Friday, March 05, 2010

Military families, deployment, and dogs

I got this email a couple of days ago:
"... had gone to the shelter to donate food and bedding as she regularly does and she heard loud crying and whining coming from the back kennel. She reluctantly headed in that direction only to find a grief stricken black Great Dane. His (hysterically upset) owners had left him two days ago because they are both in the military and were being dispatched abroad. He is a one year old, neutered, black Great Dane who is house broken and heart broken.

PLEASE....if you can take him, consider it."
Needless to say, a lot of us in our local Dane Rescue community have been scrambling to find a place for him - I was even all set to pull him from the shelter myself in the morning and transport him down toward central Texas to another rescue that had a foster home for him. But fortunately another local rescue stepped in and pulled him out so he is safe now, and hopefully getting a lot of TLC from his foster family. And soon will have a new, permanent family of his own.

But even though this particular dog is safe now, this is still a heartbreaking story all around. It is not an uncommon story, unfortunately. And it illustrates why so many reputable breeders and rescues are so very unwilling to place a dog into a military family.

I can see it from the point of view of the military families too... my brother is an Iraq war vet, I have other family members in the service and more than a few friends in the military. Most of them are real dog lovers and aren't willing to deny themselves and their children the joy of a dog for 5 or 10 years or more until they get out.

But how to avoid tragedies like the one described in the email above? Especially if the military folk are NOT able to get a dog from a reputable breeder or rescue that would help them out if they are deployed to some location where they cannot (or should not) take the family dog? All too often the only source these families have for getting a pet is an irresponsible breeder who asks no questions, and doesn't care what happens to the dog once they've cashed the check.

This leaves the family with no one to turn to if they are facing deployment - they usually don't have the resources to find a safe placement for their dog at short notice. Unless they have family members or close friends who are able and willing to take the dog for an extended period of time they rapidly run out of options.

The answer lies in the strategies that are employed by reputable breeders or rescues that ARE willing to place a dog with a military family. Usually the agreement is that when the military family hears even a whisper or rumor of future deployment to some remote and non-pet friendly part of the world that they MUST notify the breeder or rescue. They don't have to give up the pet at that point, but the "heads up" gives the breeder or rescue time to make some tentative plans. Specific deployment orders often come at short notice, but they are almost never unexpected - you do have some advance notice, sometimes many months.

If tentative plans are in place, then when the specific orders come the dog can be safely placed in a new home or a foster home (pending adoption) fairly quickly. The military family still has to stay good-bye to the dog - it is almost impossible to find a long-term temporary home - but at least they have the comfort of knowing the dog is in good hands.

But if they have gotten the dog from some fly-by-night breeder, what then? My advice is that at the first rumor of deployment, they reach out to family and friends for options. If no one can take the dog then they should reach out to rescue groups. It is not uncommon for rescue groups to fill up and not be able to take a dog at very short notice, but if you stay in touch with them over a period of weeks or months then they are more likely to be able to take your dog when crunch time comes. Finding a rescue group has never been easier - all you have to do is Google the name of your breed of dog + Rescue, and you'll get lots of options. You can also talk to your vet for advice - he or she may know of someone looking for a dog like yours. The trick is to NOT wait until the last minute - "plan for the worst".

And finally, a responsible military family will do what ANY responsible dog-owning family will do - take the dog to some training classes to make him more enjoyable to live with!! This is a huge benefit to the original family plus if they must find the dog a new home it will make it much, MUCH easier to find someone to take him.

UPDATE - One of my readers left a comment about a program called the Military Pets Foster Project. (Thanks Kathie!!) This is a program that helps people in the military locate foster homes for their pets when they are deployed.
The website is


Kathie R said...

Barb, Are you familiar with NetPets.Org's Military Pets Foster Project? I don't have personal experience with them - just know about the program because hosts out Great Dane Club's website. The program helps people in the military locate foster homes for their pets when they are deployed.

Kathie R said...

Oops - meant to include their email address

Barb said...

No I didn't know about them Kathie! Thank you! I'll add it to the post in case someone finds it through a search :-)

Danielle said...

We're saving money to hopefully open our own business one day, and one of the options I've been considering is a day-care/boarding kennel somewhere near a military base. Many people in the armed services have to live on base initially, and can't have their pets. We'd like to have special services for these types of situations.

Barb said...

That would be an awesome idea Danielle! Training classes would be a much needed service too.

There was an excellent article on Pet connection about a CGC program at Camp Pendleton. You can read it at

Anonymous said...

Hi! I just read that Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals helps military families with family members serving overseas with free or discounted dog or cat food. Thanks for serving our country!

Dogs on Deployment said...

Dogs on Deployment is a non-profit which provides an online database for military members to search for and find volunteer boarders who are willing to watch their pets while they are on deployment. If you have the time, space and commitment to board and military member's pet while they are gone, consider becoming a boarder by posting an application from our website. If you are a military member looking for a home for your pet while you're deployed, search our database to find someone in your area. Support Dogs on Deployment! Visit our website to learn more:

Post your best Military Stories said...

Its a great honour to know more information regarding the military related issues and their work related process.