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When Alisa Johnson, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, was called to military training in Virginia at the same time that her husband, Shawn, a U.S. Navy officer, was deployed, she realized neither of them would be able to care for their dog, JD.
Luckily, family members stepped in to care for JD while the couple was away, but the fact that their dog’s fate could have been unsure worried Johnson. “We were so thankful that we had family to help us, but if we didn’t, what would we have done then?” she says.
When Johnson started looking to see if there were resources offered to military pet owners who needed someone to watch their pet while they were deployed, she was disappointed at the lack of help available. “I don’t think anyone really thought about this problem before,” she says. “We recognized it and decided to provide an answer.”
The answer became Dogs on Deployment, an organization started by Johnson and her husband to help military pet owners find foster homes for their dogs. What started as a small group of volunteers has grown into one of the largest networks of military foster homes, with 4,000 pet boarders across the country.
Since the organization was founded in 2011, Dogs on Deployment has successfully boarded 215 pets. The majority of animals they’ve placed have been dogs, but they have found homes for a variety of pets, even ferrets and chinchillas, in the past.
The group is based online, putting a number of resources right at owners’ fingertips. In addition to providing a foster network and supporting the pets who go through it, Dogs on Deployment promotes responsible pet ownership by offering educational lectures. Johnson is also particularly proud of the group’s Pet Chit Financial Assistance Program.
“We use donations to provide emergency financial assistance to military pet owners who, for example, might find themselves on deployment when their pet breaks a leg. We can help pay for that,” Johnson explains.
The program has also helped returning veterans who find themselves struggling or homeless and unable to afford dog food or other necessities for their pet.
Other than Dogs on Deployment, there are few resources for military pet owners who need someone to take care of their pet while they are deployed. Only a few other nonprofit organizations, such as Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet, offer assistance. The Department of Defense’s inconsistent pet policies even prompted Dogs on Deployment to start a petition with Hawaii Military Pets on Change.org hoping to standardize practices.
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