So you received your military deployment orders and do not 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.
And we get numerous requests through social media to help pets whose guardians surrendered them to shelters because they were not aware that there are other options.
Fortunately there are alternatives to relinquishing your four-legged family member.
Friends and family are often not the best choice
Deploying service members often turn to a loved one, parent or friend, particularly if they do not have a live-in partner or spouse.
People closest to a service member might feel compelled to help in the case of military deployment without giving enough thought to the responsibilities associated with caring for someone else’s pet.
It is hard to believe, but some friends and family sell, give away, or surrender a pet entrusted to their care without the knowledge or consent of the deployed service member.
If you think this situation 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. The dog was subsequently killed due to lack of anyone to adopt him.
Everyone thinks family or friends would never do such a thing, yet these situations happen every day.
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. Do not take that chance with your pet’s life.
There are several important questions to ask yourself before you leave your pet with a friend or family member.
Can this person manage my pet’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, or is otherwise unable to provide the level of activity your pet requires.
Occasionally we get calls from elderly parents who are unable to care for their child’s pet and feel they have no choice but to surrender her to the shelter.
In these situations, nobody wins – particularly the pet.
Does this person have a good relationship with my pet?
When you are faced with military deployment, never leave your pet with someone she does not know and who does not know her.
Doing so risks stressing your pet and his temporary guardian. And it increases the likelihood that the person to whom you entrusted your four-legged best friend may not feel obligated to provide the best care.
Often we are contacted when a casual friend has been entrusted with a service member’s pet, and in turn surrenders the pet or gives him away.
Can I provide all necessary resources to ensure my pet’s health?
Be sure to hand over all veterinary contact information to your pet’s temporary guardian. Let your veterinarian know who will be responsible for your dog or cat while you are on military deployment.
Consider an emergency checklist, like this one recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Discuss with your pet’s caregiver any medication or special treatment he needs and make sure this person is capable of following through.
And you must make arrangements to pay for food, supplies, grooming, veterinary care, and emergencies. Your pet is still your legal and financial responsibility.
Is this person able to maintain my pet’s daily routine?
It is critical to minimize disruptions to your pet’s regular schedule. It is already stressful to him that his guardian will be away for an extended period on military deployment.
Discuss your dog’s or cat’s daily schedule – feeding, exercise, play and sleep times. Pets like routine, and will experience some degree of stress as a result of your absence.
It is important to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible. Do not leave your pet with someone who cannot maintain her routine, within reason.
Does this person live in an area or residence with breed bans?
Sadly, many communities and residences enforce Breed Specific Legislation that ban ownership of a range of dog breeds they deem to be dangerous.
This can include Bully-type breeds (aka Pit Bulls), Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Akitas, Huskies, Dobermans, and many other types of dogs.
Check the laws where your pet will be temporarily homed to ensure compliance with any such restrictions.
Is this person willing to enter into a legal foster agreement?
Your pet is your family. If you would not leave your human child with someone without a legally binding agreement you should not leave your dog or cat without one, either.
A legal agreement may not prevent someone with bad intentions from acting against your pet’s interests. But it should give you recourse if you pursue legal action if the person fostering your pet violates the agreement.
The Humane Society of the United States offers a sample foster agreement. However, always consult with your attorney since laws vary by state and your individual circumstances.
Pet fostering for veterans facing military deployment or hardship
If you do not know someone who can care for your four-legged friend responsibly, consider a professional foster organization.
Pet fostering is a rapidly growing industry that provides short- and long-term care to pets of individuals who are in the military, are hospitalized, displaced due to disaster, or facing unforeseen homelessness.
The animal is typically fostered within a private home and some states require that foster homes be licensed. In all cases, the service member remains financially responsible for their pet’s food, supplies, medical care, and other routine needs.
Pets for Patriots works with two nationally operating organizations, listed below. Both are nonprofit organizations like ours.
Dogs On Deployment
Dogs On Deployment helps service members facing military deployment, hardship, or medical emergencies find qualified foster homes for their pets.
We partner with Dogs On Deployment by referring to them veterans who need short- or long-term pet foster care. In turn, they refer veterans to us who are looking to adopt companion pets.
In addition to pet fostering, Dogs On Deployment maintains a Pet Chit program to grant funds for emergency medical care for veterans’ pets.
Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet
Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet is another qualified military pet foster organization.
Like Dogs On Deployment, Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet relies on a network of volunteer foster homes to match pets with an appropriate caregiver.
Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet maintains a Military Pet Assistance fund to help with a range of pet medical and/or boarding needs for deployed personnel, homeless veterans, or those facing short-term hospitalization.
Have a plan for military deployment or hardship
With a little planning you can ensure responsible care for your pet during your absence.
Once you surrender your dog or cat to a shelter or rescue, you are no longer that animal’s legal guardian. Military pet foster organizations are therefore unable to assist because the pet is now legally owned by the shelter.
There is no reason that dogs and cats should be relinquished to shelters when there are professional foster organizations with proven track records to help.
Have a plan; your pet deserves it.