By Spc. Angela LordenJuly 12, 2016
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- The phone rang. A woman, Grace MacGregor, answered.
"Grace, I have your dog."
The phone call was from her friend, who was also a coordinator for a rescue organization in the United States. The rescue had shut down a puppy mill in 2010. Among the dogs rescued was a small, black Scottish terrier. He lived in a cage at the unlicensed-breeding facility for five years.
According to the dog's American Kennel Club paperwork, his registered name was MacGregor.
"We found it to be an omen," Grace said. "A MacGregor dog, five years old then, and MacGregor me. He became MacGregor MacGregor."
The small dog then traveled to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait to live out a larger purpose.
MacGregor MacGregor the Scottish terrier and Grace MacGregor, the dog's handler, volunteer at the Resiliency Center and the Combat Support Hospital to promote the welfare and resiliency of service members and civilians stationed at Camp Arifjan.
"I think MacGregor is another way for the military to care for people," Grace said. "The more people can relax and the more their life while deployed is normalized, the more they are likely to perform at their best," Grace said.
MacGregor's transition from a rescue dog to a volunteer animal began with Grace's participation in a club at Camp Arifjan.
"I was coming out here for Toastmasters," she said. "I was talking to the Red Cross staff and I mentioned I had a dog. They said, 'Oh, we need one out here so badly.' You can't really have a dog living here. People began encouraging me to try and work my way through the paperwork. So I did."
New memorandums of understanding and exceptions to policy had to be written in order for MacGregor to become a human-animal bond dog. He then had to pass a temperament test by the Army.
"The Army does excellent temperament tests for any animals that are going to be in contact with Soldiers," she said. "When he passed, we were able to get the rest of the paperwork wrapped up. A lot of people were involved."
MacGregor became part of the Army's Human-Animal Bond Program. The program, sponsored by the American Red Cross, facilitates animal companionship for service members, patients, families and visitors. MacGregor also serves as a resiliency mascot for Soldiers.
Master Sgt. Marvin Curtis, the Resiliency Center director and Master Resilience Training Program coordinator with the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said he asked the Red Cross for permission to have MacGregor be the mascot for the Resiliency Team after seeing firsthand how important the docile dog was to service members.
"The interesting part was how soothing he is to people," Curtis said. "That goes from privates I saw to O-6's... There's a lot of people, whether they're in the fight or in the rear areas that go through a lot and need support. That's what we try to offer at the resiliency center with the Red Cross."
Grace and MacGregor began providing Soldiers and civilians the opportunity to interact with the furry companion on a weekly basis.
"Early in his life he was not a loved dog," Grace said. "Now he's a loved-by-everybody dog."
Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Kass, a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist with the 126th Military Police Company visited MacGregor for the first time July 1.
"I think there's something really comforting for Soldiers when they get to pet a dog," Kass said. "There's something about the unconditional love of a dog that eases the soul. All the stresses that go with a deployment, everything melts away. The dog doesn't judge me for anything."
They also began visiting patients and staff at the hospital here.
"With the patient's permission, we put him up on the bed and he just snuggles down so they can scratch him, cuddle him and talk to him," Grace said. "So many people have said when we leave, 'Thank you. I really needed this today.' It does make a difference."
Her husband, William Ostertag, was part of her inspiration to make a difference in Soldier's lives, she said. He passed away in 1999. He rests at the Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.
"Sometimes I get a little misty about it," she said. "My husband was an Army Colonel. He served his country for 28 years. He was very much a commander who looked after his troops. It was one of the things I loved about him. I feel like I'm still carrying on part of his legacy."
Soldiers at Camp Arifjan are still part of her family, she said.
"When I look around at these Soldiers, I see the best of America," said Grace. "I see the Army values internalized in the Soldiers. I can come out here and I am unfailingly treated with courtesy and respect."
Grace and MacGregor have weekly scheduled visits at the resiliency center on late Monday afternoons and Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.