The Afghan immigrants arrived Aug. 3 in the middle of a thunderstorm. The sky was split by lightning, and torrents of rain washed the Springfield cul-de-sac that was going to be their new home.
Scared, tired and soaking wet, they were met at the door by a snarling 100-pound dog named Chance who wasn't about to let them inside his house.
So Diesel and Casey, the pups that Donald and Carol Mason had moved mountains to bring from Afghanistan, spent their first few days in America sleeping at the veterinarian's office.
Three weeks later, an uneasy peace lay upon the Mason household. Chance had been given time to get accustomed to his new housemates.
In May, I wrote about Carol's crusade to bring the two dogs to America. Her husband is among the Americans helping rebuild Afghanistan. In gratitude, a group of Afghan herders presented the Americans with two puppies. The dogs quickly became the darlings of the compound where U.S. soldiers and personnel lived.
Many readers of this column -- missionaries, workers at nongovernmental organizations, businesspeople -- offered to help patriate the dogs, volunteering to take over shipping crates or accompany the dogs on a flight from Kabul or Dubai. In the end, Donald himself brought them back, when he took a brief trip home this month.
I was eager to meet these strange beasts, and when I arrived at Carol's house last week, they gave me a warm welcome. A warm, wet, hairy welcome.
Diesel, almost 9 months old, looks a little like a skinny husky. He's mainly brindle colored, with a well-proportioned body tapering to slim hips and a tail that curves over onto itself, like a basenji's. He has big, white paws, golden eyes and a mottled pink-and-black nose. When I met him, he'd somehow managed to get a streak of green on his white snout. Carol thinks he got into her tomato plants.
Then there's 7-month-old Casey. "What, exactly, is she?" I asked.
"Beats me," said Carol. "I'm astounded. Never thought I'd see that."
Casey reminded me of one of those children's games where you assemble a funny picture by taking, say, the top half of a scuba diver and sticking it with the bottom half of a ballerina. Black and white, she appears to have the top half of a border collie and the bottom half of a corgi. And though she's only a foot high, she's about three feet long, proportioned roughly like a rolling pin. The soldiers back in Afghanistan nicknamed her "Low Dog." Oddest of all, her front legs are crooked, with the paws going off at opposite angles. It doesn't slow her down.
"We didn't realize they'd be so different," Carol said. "We thought they'd be much closer to each other."
Not that Carol's complaining. She spent more than $1,000 to get the pooches here, an expense that probably doesn't make sense to people who aren't really into dogs. And it's not as if she wants to set up a breeding operation. Both dogs have been fixed, something she believes in strongly.
Carol and Donald thought it was important for the Afghans to see that the Americans took their gift seriously. "These poor people had nothing to give them but wanted to thank them," she said.
Diesel and Casey flew to Dubai in the belly of an Afghan airliner. Donald, who flew separately, met them there. Then it was off to Frankfurt via Lufthansa, then to Dulles.
The homecoming was a little rough. "This guy just went crazy," Carol said of Chance, a Labrador-red tick coon hound mix. "He was not going to let them inside at all." Then there were the predictable "accidents" in the house and a few, shall we say, chewing issues.
"She ate a hole in the couch," Carol said, nodding toward Casey. "She's eaten a lot of things, actually. It's the border collie in her. She needs a job. She needs to keep busy."
They've made tremendous advances, though, and by the time I was getting ready to leave, it looked like a peaceable kingdom.
Chance was curled on Carol's lap on the couch. Casey was curled on mine. Diesel lounged on the floor. All the dogs were sleeping, giving off their doggy burbles. Then Diesel woke up, tilted his head up and started gnawing on the furniture.
Carol pushed his mouth away. "No," she said, "we will not eat the coffee table."
That's not what good American dogs do.
Last Thursday, I mentioned a reader who was amazed that a small coffee and doughnut at Dunkin' Donuts cost more than a medium coffee and doughnut.
That prompted Silver Spring's Lee Cheyne to write: "This man encountered what we earthlings call a 'deal.' It is common at just about every single business that you ever go to. You buy more and pay less per unit, or in this case less overall. Too bad he missed out on it."
Then there's Dick Hunter of Springfield. He's bugged by the way so many restaurants almost force more food on their customers.
Says Dick: "I think the people who accuse me of being unpatriotic because my weight is a couple of squares into the 'obese' area of the chart should lobby for legislation to prohibit anyone from selling more food for less actual money than a smaller amount."
David Fialkoff writes that all those interested in purchasing the puzzle book I mentioned Friday should look for "Stanley Newman Presents QUIZ SHOW," not "QUIZSHOW," that little space being important if you're searching for the book online.
To see photos of Diesel and Casey, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. And to get in touch with me, write firstname.lastname@example.org.