By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 14, 2011) -- On Jan. 25, citizens of Egypt began protesting against the government of then-President Hosni Mubarak. By Feb. 1, the U.S. Department of State had ordered the departure of dependants and all non-emergency U.S. government personnel and their families from Egypt.
But not all "members" of the families departed -- the four-legged ones stayed behind.
"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 Capt. Eric Coulson, office of military cooperation at the U.S. embassy in Egypt. He's 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, 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," he 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 the apartments of their coworkers and also stopped in to feed the animals and take them for a walk.
One coworker, 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 had made a generous donation of supplies to keep the officer's 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 where their owners are -- so the number of pets he's looking after will continue to dwindle, he said, till eventually he'll be left with just his two dogs Molly and Sayeret.
Coulson's pet boarding days will eventually be a distant memory, but the events in Egypt will stay fresh for a while, he said. The speed with which recent events happened 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, adding "it was absolutely interesting to watch. To be in the middle of history."
And the recent events weren't the first time he's been struck by historical change in Egypt. He was just 13 when 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."
And the most recent changes in Egypt mean there's two things he'll remember for a long, long time.