FORT KENT, Maine — A local woman who founded an organization devoted to reuniting soldiers and their battlefield canine buddies is being featured in a documentary airing Saturday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Anna Cannan, founder and president of The Puppy Rescue Mission, and several of the dogs and soldiers she reunited will appear on an episode of “Lost and Found” titled “Connected at the Heart” on OWN.

According to the network’s online schedule, the episode is set to run at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 16, though Cannan said she was told it may air locally at 5 p.m.

“I’m taping them both, just in case,” she said Friday.

The crew from “Lost and Found” spent about 10 hours with Cannan and her fiance, Christopher Chiasson, a veteran who served in Afghanistan and who was the impetus behind The Puppy Rescue Mission.

“I started this in March [2010] after my fiance and his Army National Guard unit replaced another unit in Afghanistan whose members were the ones saved by some stray dogs who hung out on the base,” Cannan, a dietitian at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, told the Bangor Daily News in 2010.

“I’m the type of person who absolutely loves animals, and I wasn’t just going to save one, I was going to save them all,” she said.

Since then, Cannan and The Puppy Rescue Mission have raised more than $2 million and brought more than 400 dogs and some cats back to this country to live with the soldiers who had been their companions in some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

Among those first brought to the United States was Bear, a pup who captured Chiasson’s heart. Bear’s mother was among three dogs that foiled an attack by a suicide bomber who tried to enter a compound in Afghanistan where 40 U.S. Army soldiers were present on Feb. 11, 2010.

Thanks to the dogs’ efforts, the bomber was unable to get full access into the compound and prematurely detonated his bomb.

While no soldiers were hurt, one of the dogs — Sasha — was killed. A second puppy-saving effort, Sasha’s Legacy, has been started to bring war dogs to non-military U.S. homes.

“These soldiers are so far away from home and many are living in conditions we can’t imagine,” Cannan said Friday. “Leaving these animals behind is just torture for them — these are often the only family they have so far from home.”

In fact, Cannan and Chiasson just welcomed a third battlefield family member late Friday with the arrival of Grizzly, a dog from Afghanistan.

“A soldier rescuing two puppies found out they had three other siblings being left behind,” Cannan said. “He sent me photos and those dogs melted my heart.”

Through Sasha’s Legacy, two of those pups have found homes in the United States, but something about Grizzly tugged at Cannan.

“We decided we just had to take him,” she said.

Most of the rescued dogs are Kuchis, a type of central Asian herding dog often used for dog fights in Afghanistan, Cannan said. Many of the dogs coming to the United States have had their ears cut off, she added, so rival dogs can’t get ahold of them in the organized dog fights.

It was love at first sight for Cannan when Grizzly — ears included — arrived at her house late Friday afternoon.

Within minutes the small, fluffy brown-and-white pup was exploring his new home, ending up inside the cupboard where all the dog treats are stored.

Grizzly seemed no worse for wear after his 48-hour journey, which began in Afghanistan and took the dog by air cargo to Dubai, Washington, D.C., and on to Portland, where a puppy rescue volunteer picked him up and drove him to Oakfield. There he was met by Chiasson’s mother for the final two-hour drive to Fort Kent.

Since founding Puppy Rescue Mission, Cannan has traveled all over the country speaking and participating in fundraising efforts.

“I deal with all the rescues,” Cannan said. “We put together a fundraising [Web] page for each one and once the money is raised we work out all the transportation, flights and other logistics.”

It costs about $4,500 to get one dog into this country, she said, and it’s often a risky journey as volunteers drive the animals through active war zones.

“But it’s so worth it,” Cannan said. “The notes and calls I get from the soldiers after the animals arrive are amazing — they are so grateful.”

Cannan has no idea what to expect with the OWN documentary, as she has seen no clips or previews and only found out about Saturday’s airing on Thursday.

In addition to the OWN exposure, this month’s Women’s World magazine included a feature on the Puppy Rescue Mission.

“I think this is all just awesome,” Cannan said. “I like to think I am making a difference.”

Avatar photo

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.