Virtually every service member has been through at least one deployment or long-term training commitment that has taken them away from their current base, home, family, pets, etc. There are plenty of resources within the military that assist with ensuring that their basic affairs are in order prior to them leaving, but for those service members with pets, challenges may still arise. While many military pets are able to stay with friends or family members for the weeks or months that their owners are away, situations can occur where the only “choices” may be expensive long-term boarding, re-homing, or even surrendering their animals to shelters.
Dogs on Deployment is a national, non-profit organization that works to support service members and their pets during deployments, or any other service-related commitment where they might need interim pet care. Started in 2011, Dogs on Deployment is the brainchild of married Veterans, Alisa and Shawn Johnson. Alisa, a Marine Corps Captain, and her husband Shawn, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, were fortunate enough to have family care for their dog JD when Shawn was due to deploy and Alisa was preparing for six months of training in Quantico.
Even though they had that option for themselves, it got them thinking about those in the military who may not have the same resources, should they be called away.
The organization, catering to dogs in name only, offers support and resources for all types of pets owned by service members, and is constantly growing its network of approved boarder-families and volunteers across the country. This network is able to provide free boarding for animals while their owners are fulfilling their duties, and gives owners the peace of mind that their pet is in good hands.
On top of invaluable boarding services, Dogs on Deployment also works to provide resources and education around responsible pet ownership. They aid in free spay and neuter opportunities, grant financial assistance for the care of a pet should an emergency happen, and work with communities all over the country to make military members aware of these possibilities. They also work as advocates for the rights of pet owners on military bases.
As the organization is about to celebrate its 10-year anniversary this June, Alisa, Shawn, and the entire Dogs on Deployment team, many of whom are also veterans, continue to set bigger goals. They plan to build on their advocacy for military pets, and continue to address the high number of pet surrenders due to a lack of services like theirs. This includes continued education on responsible pet ownership, as well as working toward bringing the issue of relinquishment to the attention of those higher up, in an effort to spearhead access to better support and resources.
“We want pets to be considered part of the family by military regulations, not disposable objects.”
Another major goal is being able to have Dogs on Deployment “Boarders” within 50 miles of every military installation in the country, as well as becoming the go-to source for service members in need of long-term boarding. They also want to continue to expand their ability to provide financial assistance in the event of emergencies, and to help get pets spayed, neutered, microchipped and up-to-date on vaccinations, as part of their Pet Chit Program.
Dogs on Deployment operates on the very simple premise that these pets are an integral part of the lives of so many service members, and that military life can be hard enough without having to think about giving them up.
Feature photo: (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Morris)