Companion animals, especially dogs, are often regarded as some of the best therapy and support systems for members of the military. They play an important role in the physical and mental health for soldiers, before, during and after active duty by reducing stress levels and providing companionship and unconditional love. However, when the men and women of the armed forces are deployed or away for training, their furry family members are left behind. Arranging care for them can be a daunting task, but there are several unique options available to military families and their companions during their time apart.
If they are lucky enough, many dogs and cats are cared for by extended family members and friends. Moms, dads, grandparents and even fellow military families take on the important role of caretaker for months, or even years, at a time. This is usually the least stressful option for both the service member and their four-legged friend. Consistency and routine go a long way when easing the stress of separation and the anxiety associated with loss.
Still, arranging appropriate care when being deployment is a critical, yet often heartbreaking task. Family members may be willing to take children during a time of hardship, but cannot care for a pet for financial or medical reasons. Other times, military members don’t have the network of family and friends who can accommodate an animal for many months at a time. In these cases, animals may end up in local shelters or with the humane society and the service member has lost their companion. Not all service members are educated about the options available to them for animal care.
Keeping families together, especially post-deployment, is important to the health and wellbeing of those who serve in the military – this includes fur children too. Being in the military should not deter families from keeping and caring for their animals. Unfortunately, finding the best care with trusted caregivers is one more To Do before training or deployment and is the responsibility of the service member. Luckily, there are many organizations that are designed to meet the variety of needs of current military members, veterans and their animals.
PACT for Animals, a nonprofit organization, has a military foster program that places animals in temporaryIMG_3166 foster homes until they can be reunited with their owners. They provide free screenings and matching programs for those who are in the hospital for extended periods of time, on deployment, or in other crisis situations.
Dogs on Deployment, also a national nonprofit, offers an online network for service members to search for volunteers who are willing to foster their pet during a service commitment. Service members and their dogs are screened and then connected with a suitable network of people who can provide a loving home and suitable care environment. Created by an active duty military couple with several animals of their own, the group knows first-hand the value of trusted animal care.
Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet works to assist active duty, veterans, wounded warriors and their companion animals. They are active in all 50 states and to all branches of service, including the National Guard and Reserves. They are one of a handful of groups who address the needs of veterans and their pets – not just active military.
These groups exist as a way for military members and veterans to avoid relinquishing their companion during times of active duty or hardship. They rely heavily on the pet owners and volunteers to connect with each other and manage the care of the pets. Planning many months in advance is also a key factor in finding a successful foster home.
Deployment is not an easy situation, but luckily there are credible, dependable, and worthy organizations that dedicate their time to supporting those who sacrifice so much for our freedoms. Whether a military member can plan for deployment or is only given a moment’s notice, a trusted network for companion animal care can save a four-legged friend from life-long separation. And a service member from a year of worry.