The main thing that weighed on Petaluma GI Brett McIsaac's mind as he prepared to ship off to Afghanistan was his dog, Bud.

Brett, who's 20 and a Casa Grande alum, tried but failed to ignore a stray puppy he spotted earlier this year outside of South Carolina's Shaw Air Force Base. He violated base rules by sneaking the black mutt into his dorm, and got busted.

Brett then had off-base friends keep the pup while he searched in vain for a good home for him. As deployment grew closer he phoned home and pleaded with his folks, Marianne and Eric, to take Bud.

Sensing how much Brett loved the dog, his older brother, Kyle, drove clear to South Carolina to fetch him. Brett deployed to Afghanistan Oct. 4.

His family adores Bud and scheduled him for a $2,700 knee surgery on Oct. 6 to remedy a serious walking problem. The day the operation was to happen, Petaluma veterinarian Russ Gurevitch made a devastating find.

Bud's hip sockets also are in bad shape and without hip surgery he'll lose the ability to walk. The cost of that surgery: $6,500.

Marianne and Eric don't have the money. Paying for the $2,700 knee surgery was going to be tough enough. They brought Bud home without any surgery and struggled with the seeming inevitability of humanely putting the dog down.

At 3 the next morning, Brett phoned from Afghanistan to check on how his dog came through knee surgery. It could have been the worst conversation of Marianne's life.

But only hours earlier, Dr. Gurevitch had phoned the house. He'd told Marianne, "If Brett can go to Afghanistan for his country, the least I can do is help his dog."

There will be no charge for the hip surgery set for Oct. 18.