America Supports You: Arkansas 'Angels' Care for Deployed Troops' Pets
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2005 Getting ready for deployment can be stressful enough -- and then Fido or Fluffy gazes up with a deafeningly silent "What about me?" look.
Johnny Cash, a Chiuahua from Fort Hood, Texas, will have a loving home while his "parents' are deployed to fight the global war on terror thanks to Arkansas-based Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to helping find foster homes for pets of deploying servicemembers. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Some deploying servicemembers with pets depend on family or friends to care for their furry companions while they're gone. Others have given pets up for adoption because they don't have that option. Now those who need alternatives have "Guardian Angels" to watch out for their non-human family members. A group of Arkansas animal lovers hopes to help military pet owners during deployments.
"I don't see where anybody under these circumstances should have to give up their pet," Linda Dominik, co-founder of "Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet," said.
Dominik and Carole Olmedo started GASP in January. The nonprofit organization in Hot Springs, Ark., is dedicated to finding foster homes for pets with deploying owners. The organization's mission is to provide temporary homes for pets of Arkansas military personnel deploying to the war on terror who are unable to find other accommodations for their pets while they are deployed. The group members will, however, work with servicemembers from other states.
It all started thanks to Scooby-Doo -- not the cartoon character, but a servicemember's pet in Ohio. Scooby's owner was being deployed on short notice and had no one to care for the dog. Dominik and Olmedo saw the soldier's request for help on an online message board -- and Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet was born. Scooby's owner eventually decided to give the dog up for adoption, but Dominik and Olmedo believed this wasn't an isolated case.
"Carol and I kept talking about it, and I said, 'Well, if there's one out there, there's got to be more," Dominik said.
The groups' volunteers have identified a need, but have had a hard time reaching prospective clients.
To date, only two people have made arrangements to leave their animals with volunteer foster "parents" from the group. Johnny Cash, a Chihuahua from Fort Hood, Texas, and two cats, also from Texas, are the only pets currently in the program, and none of them have arrived at their foster homes yet. Johnny Cash had a meet-and-greet with his foster family, but his long-term foster stay was delayed because his "mother" suffered a training injury, which delayed her deployment.
Dominik said she believes more deploying servicemembers would ask for help if they knew such help was available. "We know that the need is there," Dominik said. She explained that getting information into the right hands on military installations has been difficult.
Getting the word out also will aid with the organization's plans to expand into other states in the near future as well as in procuring donations to cover expenses associated with bonding and insuring the group's foster homes and pet-care fees.
Though the difficulty in getting the word out to those who may need their services is frustrating, Dominik said it's worth it.
"These people have a job to do. They have their orders and from what I have read in the letters back from the troops ... they know what their job is. The only thing keeping a lot of them going is the support of the American people," she said. "I think they deserve it. They deserve our respect; they deserve to be honored; and they deserve to be never forgotten."
They also deserve to be able to conduct their jobs without worrying about beloved pets, Dominik said.
Potential foster pets must be current on vaccinations and need a copy of veterinary records. Pets also should be spayed or neutered.
"If the pet is not neutered or spayed, then we (will) request permission to be able to have the animal spayed or neutered," she said, adding that the group will try to be as accommodating as possible.
Currently six approved foster homes have met established Humane Society criteria. Those criteria include whether pets are allowed as part of a lease, how many and what kind of pets are already in the home, the conditions of the home, whether the yard is fenced, and the intentions of the potential foster family. Periodic monitoring of foster homes to ensure standards of care are being maintained is also part of the deal.
"We treat (the pet) like we would if a child was going into foster care," Dominik said.
The group also hopes to be able to cover expenses for food, veterinarian bills and anything pets need. "We don't want that soldier to have to pay. That is our goal: take one piece of stress away," she said. To further defray stress over separation, volunteers will send photos of pets to deployed troops and keep pet parents connected with their "kids" -- be they dogs and cats or horses and snakes -- via e-mail or regular mail.