Smoke the Iraqi donkey, a favorite of Camp Pendleton Marines, arrives in U.S.
A donkey adopted as a pet by Marines from Camp Pendleton while they were deployed in Iraq has been brought to America to serve as a therapy animal for wounded military personnel.
Smoke arrived last week in New York aboard a cargo flight that originated in Turkey after a combined effort of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and retired Marine Col. John Folsom.
In 2008, Folsom and Marines from the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Logistics Group found the donkey at Camp Taqaddum in Anbar province. The animal quickly became a favorite. His name comes from his color and the fact that he once snatched a cigarette from a Marine.
In 2009 the Marines departed but Folsom never stopped thinking of Smoke and what a morale boost he was for the troops. With help from the SPCA, Folsom raised funds and cleared away bureaucratic obstacles to get Smoke to America.
The SPCA estimates the final cost at upward of $40,000. The group has brought dogs and cats from Iraq but Smoke was the first of his species. The U.S. ambassador in Turkey was recruited to help get Smoke from neighboring Iraq.
"Once you met him and saw what a unique donkey he was, it was hard to say no to him," said SPCA official Terri Crisp.
Supporters are bringing the donkey by truck to Folsom's home in Omaha, Neb., where Smoke will serve as a therapy animal for the Wounded Warrior Family Support organization.
"He's an American donkey now," Folsom told the Associated Press.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Smoke the donkey in Iraq in 2008. Credit: Associated Press