What Happens To Dogs Of Deployed Soldiers?
Every military member deals with various difficulties and personal uphill battles during their careers; a dual military couple is a special breed of marriage where those battles are multiplied with the complexities of two careers, two commands, two goals and two paths which aren’t always convergent. This is the situation my husband and I found ourselves in. We knew it going into the deal; that our marriage would be tested, we’d be apart, and it would be tough. My husband, LT Shawn Johnson, US Navy, was at the tail end of his first sea tour stationed in San Diego, CA, and facing an upcoming deployment. I had just commissioned into the US Marine Corps, and would be attending an infantry-centric six-month training required by all Marine officers, The Basic School, in Quantico, VA, followed by up to two years of Naval Flight Training in Corpus Christi, TX. We were as prepared as we could be to meet the challenges of separation and trying to manage a marriage from two separate states. What we weren’t prepared for, of all things, was our dog.
JD is our baby. We had gotten him as a puppy, and his 35lb body of fur brings so much love into our home, that his presence is the thing that makes me smile in the mornings. He was two years old when I commissioned. In a few months, I was scheduled to move to Virginia for training, where I would be required to live in the barracks, where pets are strictly forbidden. Shawn was scheduled to deploy at the same time. We broke the lease on our house, moved our stuff into storage, and then stared at our dog in puzzlement as to what to do with him. Our immediate family was unable care for him for the six months we needed, and professional boarding (which we would have paid if it came to that) was the same as a small mortgage.
We were lucky. A distant relative on Shawn’s side of the family lived in Virginia, near the base I was moving to, had a large yard, and was retired military, understanding the difficulties placed on military families. Without even meeting JD, they agreed to welcome him into their home for six months, while I tromped around the forest in my boots with my M-16, and Shawn deployed to the Middle East.
We were lucky, but not all military members are.
On our drive from California to Virginia, we got to talking about the situation. JD in the back seat inspired us to come up with an idea to prevent this worrisome situation from happening to other military members. We would create a national non-profit that would connect military members with volunteers willing to board their pets during their service commitments; deployments, training and moves. We would eventually come to extend our network to homeless veterans, Wounded Warriors and the families of those affected by military hardship. We would use the money we raised from donations to give grants to needing military families for help with their pet’s care during emergencies, providing funds to transport pets overseas on moves, pay for emergency surgeries, give food to homeless veterans’ dogs, and even basic care, like spay and neuter initiatives. Thus, in June 2011, in the cramped seats of a baby blue Volkswagon crammed with everything I owned, my husband and my beloved dog, we founded Dogs on Deployment.
Growth of Dogs On Deployment
With the help of our small group of volunteers, Dogs on Deployment has grown to include a network of over 10,000 users. When a military member needs assistance with their pet’s care during their upcoming service commitment, they can visit our website and register their pet. In turn, what we call “DoD Boarders” register as foster homes to welcome a military-owned pet into their home. Through Dogs on Deployment, the two can connect, and work together to provide placement and a safety net for the pet. Our network aims to prevent needless relinquishment of military pets to shelters due to lack of options, and also improve the morale of deploying troops by providing them with resources able to help them and their pets.
Our network is robust. While we are currently limited to only helping those in the United States (though we do have future plans to expand internationally), we allow listings for any type of pet. We have helped over 400 military-owned pets find temporary care in their owner’s absence since founding, to include dogs, cats, birds, turtles, rabbits, ferrets, reptiles and more. Since Dogs on Deployment is a networking service, there are few requirements placed on DoD Boarders to register, as it is the decision of the owner who they choose to care for their pets. Our open network allows for easy communication between military members needing help and those that want to help them.
What Dogs On Deployment Promotes
Besides providing the largest foster network for military members, Dogs on Deployment also promotes responsible, lifelong pet ownership by military families. Last year, we hosted our first annual Dogs on Deployment Military Pet of the Year and Mascot Competition to celebrate this, where we had several military-owned dogs submitted in our contest, and the winner by popular vote was Bram, a Rottweiler owned by a US Air Force family stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, MO. Bram has represented Dogs on Deployment and responsible pet ownership this past year by competing in training trials, being an ambassador for his breed and attending several community events.
The search has started again, and Dogs on Deployment launched our 2014 Military Pet of the Year and Mascot competition on February 1st, where we will find our next mascot and announce the winner in March.
In 2012, Dogs on Deployment was registered as a national 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit. We are funded through private donations and sponsorships. With the new year of 2014, we have big goals to expand our network, including launching a new website, increasing our financial grants to military families, and providing additional aid to DoD Boarders when a pet through our network is in their care.
How You Can Foster Dogs Of Deployed Soldiers
Should supporters of Dogs on Deployment want to get involved through volunteering or donating, please visit our website www.dogsondeployment.org to learn how you can help.
Our organization’s success relies on the community support in both the civilian and military sectors. When you bring two common passions together; American troops and the love for animals, you create an unstoppable force of dedication, support and outright generosity. Running this organization has been an adventure, and a fulfilling one. Becoming a Marine is my greatest accomplishment. Being a Marine means self-sacrifice, and putting others before yourself. Dogs on Deployment allows others to feel that same sort of pride. Helping a military member with their most precious item, their best friend, their family, can be challenging. But the reward is worth the effort. Seeing reunions of our troops with their pets (which you can watch on Dogs on Deployment’s YouTube channel), can bring tears to your eyes as the viewer. Being the one who made that reunion possible, is what I hope, a great accomplishment for any of our DoD Boarders.
Founders Alisa and Shawn Johnson proudly own two miniature Australian Shepherds, JD and Jersey, and two Caique parrots, Kiki and ZoZo, who are the inspiration behind their work. They are also active fosters for Dogs on Deployment and their local rescue groups.