In the military we thrive on having structure. Using a process, establishing a routine, and having detailed policies means the difference between life and death in combat. To keep troops focused on warfighting, the military provides us with a number of spouse and children programs. But one vital family relationship has been overlooked for far too long and that’s the deep bond we have with our pets.
Animals provide comfort to military families facing the most stressful circumstances. In a new duty station, animals may provide the only stability a family has, yet the military does very little to officially educate on pets, move with pets, or give us consistent pet policies that would facilitate lifetime care. Sometimes a troop returns from combat and it’s their pet giving them the most comfort. Pets have been shown to decrease blood pressure and strengthen children’s immune system.
Yet during the recent Japan earthquake, initial reports indicated there was no official evacuation plan for pets. People were abandoning them as they left the country. Currently, military bases all over the country struggle with pet abandonment issues and shelters in many military towns refuse to adopt pets to us. It’s a reoccurring story in the media.
We must politely ask our military leaders for protection for our pets and it starts with simple, small, low-cost steps. This is what inspired me to team up with Dogs on Deployment and ask that the Department of Defense create a breed neutral, joint pet policy. This would involve an adjustment of the military’s contracts with privatized housing. I’m told by installation commands that housing pet policies are about getting the most cost-effective contract, as private corporations misuse breed statistics to make discriminatory policies. This must stop.
The Navy’s core values are honor, courage and commitment yet we have a policy that the military veterinarians have spoken out against, yet we continue to impose differing regulations that provide no stability to pet families and overwhelm shelters and rescues.
What kind of “commitment” are we providing to military families when we have a housing breed ban pet policy that scientific studies prove can’t identify a dog breed, as DNA testing and visual identification are inaccurate? What message does it send when Pit Bull types and other “banned” breeds are safe enough to fight side-by-side with troops in combat, but not live with them in base housing? Many military members lack the resources to live off base, and off base housing has the same pet restrictions.
Furthermore, too many service members are not held accountable for abandoning their pets, as there’s case after case of no consequences or military authorities not cooperating with local law enforcement when pet cruelty is suspected. It’s time for that to end.
How do we start? First, every military base must have a tab on their website with the import/export requirements for pets, information on boarding facilities, military veterinarian clinics and the city or county shelter. Next, that information needs included in every PCS, deployment and newcomers briefing. Lastly, pet abandonment needs to be a named, punishable offense. This was supposed to happen earlier this year, but for some reason, the decision is pending.
Please sign this petition and ask that we standardize military pet policies with an overarching joint pet policy that has an enforcement and education component. More than 22,000 concerned pet lovers have joined us in this plea, but we hope to reach 100,000 signatures. At that time, we plan to contact all privatized housing companies, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This problem has been ignored for far too long, and it’s time we team up to fix it.
Theresa Donnelly is an active-duty Navy Lieutenant with 16 years of military service, having done 10 years enlisted with multiple overseas deployments. She is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, an online pet resource for military families living in Hawaii. The blog and Facebook page provide information on moving with pets in the military, boarding information, pet policies in state and federal governments, and overall ways to celebrate the human-animal bond. She routinely partners with local and national animal nonprofits that place special emphasis on military and their companion animals, such as Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots. She’s married to a civilian spouse and they share their home with goofy Boxer dogs. Follow her on Twitter @tdonnelly76