wracking, but I left the house at 6am and just sped there.
“Meeting her at the airport, seeing her in the flesh, was one of the best moments of my life. I’ve never been so happy.
“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.”
Sean found Barrie in February 2018 in Raqqa, Syria, after hearing whimpering under a slab of concrete near his work site – and found her nestled in rubble from a school that had exploded and collapsed.
A terrified Barrie, surrounded by four dead puppies, initially rejected Sean’s advances – but the motivated soldier made sure she was safe and brought her food and drink, and cordoned off the area as it wasn’t safe from IEDs yet.
After three days the furry pooch grew to trust Sean and the two became inseparable in the three months he was in Syria.
Sean named her Barrie when he first spotted her, and by the time he came to discover she was a girl, the name had already stuck.
Barrie spent each day following Sean on jobs in Raqqa, and even had a harness made from a bullet-proof vest and a plush teddy bear made of jeans made for her.
Sean, who now runs a gym, said: “I think as soon as Barrie and I bonded, where I could pick her up, for me she’d already become my dog.
“When we got back to camp, she lived in my room, I looked after her, I was responsible for her. She slept in my room, I was training her, I was feeding her.
“She stayed with me every day all 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.”
Sean, who did two tours in Afghanistan in his 10 years with the Royal Engineers, contacted War Paws – a charity based in Iraq who specialise in bringing dogs home from war-torn areas – to find a way to bring Barrie back with him after his contract was due to run out.
In February, Sean set up a gofundme page to bring Barrie to the UK and raised £4,500 – but that was the first of many hurdles in their path.
Barrie was brought to Iraq in April where she was vaccinated and checked by War Paws before being flown to Jordan in August, where she was quarantined for two months.
In April, after four months in Syria, Sean returned to the UK for a short leave when his contract was abruptly cancelled, and he was informed that he wouldn’t be returning to Syria.
He said: “I might be one of the only people who was unhappy not to go back to Syria. I was on the way to the airport with my dad when I got a message telling me not to board my flight and go home.
“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.
“I put the phone down and immediately called the charity, I didn’t think of anything else and tried to see how I could get Barrie home.
“When it came to going home without her, I thought I’d never be able to leave her so I started thinking about how I could bring her back.
“It’s very difficult to be apart, my biggest issue was that I never had that moment with her to say goodbye as when I left I thought I’d see her in a couple weeks.
“But then months passed and she’s gone from a puppy to a full-grown dog. That was hard for me, as I worried she was a totally different dog.”
The plan to fly Barrie to London Heathrow in late October quickly collapsed as Barrie was missing some paperwork and the nervous pooch wasn’t allowed to travel.
Sean was prepared to fly to Jordan to pick up his best friend, but owner of War Paws, Louise Hastie, came to the rescue as she was already flying two dogs from Jordan to Paris.
Sean made the 12-hour journey from Essex to Paris at 6am on Saturday, November 3, in what he says was a surreal feeling.
Sean said: “All the help we’ve received to bring us together has been amazing, just to bring one dog to Essex, it’s been incredible.
“Thinking about having Barrie with me now, the life we can have together – it’s surreal.
“One of my biggest fears was that she wouldn’t recognise who I was, or that she would be a different dog to the girl I left.
“It was pure joy when she realised who I was. She’s exactly as she was back in Syria, it was just great to have my dog again.
“I’d be willing to travel across the whole world to have Barrie with me.”