As I have said, I am a sap when it comes to dogs.

Recently I read about Rufus, Target, and Sasha, three stray dogs who together saved the lives of up to 50 US soldiers in Afghanistan when they prevented a suicide bomber from entering a barracks on base. The bomber got the door open but Rufus and Target had latched on to his legs, preventing him from entering. Sasha was barking wildly, alerting her friend, Sgt. Chris Duke, to the danger. When the bomber realized he could go no further, he detonated his vest.

Sasha, the smallest of the three, was injured so badly that she had to be put down. Rufus and Target were both horribly burned over the majority of their bodies. Thanks to the soldiers, they were nursed back to health and survived the attack. This Reader’s Digest article has the whole story.

Keep in mind that these dogs were only curs. They aren’t purebreds, or show dogs. They were simply mutts, strays from a war-ravaged country who, despite having no reason to care about humans, acted out of instinct and loyalty to the soldiers they had befriended. Even though they probably did not know their lives were in danger, their acts were still, by all accounts, heroic. They selflessly put themselves between their friends and danger, giving fur, skin, and blood in the process and, in Sasha’s case, the ultimate sacrifice.

Can you blame me for being a sap over dogs, when I see what three strays are capable of?

Unfortunately, this post is not about dog heroism. Rather, it is about human incompetence, selfishness, and cruelty.

Because after reading about Rufus and Target, and their subsequent journey to the US to live with their friends (thanks to the organization Hope for Warriors), I came across this devastating follow-up on Target. It seems that after relocating to Arizona to live with Sgt. Young who had nursed her back to health, she wandered off one night. Animal control found her, and Sgt. Young saw her photo on the shelter’s website. He paid the fee online and went down in the morning to pick her up. When he arrived, he found that she had been euthanized, being accidentally mistaken for another dog.

Target was a survivor. She managed to survive puppyhood in a war-torn region with no medical care, scarce water, and an inconsistent food supply. She survived a point-blank explosion of C-4 explosive. She survived a long and surely painful rehabilitation process. She survived for months after her benefactors left to return to the US, and then endured what must’ve been a week-long trip from Afghanistan to Georgia and then another to Arizona. She survived all of those remarkable perils only to be senselessly killed by human incompetence and cruelty in what we delude ourselves into believing is a civilized society.

You deserved better, Target. We owed you more…much more. You saved the lives of our soldiers and this is how we repay you.

When I imagine the innocence, trust, and submissiveness she likely exhibited as she was being euthanized, having surely received countless injections during her treatment and rehabilitation after the attack, it makes me want to vomit.

To think of the noble act she had performed, and the ruined potential of what other gifts she may have given, it makes me angry.

To think that she would have likely been safer, or at least still alive, in Afghanistan makes me ashamed.

To think of the guilt and remorse that Sgt. Young must feel, having been stripped of the guardian to whom he owed his life makes me truly sad.

My only solace is that her death has the potential to drive changes to our animal control policies. The No-Kill movement has been growing steam over the last decade and more resources than ever are available to support the no-kill argument. They can be found here at the No Kill Advocacy Center website.

Target, Rufus, and Sasha were strays. Wild dogs for whom most people wouldn’t spare a meal, much less pay money. In the US, all three would have ended up in shelters and likely been euthanized. Together, these unlikely heroes saved 50 human lives, entirely of their own volition.

Over a million dogs are euthanized by shelters every year in the US. Each one may be a hero in waiting.

Consider saving (not buying) a dog. They’re waiting for you at your local shelter. In exchange, they’ll give you unconditional love and they might just return the favor one day.