Men and women in the military make many sacrifices while serving our country. Surrendering a beloved pet to a shelter because of deployment no longer has to be one of them. A military couple from San Diego created an alternative: Dogs on Deployment is nonprofit linking military pet owners with foster families.
“The program was an absolute blessing to my family,” said Navy Lieut. William Drummond of Jacksonville. Last spring, as Drummond prepared for a six-month deployment, his mother-in-law in Texas was diagnosed with a terminal illness. His wife Katie was traveling back and forth regularly to care for her. They pondered what to do about Cash, a mixed-breed dog rescued three years earlier that had become part of the family. They had no one locally to care for the dog when Katie was away.
A friend told Drummond about Dogs on Deployment. With two months left before he was scheduled to leave, there was time to look for a suitable match.
Founded in 2011, Dogs on Deployment is the creation of Alisa and Shawn Johnson. Capt. Alisa Sieber-Johnson is a aviator stationed in San Diego, Calif., and an avid animal activist. Her husband LT Shawn Johnson is a former Navy helicopter pilot now serving with a Marine task force in Camp Pendleton, Calif.. As a dual-military couple, they experienced the issue firsthand when Alisa was scheduled to be away for six months of training while Shawn was on deployment. They were fortunate to have family agree to care for their miniature Australian Shepherd but knew others in similar circumstances were giving up their pets to shelters.
The couple founded the not-for-profit as an alternative. Services are for pets of active duty, reservists, guard and honorably discharged veterans and their families. Although requests for foster care are usually for dogs, the service also helps place cats, birds, ferrets and other pets. The goal of the program is to provide foster matches within 50 miles of the owner’s home.
Drummond found the registration and application process for the service was straightforward. He was soon approved and listed on the organization’s website. When Dogs on Deployment featured Cash on their Facebook page, the offers poured in. The challenge was not finding people willing to foster Cash, it was the task of sorting through the many offers for the best match.
They chose a couple in Green Cove Springs, Lisa and Joe Buck. Joe Buck is retired from the Navy and sympathetic to the Drummonds’ situation. The couple was considering getting a dog, and fostering would be a good way to find out if they were ready. According to Drummond, both Cash and the foster family were instantly “smitten” during the meet-and-greet session.
The foster family was flexible in letting Katie keep the dog whenever she was in town. Says Drummond, “Their generosity was unreal. It was a difficult time for my wife and seeing Cash whenever she needed (to) was a comfort.”
Foster “parent” Lisa Buck explained her family began fostering with Dogs on Deployment after losing their own dog.
The process of getting listed as a foster family is simple. It involves completion of an online form stating your preferences on what type and size of pet you can accommodate and the length of time you have to commit to the process. The typical time commitment is six months to a year, although there are requests for shorter periods. Cash was the family’s second boarder through Dogs on Deployment. They had previously cared for a dog and a cat. Both experiences were positive and she will continue to foster, although they now have a small dog of their own. Buck’s advice is to do a trial visit over a weekend beforehand. “Our concern with Cash is that he is a big dog and we wanted to be sure we could handle him.”
Besides the online service to link military members to foster families, the organization promotes responsible ownership in other ways. They advocate for military pet owner rights on military bases; grant financial assistance for help with a pet’s care during emergencies; and encourage vaccinations, spaying and neutering of military pets. They also list pet service providers that give discounts to the military. On occasion they have been able to assist with shipping costs for pets whose owners are facing a permanent change of station.
Dogs on Deployment strongly encourages a contract between the pet owner and the foster family spelling out financial expectations of both parties. It is the pet owner’s responsibility to provide pet food and supplies during their absence and to assume costs incurred for veterinary care in the event of an emergency. The organization also encourages the pet owner to arrange at least one meeting with the foster family before leaving the animal in their care.
To date they have placed 850 pets in foster care and awarded nearly $200,000 to military families in need.
There are ways to support the organization even if you are not able to foster pets. They accept donations online to help with dog spaying, neutering, micro-chipping and toward the organization’s general mission. Fundraising products are available such as pet bandanas, T-shirts and bumper magnets. For $5 supporters can purchase 200 flyers for distribution in the community. Dogs on Deployment is located in Santee, Calif. Go to www.dogsondeployment.org for more information.