By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, March 16, 2011 - On Jan. 25, Egyptians began protesting against the government of then-President Hosni Mubarak. By Feb. 1, the U.S. State Department had ordered the departure of all nonemergency U.S. government personnel and their families from Egypt.
"A lot of people had pets that they really didn't have a good plan for being taken care of in the event of evacuation," said Army Capt. Eric Coulson, who works in office of military cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as part of a team that manages nearly $1.3 billion in annual aid to the Egyptian military. "And the vets and the kennels here were kind of overwhelmed."
Coulson's wife, Karen, left Egypt -- but he and the couple's two dogs, Molly and Sayeret, stayed behind. Coulson and a fellow soldier at the embassy, Army Maj. Alavora Roa, teamed up to take care of those pets that were left behind when their owners departed the country.
"We sort of organized an emergency kennel for all the people who didn't have a place to put their animals while they were being evacuated," Coulson said. "We sort of reached out to people we knew had animals."
In all, Coulson and Roa found themselves running an impromptu pet hotel for about 20 animals, scattered among the deserted apartments of their coworkers who had evacuated. The two checked in on their co-workers' apartments and also stopped in to feed and walk the animals.
One co-worker, Coulson said, had a fairly large roof available on his apartment, and they kept several animals there.
"We consolidated them at the apartment of one of the other persons involved in this -- he has a large roof, and we put them on the roof with some shelter with large water bowls and large food bowls, and we took turns taking them out."
Coulson said the local Purina distributor in Cairo made a generous donation of supplies to keep the kennel operating.
"Most of the people who were leaving told us where to pick up dog food," he said. "The local Purina dealer did give us a couple hundred pounds of dog food, as well as cat litter and cat food. Between what people had and a generous donation from the Purina dealer here in Cairo, we've been able to take care of the animals at minimal expense."
Now, several of the pet owners have come back to Egypt, Coulson said, and some of the pets have been shipped back to their owners. Coulson's pet boarding days eventually will be a distant memory, but the events in Egypt will stay fresh for a while, he said. The speed at which events in Egypt unfolded was thrilling, he said.
"It went from probably about 10 miles an hour to 60 miles an hour in just a matter of days," he said. "It was absolutely interesting to watch -- to be in the middle of history."
The recent events weren't the first time Coulson has been struck by historical change in Egypt. He was just 13 when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated -- old enough to be able to gauge the impact and significance of what had happened.
"That was sort of one of my first big memory of things in the news -- of what we had as far as 'wall-to-wall coverage' back in 1981," he said. "I remember being riveted by the TV.
"The two transitions of power in Egyptian history that have taken place in my life are really sort of important memories to me," Coulson added.