A lot happens when a service member receives PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders, including what to do with the family pet. PCSers need to know the steps to bring their dog or cat along, as well as what alternatives exist to responsibly rehome their loving four-legged family member.
Married or single: it matters
If you’re married, your dependents are included in PCS orders and everyone moves together. Pets can be included, provided the family notifies the proper military offices and makes arrangements for travel plans, especially flight reservations. The service member is responsible for all coordination with the airline, including paying for the pet’s ticket. While it can be stressful, there are ways to make it easier to travel with pets.
Often a service member’s home at the next duty station isn’t immediately available when he or she moves. As a result, the family may have to spend a transitional period at a hotel, finalizing paperwork or waiting for their home to be ready. Hotels on or near bases tend to be pet friendly; many military personnel have pets and it’s simply good business to accommodate them.
Pets traveling overseas, and often within the United States, require a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian. If your pet is determined by your veterinarian to be too sick or too old to make the trip, your best option is to consider rehoming it responsibly well in advance of your departure.
Traveling with your pet
- If the next duty station is within the United States, PCSing is like moving from one town to another. On-base housing generally imposes a two-pet limit.
- Breed specific legislation, or BSL, prohibits ownership of certain breeds of dogs within a given municipality, and your particular branch or service or base will have its own restrictions. Even if your duty station permits certain types of dogs, the municipality in which it resides might not. In those circumstances you could not legally take your pet off base. Know before you go.
- If Hawaii is the destination there is quarantine involved and a list of shots, microchip compliance and paperwork to provide.
- Check with the destination base, Department of Agriculture and consulate of the destination country when moving overseas for any specific pet health, transport and quarantine issues that may apply to your pet.
- To enter Europe, the pet has to be accompanied by the proper veterinary documentation and paperwork. There is no quarantine period required, with the exception of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden.
- If going to Guam, Japan or Korea, pets are required to have all their documentation, paperwork and shots. There is a quarantine period as well.
- Talk to the base veterinarian at your current duty station. In many cases, he or she will be able to provide helpful information and pre-travel tips.
Unmarried military personnel have a different set of circumstances to navigate. Often a single soldier will be assigned a room in one of the barracks on base. With some exceptions, typically related to the soldier’s rank, a house or apartment is provided, in which case the information on pet ownership is the same as that for married soldiers.
However, service members living in the barracks are not allowed to have pets.
If you have to leave your pet behind
While it’s counterintuitive, friends and family are not always the best option to provide multi-year care for your pet when you PCS. Many of the questions you need to ask if you’re PCSing are the same as those that apply if you’re deploying, including whether your parents or pals are up to the task.
Not-for-profit military pet foster organizations are usually not a long-term solution either; they’re set up to assist primarily in deployment situations. However, some do offer short-term fostering for service members who PCS out of the country, but whose pets are unable to travel at the same time due to weather conditions or quarantine. These foster arrangements can last up to six months.
Most pet fostering groups require that a pet be fixed prior to accepting it into foster, in addition to verification that it is up to date on shots and, in some cases, microchipped. Reputable organizations include:
- Guardian Angels for Soldiers’ Pet
- Foster Military Pets
- Operation Noble Foster (cats only)
- Dogs on Deployment (dogs only)
Finding your pet a new home
The last option is the heartbreaking decision to rehome your pet, which at times is the most responsible thing to do. Here are the best ways to find your four-legged family member a new home:
- Ask your local veterinary clinic; they often have useful information about reputable rescues and shelters in the community, or might know another client who would be interested to adopt your pet.
- If your pet is purebred, research breed specific rescue groups in and beyond your area. Since they are less numerous than traditional shelters and all-breed rescues, be prepared to travel up to a few hours from your home to find one that’s dedicated to your pet’s particular breed.
- Surrender your dog or cat to a no-kill shelter. Be aware that these types of organizations tend to be choosier about which pets they take in. However, if a no-kill accepts your pet, it commits to keeping it as long as needed to find a proper home.
- Talk to your local shelter, rescue or humane society. Even though the majority of animal welfare organizations in the country are open admission, they can assess your pet’s adoptability before you choose to surrender. In addition, many are increasingly aware of the plight of military families and may have special programs designed to address pets and PCS.