You entrust a friend to make sure that your pet is safe and sound while you deploy, only to discover upon your return that your beloved Fluffy or Fido has been surrendered to a shelter, sold or given away. Because “friends” like this exist, military pet parents have a unique responsibility to make proper, legally binding arrangements to assure the health and safety of their pets – and to have confidence that their four-legged family members will be there when they return from deployment.
There are reputable organizations whose sole focus is providing short- and long-term deployment boarding for pets of military service members. The animal lives in a private home for the duration of his owner’s deployment, during which time he receives proper food, shelter, veterinary care, exercise and socialization. Fosters are individuals who volunteer to provide temporary care for animals and receive no financial remuneration, except to cover the animal’s ordinary living and veterinary expenses.
It takes time to find an available foster who is a good fit for your particular pet, so apply at least 30 days (ideally 45) prior to your scheduled deployment. A legal agreement is subsequently executed between the pet owner and the foster caregiver.
In addition to providing support to military personnel who deploy, these organizations are available to assist in hardship cases, such as homelessness, hospitalization or emergency, that render a veteran temporarily unable to care for his or her pet. Pets for Patriots is proud to work with these two national nonprofit organizations:
- Dogs On Deployment: provides a central, online database for service members to search for foster families who are able to welcome a dog or cat into their home for the duration of the owner’s deployment. The organization is founded by a dual-military husband-and-wife team who have experienced first hand the need to provide care for pets of deployed service members.
- Guardian Angels for Soldiers Pet: a military support organization with programs and services across the country to assist active duty military service members deploying (combat, peacekeeping or humanitarian missions), and medical/homeless hardship situations. Foster terms range from three months to one year, depending upon the service member’s situation.
Friends and family are not always the best option
People closest to a service member – her friends, family, roommates and neighbors – might feel compelled to help in a deployment situation without giving sufficient thought to the responsibilities associated with caring for someone else’s pet. While hard to believe, some sell, give away or surrender a pet entrusted to their care – absent the knowledge or consent of the deployed service member. If you think this is unlikely, consider the case of a Navy petter officer whose dog was surrendered to an animal shelter by a cousin entrusted to protect him, and subsequently killed due to lack of anyone to adopt him.
Everyone thinks their family or friends would never do such a thing, yet these situations happen. Other people may have a legitimate reason why they can no longer care for your pet (loss of job/home), while others simply are not the people you thought them to be. Don’t take that chance with your pet’s life.
If for whatever reason your only option is leaving your beloved pet with a friend or family member, first ask yourself:
- Can this person manage my pet’s physical needs?
- Does this person have an existing and positive relationship with my pet?
- Can I provide all of the necessary resources to ensure my pet’s care in my absence?
- Can this person reasonably maintain my pet’s daily routines?
- Does this person live in a residence or municipality that allows the type of pet (usually a dog) that I have?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, the next step is to execute a foster agreement. An example foster agreement between a pet owner and foster is available through Dogs On Deployment, however, they do not endorse its legality and – like all legal documents – you must consult your attorney prior to executing the agreement. Once completed, make sure your attorney has a copy of the dually signed agreement, and keep another copy in a safe deposit box or other similarly secure location. It’s essential to have a signed agreement, even if the foster is a family member or friend.
PCS and your pet
Many military personnel bring their pets along when they PCS (Permanent Change of Station), even when they relocate to other countries. While quarantine is often required, most consider it a small price to pay to keep their family together. If you are PCSing stateside, check the breed restrictions of your new base as well as those of the surrounding municipality, in case you decide to live in the community.
If you’re relocating overseas and can take your pet with you, every animal will need an ISO-compliant microchip, proof of rabies vaccination, a health certificate and an acclimation letter for flying – all of which your veterinarian can provide. Depending upon where you PCS, your pet may need a FAVN blood test, import form, flea/tick preventative and dewormer as well.
Many military bases have veterinary clinics primarily that extend some services to the personal pets of service members. They are an excellent source of information for PCS situations, and may be able to provide some or all of the veterinary services required by your next duty station.
If you absolutely must rehome your pet
Sometimes the only option is finding a new home for your pet. Never leave this to the last minute and never use personal classifieds, such as Craigslist (great for couches and cars, not so much for canines and cats). Animals rehomed through these channels are often resold, or “flipped,” with some ending up victims of abuse or dog fighting rings.
There are several, simple steps you can take to increase your pet’s chances of being adopted and fitting in to her new home. If you are unable to find a loving and responsible home for your pet on your own, contact your local shelters, rescues, SPCAs, humane societies and municipal animal controls. Ask about their adoption policies, including how long they will keep your pet until she is adopted. Contrary to popular belief, most shelters work very hard to give the animals in their charge the time they need to find a new home, although they are not always able to do so due to overcrowding. There is typically a surrender fee as well to help defray some of the costs of caring for your pet, and these vary widely.
If there are no animal welfare organizations in your community that can take your dog or cat, be prepared to widen the radius of your search up to an including several hours from your home. Remember the goal is to rehome your pet successfully, and give her the best chance for a new life.
Your pet is an innocent victim of your circumstances and worth the effort to have her care managed responsibly, whether for a deployment, PCS or rehoming situation. Don’t assume that your buddy, roommate or even your family member will be the best choice.
Do you have a story about deployment and your pet to share?