An avid outdoorsman and dog lover, Army Sgt. Tim Johannsen always imagined his post-miliary life would include hunting trips with a trained German shorthaired pointer at his side.
Never, though, did he dream of a life settling in with "some stray Afghan mutt," an Afghan Kuchi herding dog named Leonidas who won't leave his side.
But that's exactly what he got. Today Leonidas is just as much a member of the Johannsen family as Tim and his wife, Kaydee. Originally from Downers Grove, they now all live in Hawaii, where Johannsen is stationed in the Army.
Leonidas' journey across the world, from Afghanistan to Downers Grove and ultimately to Hawaii, was all made possible by the Colorado- and Texas-based Puppy Rescue Mission.
The all-volunteer, nonprofit organization helps American troops rescue and bring home dogs and cats they adopt while they are serving overseas. Since its inception three years ago, the organization has brought home about 500 animals for troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Africa.
"The dogs and cats rescued by our troops become beloved companions who provide emotional support to military service members dealing with the hardships and danger of life in a war zone," Executive Director Michelle Smith said. "The motto of our organization is 'Soldiers saving puppies -- Puppies saving soldiers.'"
All that saving, though, is no cheap feat. Each rescue includes getting the dog to a pre-established safe house in their respective region where they are quarantined, examined and given clean bills of health before being shipped to the United States. The cost is usually between $3,500 and $5,000 for each animal.
Soldiers are asked to pay as much as $500 with the rest coming from donations.
With an eye toward raising money and its profile in the Midwest, the organization is sponsoring a fundraiser, Battle Buddy Bowling, from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Fox Bowl, 1101 Butterfield Road in Wheaton. The donation is $25 for adults and $15 for children ages 12 and younger and includes two or three games, shoes, pizza and soda, and a raffle ticket.
"If we have a really good turnout, we could raise enough money to bring home one, maybe two puppies," said Arlington Heights resident Linda Merkle, who serves as the Puppy Rescue Mission's volunteer finance director. "Anything we raise will be greatly appreciated, but we should aim to bring home at least one animal with thanks to the folks in Wheaton."
Johannsen first met Leonidas as the soldier was walking back to his hut after a mission in June 2011. He noticed a group of dogs that were fighting over what he thought was a scrap of food.
"I walked over there to see what was really going on and I noticed Leonidas, who was about an 8- to 10-pound puppy at that time, on the bottom of this dog pile. I saw a decent amount of blood on him and the other dogs," Johannsen said. "I quickly broke up the fight when I noticed that Leonidas was not the one who had all the battle scars. It was the three others dogs that Leonidas apparently got the better of."
Admiring the dog's courage, Johannsen named him for the Greek King of Sparta and continued on his way to his hut. Leonidas followed shortly after and began whining outside.
"I was on my way to take a shower and when it was my turn he followed me to the showers," he said. "So I gave him an Axe Shampoo shower and he's followed me around everywhere since then."
There were four other "camp dogs" hanging around, but Johannsen and Leonidas became inseparable pretty quickly.
"When certain people came into my room he would even try to defend me," Johannsen said. "He made my deployment a lot easier by knowing that as soon as I came off mission and whistled for him, he would be there running to greet me. It was a little sense of home on the border of Afghanistan.
"After a couple of days there was no way I was leaving him behind."
Kaydee began researching how to get Leonidas to Downers Grove as soon as she saw him during a Skype chat with Tim. She found Puppy Rescue Mission and Tim told them his story.
"The experience has been amazing, I sent them my story of Leonidas, then they shipped me some supplements and what not for him until he could get to the safe house for dogs," he said. "Once they raised the money, in about four or five days. they asked when I could get him to the dog safe house and I shipped him off the next week."
After a brief quarantine, Leonidas was shipped from Dubai and picked up by Kaydee at O'Hare.
"There was an instant connection with Kaydee and him. I came home on R and R while he was being quarantined and while I was home I took some dirty workout clothes and put them in Ziploc bags for my wife to give to him until I returned from deployment three months later," he said. "She told me he would carry my workout shirt around everywhere."
Today, Leonidas is a healthy 75-pound pooch living with the Johannsens in Hawaii. He's no hunting dog, but he'll do.
"I could not thank enough the entire family of Puppy Rescue Mission who have made this possible for myself, my wife, and so many other soldiers and service members," Johannsens said.