Every day, members of the military get orders that make it impossible to keep beloved pets by their side. Should those who serve our country refrain from adopting dogs, cats, and other animals? Absolutely not. But they should prepare for deployments that do not allow their furry family members to come along.
“You have to ensure you have a plan. You are responsible, and you must do right by your animals,” says Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alisa Sieber-Johnson, who founded Dogs on Deployment with her husband, Navy Lt. Shawn Johnson. The nonprofit organization helps connect service members in need with volunteers willing to provide a temporary home for military pets.
The idea for the organization came to the Johnsons in 2011, when neither could care for their Miniature Australian Shepherd because of overlapping training and deployment orders. Thankfully, family ultimately agreed to look after JD, but the couple began thinking about the many members of the military without such support. Their animals often end up in shelters.
With just an HTML for Dummies book and a desire to help pet owners in all branches of the military, Alisa and Shawn built the Dogs on Deployment website. Service members can create an account for their animal, complete with information about the pet, location, and length of boarding needed. Volunteers can also create an account, which includes their name, location, acceptable type and size of animal, and the length of boarding they can provide.
Dogs on Deployment relies on pet owners and volunteers to reach out to each other and come to an arrangement; pet owners remain financially responsible for all care costs. The website offers advice on how to bring about the best possible match, which Alisa stresses should happen far in advance of a deployment, move, training period, or other military obligation.
“Pet owners need to start looking months before they are supposed to leave. They need time to do interviews and find the right fit, and then build a relationship with those who will take care of their pets,” she says.
Not all matches get made with plenty of time to spare, though. Emergencies come up, and the Johnsons help whenever possible. In March, Army Staff Sgt. Bethany Morgan-Taylor got word while overseas that animal control had taken her dogs, Snickers and Sandi, from the home of a family member because of nuisance barking. With no one to pick up the dogs and put them into a better situation, they got a euthanasia date.
Alisa put out a “call to pet arms,” and a volunteer stepped up to provide care for the remaining two months of Bethany’s deployment.
“This organization puts me into contact with so many amazing service members who want to do the right thing, but who are having a hard time finding people to help them,” Alisa says.
Since June of 2011, Dogs on Deployment has helped nearly 200 pets find temporary homes. It uses Facebook to spread the word about animals in need, which helps introduce the organization to the public and within the military, which offers its members no official support or education for pet ownership.
“At least once a day, I get a call about a service member who turned in their dog to a shelter. Not everyone has the education we have as pet owners,” Alisa explains. She says that just as the military provides information about financial planning, it should teach service members what it means to be a responsible pet owner. She hopes to one day get such information dispensed through official channels and for the organization to become officially recommended by military assistance organizations and base family-support centers. Until then, the Dogs on Deployment team, which also includes Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly, uses networking and word of mouth to reach pet owners in need.
Dogs on Deployment currently has active accounts for 120 dogs, seven cats, three ferrets, and one chinchilla. The website allows volunteers to search by type of pet, with birds as one option. The Johnsons have two parrots, Kiki and ZoZo, who currently live at the couple’s home in the San Diego area with Shawn, JD, and their other Miniature Australian Shepherd, Jersey. Alisa is currently stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, undergoing aviator training.
The Dogs on Deployment team aims to one day have volunteers near all major military bases in the country and to provide additional financial assistance to pet owners on active duty. Its Pet Chit Financial Assistance program, which helps with health-care expenses prior to a deployment and in emergency situations, can only help a limited number of pets and their owners. The organization also has a goal to increase the rights of pet owners in the military, so that regulations consider pets part of the family, not disposable objects.
If you would like to provide a temporary home for the pet of a service member, visit Dogs on Deployment and create an account. You must have an account to view their full profiles. You can also see that latest animals in need on the organization’s Facebook page.
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