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Dog-tired Ratchet arrives in Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS -- The most famous dog in the world -- for this week, at least -- arrived in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Ratchet, the rescued Iraqi puppy, blinked modestly in the glaring lights of TV cameras, gazed at a U.S. congressman and looked arou...

MINNEAPOLIS -- The most famous dog in the world -- for this week, at least -- arrived in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Ratchet, the rescued Iraqi puppy, blinked modestly in the glaring lights of TV cameras, gazed at a U.S. congressman and looked around at people wearing T-shirts bearing his puppy picture.

Then he lowered his jet-lagged body onto the linoleum of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and slept the sleep of the dog-tired.

Ear rubs and even a dog biscuit placed under his nose failed to wake him. For Ratchet, who for two weeks was the subject of a tug-of-war between a Minnesota soldier in Baghdad and a military that prohibits pets, it's a peaceful ending to a story that outraged people around the world, courtesy of the Internet.

Ratchet was a tiny pup when he was rescued from a burning trash heap by American soldiers in Baghdad on Mother's Day. Army Specialist Gwen Beberg adopted the dog, calling him a comfort during a stressful yearlong stint in Iraq. On Oct. 1, in preparation for a transfer to the United States, Beberg tried to get the 7-month-old border collie mix out of Iraq and to her parents' home in Minnesota. An officer confiscated the dog as he was on the way to the airport.

Beberg told her parents she was devastated at the thought of leaving the puppy in a country where few dogs are kept as pets and wild dogs are often treated like vermin. She posted the story on Facebook.

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Katie Konrath, a college friend who had been following Beberg's postings about the puppy, blogged about Ratchet's situation, posted it on the Web site Digg, and asked friends to read it, drawing attention as more people read the story. From there Ratchet's story went viral, with a story in newspapers in the U.S. and abroad.

An Internet petition demanding clemency for the dog was signed by almost 69,000 people around the world. Members of Congress from Minnesota pressed for the dog's release. Last week the military relented. Ratchet was flown out of Iraq by Operation Baghdad Pups, a group that tries to get dogs and cats adopted by American military personnel out of Iraq.

Konrath was at the airport, wearing a shirt with Ratchet's photo on it. She marveled at how the story spread and said she's thrilled at the outcome.

"I think it's a testament to how compassionate people are," she said. "The military had no reason to take the dog. If this can help other soldiers keep their pets and their humanity over there, it's worth it."

While Ratchet's story has fascinated dog lovers, some question the uproar over an animal when so many people need help. Rep. Keith Ellison, whose office helped speed Ratchet's release, said the story is about more than a dog.

"He's a human way for people to connect with Iraq and a young soldier who is in a war zone," Ellison said as he waited for Ratchet to be unloaded from the jet. "He was source of comfort for Gwen and the soldiers around her. It makes the world a little bit more livable."

Beberg's parents, Pat and Ted, have a dog bed and a heavy water dish ready for Ratchet, who liked to flip his water dish in Iraq and pick it up in his mouth to be refilled. Pat Beberg is wondering how the pup, who saw grass for the first time two days ago, is going to react to his Minnesota yard.

"Squirrels and birds and rabbits, and soon snow!" Pat Beberg said.

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The dog will be under quarantine for about the next month. Gwen Beberg expects to leave the Army next year.

Operation Baghdad Pups, a branch of SPCA International, spent $4,000 getting Ratchet out of Iraq, even with free transportation from Kuwait to Minneapolis from Northwest Airlines. Terri Crisp, the group's program director who flew with Ratchet to Minnesota, returns to Iraq next week to rescue 21 dogs and cats in a mission that will cost about $35,000. The group relies on donations and is using Ratchet's journey as a vehicle to try to raise more money.

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