So you received your military deployment orders and don’t know what to do with your dog or cat. At Pets for Patriots, we get calls every week from service members who are distraught at the prospect of parting with their beloved animals.
Fortunately there are alternatives to relinquishing your four-legged family member to the local pound.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Unmarried, deploying service members often turn to a loved one, parent or friend. But the ties that bind don’t always translate into the best situation for your pet, or the person entrusted with its care. Ask yourself:
• Is this person able to manage my dog’s or cat’s physical needs? This is especially important if you have a large or high-energy pet, and the potential caregiver is a senior, has physical limitations, is unable to provide the level of activity your pet requires, or isn’t strong enough to handle a large animal. Occasionally we get calls from elderly parents who find themselves unable to care for their child’s pet, and feel they have no choice but to surrender it to the shelter. In these situations, nobody wins – particularly the animal.
• Does this person have an existing and positive relationship with my pet? Never leave your four-legged friend with someone they don’t know and who doesn’t know them, much less for extended periods of time. Recently we assisted a Marine veteran who was in treatment for PTSD, and left her dog in the care of a casual acquaintance. When this person would no longer care for the little Rascal, we stepped in to save the animal and reunite him with his veteran.
•Can I provide all of the necessary resources to ensure my pet’s health in my absence? Be sure to hand over all veterinary contact information, and let your veterinarian know who will be responsible for your dog or cat while you’re deployed. Discuss any medication or special treatment the animal requires with its temporary caregiver. And don’t forget to make arrangements to pay for food, supplies, grooming, veterinary care and emergencies. Your pet is still your financial responsibility.
• Is this person able to reasonably maintain my pet’s daily routines? Discuss its daily schedule – feeding, exercise, play and sleep times – to ensure that your dog or cat can enjoy its customary lifestyle. Pets like routine, and will experience some degree of stress as a result of your absence. It’s important to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible.
• Does this person live in an area that bans my particular breed of dog? Many communities enforce Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL, that ban ownership of a range of dog breeds they deem to be dangerous. We’ll save a discussion of the wisdom of BSL for another time, but check the laws where your pet will be temporarily homed to ensure it doesn’t violate any BSL restrictions.
FOSTERING YOUR DOG OR CAT
If you don’t know someone who can care for your four-legged friend responsibly, consider a professional foster organization. Pet fostering is a small, but rapidly growing industry providing short- and long-term care to pets of individuals who are in the military, are hospitalized or displaced due to natural or other disaster. The animal is typically fostered within a private home, and some states require that foster homes be licensed.
One such organization and a partner to our charity focuses exclusively on pet fostering for deployed military personnel, homeless veterans and those undergoing wounded care treatment. Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet operates nationally and relies on a network of foster homes to match pets with an appropriate caregiver in your state.
Another excellent, nationally-operating not-for-profit is NetPets, which operates a Military Pets Foster Project for a wide range of service members’ pets, including dogs, cats, birds and horses. Founded in the wake of 9/11, NetPets has fostered more than 17,000 pets to date.
In addition, there’s a relatively new online, not-for-profit resource founded and managed by two active duty service members worth checking out as well: Dogs on Deployment. The site works to pair boarders with service members in need of pet fosters, whether for deployment, illness or other circumstance that renders them temporarily unable to care for their pets. While the majority of their focus is on major bases on the two coasts, Dogs on Deployment accepts applications from all over the country and will try to connect service members in need with local resources.
And lest the kitties feel left out, Operation Noble Foster runs an all-cat military pet foster program, founded in the wake of 9/11.
With a little planning, you can ensure responsible care for your pet and look forward to an emotional reunion when you return from deployment!