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I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed the other morning and I came across a video showing soldiers coming home to their families. These videos make me cry. I get emotional as I watch these happy reunions. I know how hard it is for these families to say goodbye and how amazing it is when their loved one returns home.
I get equally heartfelt when I think about all of the animals that have protected our country. Specifically, the military dogs that have been shipped overseas to work as guard or bomb sniffing dogs, and in many cases, companion animals.
These dogs have worked side by side with the men and women who are tasked with keeping our country whole. They are on the front lines, leaping into battle to keep their charges safe. They are the best friend of a young man who is away from home for the first time, keeping their innermost secrets about the fear and loneliness that the soldier feels. They are guarding the gates, somehow knowing who to let in and who to keep out. They, too, are our protectors.
In the past, military dogs were not given the respect they deserved, often left overseas after retirement. They were no longer considered service animals and ineligible for military-funded transportation home.
We would hear story after story in the news of soldiers themselves begging and pleading for the return of their canine partner, raising funds for their transportation to the US. Luckily, now, a law guarantees the safe return of military dogs after serving abroad. They are finally allowed the hero’s welcome they deserve.
Many of these animals end up living with their soldier. They act as support animals providing love and companionship as the solider acclimates back to civilian life. They help with PTSD and remind their soldier that there is a reason to keep going.
Another issue that affects the military and pets is deployment.
Not that long ago, I witnessed a man decked out in camo crying in the lobby at an animal shelter. He was turning in his beloved shepherd mix dog whom he adopted from a shelter years before. He was being deployed and had no one to care for his dog while he was gone. I was so torn. On one hand, it makes me angry that the dog was now homeless and displaced. On the other hand, it was clear that the two had a strong bond during the time they were together. I so wanted to say to him, “Don’t give up your dog. Surely there is someone who could take him while you are away?” But there was no one and he was leaving the next day. Sadly, this unfortunate situation is quite common.
Here are a few tips for military men and women to think about when considering pet adoption:
- Consider the possibility of deployment before you adopt. Many soldiers have entered into a dog share program with colleagues so they can enjoy a relationship with a pet, but always know that there will be someone to care for the pet if they need to leave.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to have a plan. Know who will care for your pet if you need to deploy.
- Have a written pet care agreement with a proposed caretaker that includes who will pay for care bills, what happens to the pet if you don’t return and other important information.
- Make sure your pet is current on his vaccinations, has an updated tag with his caretaker’s contact information, is spayed or neutered, and the vet, grooming and food bills are prepaid to make it easier for the caretaker to agree to care for your pet.
I strongly encourage military men and women to consider adopting a pet when returning home and/or retiring from public service. Animals will become your best friend. They are there to listen in a way that no human can. They will not judge when you cry or take away your honor. They will help you feel whole again.
The Pasadena Humane Society has a program called Pets for Vets that matches veterans with pets. Any veteran US military or active duty personnel may adopt a pet at no charge. Their pets are also eligible for free vaccines and spay/neuter surgery. To learn more visit pasadenahumane.org.