Category Archives: Deployment Preparation

Caring for Pets When Spouse is Deployed

Corynn Myers, one of our amazing volunteers who works on Public Affairs, knows how hard it is to suddenly face all the responsibility of managing both family and pets, when a spouse deploys. She says, “After my husband left for what was scheduled to be a 12 month deployment, my dog and two week old looked to me for all their needs. I was overwhelmed and it seemed as if everyday tasks had become impossible.”

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos, Marin
Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos, Marin

Everyday life with a baby became complicated by caring for a pet. “My daughter would fall asleep, and after a struggle to get her to calm down, my black-lab mix would bark at the kids playing outside, then the baby would wake-up and it took every ounce of strength for me to not take my frustration out on my innocent dog. It seemed as if Max had become this high-maintenance thing that was causing more headache than happiness.”

This is not an uncommon problem, and a feeling that Dogs on Deployment hears about all the time. We often get requests from families looking to foster their pets while spouses are deployed, hoping to ease the stress. Corynn says “We got through that first month and things started to get back to normal and he became my go-to cry pillow.”

Here are 5 tips to help manage those stressful times and to start seeing your fur-baby as an asset instead of a burden during deployments. Just remember the following word and you’ll be on your way to a happy pet and a less stressed you: BRAVE – behavior, routine, affection, veterinary care, and exercise.


Understanding your pet’s behavior is an important tool in minimizing stressful situations with your pet. Animals look to their owners for protection and leadership, and in their own way, they communicate feelings of stress. For example, some early indicators of stress for dogs include turning their head away from whatever is bothering them (another dog or person) and holding their ears back. By learning what these cues mean, you can pull your pet out of stressful situations before they escalate. Working with an animal trainer is a good way to learn how to read and react to your pet’s cues.

Some good resources for animal behavior are always ASPCA or the Humane Society.


Isn’t it strange how, without looking at the clock, the dog knows that it’s about time for your service member to walk through the door? That’s his routine. So, help establish new ones. At first, it can be as simple as making sure your pet gets fed every day; he’ll come to depend on it, and you for it.

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos, Artur68
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos, Artur68

Soon, build on that. Perhaps you play fetch each afternoon, or go for a walk every morning before breakfast. Your pets will soon establish new routines with you that will be a calming presence in all of your lives. In general, our bodies and minds crave routine, and your pet is no different.


Spend some time every day playing with your pet and showing your pet love and affection. Spending this quality time with your pet will help you bond more with your fur baby and help build the trust between the two of you. Plus, there’s proven benefit for you – studies have shown that petting animals lowers blood pressure!


Keep your pet healthy by staying up to date on yearly vet visits and meeting basic needs like feeding your animal the proper food, and providing water. Learn what the right amount of food and water is necessary for your pet’s breed and size. Usually, there is information for this based on your pet’s weight on the side of the food packaging, or you can consult your vet with any questions. If you change your pet’s food, be sure to slowly introduce the new food mixed in with the old food, slowly transitioning until you are only using the new food.

Taking preventative steps, such as keeping your pet up to date on shots can help keep your pet healthy and prevent unforeseen veterinary costs. Be sure to keep your pet’s flea, parasite and heartworm prevention (in endemic areas) up to date so that your pet can stay healthy and active while your significant other is deployed. Keep your vet’s information in a central place, like on your fridge, so you have it if your pet needs medical attention. Schedule annual checkups so your vet can assess your pet’s overall health and provide any shots that your pet needs.


Foxy with Old Man CyrusThe saying goes: a tired dog is a happy dog. Exercise is good for you and for your pets! Exercise helps you strengthen your bond with your pet and helps your pet burn off some mental and physical energy, leaving them content and better prepared to listen and behave. Exercising your pet is a great way to involve other family members, such as children. You can incorporate your pet into family time, and go to local parks or walk around your neighborhood. If you work full time or are pressed for time, consider hiring a person to walk your dog. Bad weather outside? There are plenty of indoor activities for your pet. Examples include hiding treats in your house and having your pet search for them, playing fetch with them, and taking them to dog-centered indoor activities such as doggie day care.

When you feel overwhelmed caring for your pet while your spouse or partner is deployed, remember the motto: BRAVE – behavior, routine, affection, veterinary care, and exercise.

Your pet does not need you to be perfect; all you need to be is present and caring, and your pet will reward you with trust, unconditional love, and comfort.

Lilly Reunited with Petty Officer 1st Class, Courtney Lobo

Lilly, a plott hound mix, was reunited with her owner, Petty Officer 1st Class, Courtney Lobo, last month. After six long months, Lilly and and Lobo were overjoyed to be back together.

To read more about Lobo’s complicated orders, how she found a DoD Boarder, and what her experience was like, and for lots of wonderful pictures of Lilly, read her story in the Virginian-Pilot.

Picture Perfect Pets

It's probably not a good idea to upload a picture of your dogs being naughty if you want to find a welcoming foster home, but make sure you disclose potential DoD Boarders of your pet's problematic behaviors, and tips you use to manage them.
It’s probably not a good idea to upload a picture of your dogs being naughty if you want to find a welcoming foster home, but make sure you disclose potential DoD Boarders of your pet’s problematic behaviors, and tips you use to manage them.

We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words;” but, when you are faced with separating from a pet to fulfill your service commitment, the right picture can be worth far more. A great pet profile photograph is a critically important step in finding a volunteer who will board your pet while you are deployed.

When you upload a photo of your precious pooch (or cat, bird, or other animal) to the “Pets in Need” section of, using the right picture can find your pet a temporary home quickly and with minimal stress. Conversely, the wrong photo can distract viewers, detract from you pet’s profile, and even derail your search for a boarder home.

When you photograph your pet for a DoD pet profile, keep the following strategies in mind:


  •  Photograph your pet against a simple, colorful background that is not cluttered or distracting. For dogs, an outdoor background of grass or shrubbery works very well. For cats or other pets, a solid colored indoor wall is an excellent choice.

    Here is a great example of a simple background, allowing this puppy's cuteness to shine through the photo.
    Here is a great example of a simple background, allowing this puppy’s cuteness to shine through the photo.


  • Take outdoor photos in an illuminated area out of direct sunlight. Try photographing your pet on a partly cloudy day or in a semi-shaded area. The animal should be positioned so that the light source is behind the photographer.


  • Indoors, avoid using a flash, as this can cause your pet’s eyes to have an unnatural red or white glow that is not flattering. Avoid overhead lighting. Indirect lighting is best, with the light source positioned behind the photographer.


  •  Make your pet the only focus of the photo, and get down on the animal’s level to take the shot. The best picture will focus on your pet’s face. For dogs, you may want to take a photo that captures the face and also shows his/her body next to a simple, identifiable object (e.g. lawn chair, picnic table), to give the viewer a sense of the animal’s proportions.



  •  An animal that is engaged and looks happy or content will be the easiest to place. To ensure you are able to show your pet at his/her best, have someone help you with the photo shoot. While the photographer snaps photos, the other person can stand behind the camera with a squeaky toy to attract the dog’s attention.

    This pup gives a bug happy smile to its owner in this picture, making this pup look desirable to potential volunteers.
    This pup gives a big happy smile to its owner in this picture, making this pup look desirable to potential volunteers.


  • If possible, try a few minutes of vigorous play or a brisk walk before starting. This will likely get the dog panting, which tends to makes for a happier looking, “smiling” dog.


  • For cats, it may be best to take a more relaxed approach, concealing the camera, and engaging the cat with a toy. Cats look great when they are looking at the camera, or when they are focused intently on a toy.

    This is a beautiful example of a relaxed cat.
    This is a beautiful example of a relaxed cat.


Things to Avoid

  •  Don’t unwittingly sabotage your pet’s chances of finding a boarder home. Be sure your pet’s photo shows him or her in the best possible light.


Naughty cats, though cute, are not desirable by DoD Boarders who value heir screen doors.
Naughty cats, though cute, are not desirable by DoD Boarders who value their screen doors.
  • Don’t photograph your pet doing anything that might be objectionable to someone else (e.g. digging, lying on furniture, inappropriate chewing, etc.)


  • Do not photograph your pet in a choke or pinch collar.  Not everyone agrees on the use of these types of collars and we have found that they distract from the issue at hand—matching a pet with a boarder home.

Everyone wants their pet to find the perfect boarding situation, in the absence of their loving home; taking a great picture makes it all that much easier for your pet to look as appealing and adorable to a potential boarder, as he/she does to you, every day.

So You’re Going on Deployment

I’ve received many calls and emails from concerned Pet Owners asking about our DoD Boarders. Do we do background checks? Do we do home checks? Do we personally know the DoD Boarder? Unfortunately, the answer is no. This is outside our means and mission scope.

Running a national non-profit single-handily has been an eye-opening, yet rewarding experience. I’ve learned how to answer many questions about our process. And being an extremely OCD/critical/controlling Pet Owner, I understand the calls I get from our military members asking “how do I choose a DoD Boarder?” I’m going to give you my presidential opinion (and while I call it “presidential,” I do not elevate my word as being all-inclusive or appropriate for all situations… there’s my disclaimer).

The time comes. You’ve received orders. “Where’s my pet going to go?” Well first thing I don’t do is post on Craigslist. First thing I do do, is ask my friends and family; people I know, people I trust, and most importantly people my pet already is comfortable with. Turns out, my family’s housing complex doesn’t allow dogs and my friend just had a baby. No help. The next things I definitely DON’T do is take my pet to the shelter. Seriously people, let me reiterate…

This does so many negative things. Let me rant off a few:

  • Shelters are completely overflowing with unwanted pets. “What’s one more pet? He’s such a good dog/cat/llama/etc. He’s sure to get adopted.” Wrong! The ASPCA estimates that approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, but approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized. What does this mean for your beloved family pet? Unless you take them to a no-kill shelter, there is a chance they will be euthanized without your knowledge, and no-kill shelters usually have month+ long waiting lists. The older the dog, the higher chance of euthanasia. If your dog is a mutt, even higher chance. If you have a cat… well, cats don’t have 9 lives in shelters. So please, no shelters. It shouldn’t be an option.
  • It gives the military a bad name. There are many advocates out there that say military families should not be allowed to adopt pets because their lifestyles are changing so much they cannot provide a stable home for their pets. Some shelters, I’ve heard from the grapevine, won’t adopt to military because of this reason. If you are a pet owner, you are a pet owner and you deal with it the best way you can. As military members, we are expected to be responsible members of society. If you do not think you can properly take care of a pet from day one. Do not get a pet until you are settled, in a non-deployable status, have a stable family situation, or out of the military. Else, always have a plan for your pet while you serve. It is your responsibility as a pet owner, a care-giver… as a human.
  • It is entirely unfair to your pet. Here you are, a furry dog lying on your bed in a warm house. You are used to the sounds of the tv, the dishwasher, the hall clock, the kids playing outdoors… You are used to your master coming home everyday at 5pm and to feed you a meal. You’re used to taking up half the bed space because obviously you require that much to sleep comfortably. Then one day, because you’re owner didn’t research options, your living in a cold, damp, box. You hear barking of strange dogs, you see people passing you everyday without a second glance, you have no toys… This is the life you want for your pet? And let’s revisit #2.

Ok, now that the bad part is over, lets assume you are a loving and responsible military and pet owner. You’ve done your homework, and ta-da! You’ve discovered this awesome organization called Dogs on Deployment! This is great! You list your pet. You have 5 DoD Boarders registered in your area. Two respond and say they are highly interested in boarding your pet for your deployment! Now what?

  • Conduct a phone interview. Talk about their lifestyle. Do they have other pets? What kind of housing do they have? Apartment/yard? Do they have kids? Do they work long hours? Are they experienced with pets? If you get a good feel from the DoD Boarder, you’re 10% done.

  • Schedule a meet-and-greet for the DoD Boarder to meet your pet. Do this in a non-threatening environment, someplace your pet will not feel territorial or uncomfortable. Good places are dog parks (if your dog is well socialized) or just a regular park. Let the DoD Boarder observe your dog. Don’t feel obligated to force your dog to meet the DoD Boarder. Perhaps bring some treats for them to give your dog. Allow the dog to come to the boarder, not the other way around. If your DoD Boarder has other dogs, this would be a good time to meet to check for compatibility.
  • It went good? Your DoD Boarder didn’t try to smother your dog? They didn’t yell or hit it if they jumped? They seemed kind and pet-loving? Good! Those are the types of people we want in our program. Now is a good time to ask for some references from the DoD Boarder. Consider asking for their employer reference. Do they have pets? Ask for a veterinarian/boarding/groomer reference. Ask for a friend or co-worker. Ask for their landlord. Anything that will give you a sense that this person is responsible. At your discretion you might even want to ask for a background check. But that’s up to you. You just don’t want to find out too late that this caring person is actually [enter society’s bad stereotype here].
  • Things check out good. Let’s proceed. You want your dog to be completely comfortable with your DoD Boarder. After all, they might be together for 6-12 months. Invite your DoD Boarder to your home. Let them sit on your couch. Let your dog play a game of fetch or tug-o-war with them. Make sure your dog is accepting them into their territory. If your dog is growling or barking uncontrollably and irregularly, your dog might not be comfortable with them and may need more time and meetings.
  • Meet the DoD Boarder at their house! This is a great time to allow your dog to explore their new home. If the DoD Boarder has other pets, it might be best to keep them in a separate room to avoid territorial problems. Let your dog sniff, play with the DoD Boarder and get comfortable.
  • Now is time for the trial. You want to make sure your dog is completely comfortable with this family (and you too). Schedule a weekend for the DoD Boarder family to have a doggie sleepover. Let them watch your dog for 1-2 nights, this way they can talk to you about any problems they might have encountered. Did the dog mark? Did they bark? Did they have separation anxiety? The point of this is to one, get the dog comfortable, but also highlight any problems the DoD Boarder might have with your dog. This can also help decrease the chance that the DoD Boarder might become overwhelmed with your pet’s behavior AFTER you’re gone, and be stuck with a pet they can’t handle. This is the DoD Boarder’s chance to determine if your dog is a good fit in their house.
  • Did it go well? No accidents or barking? DoD Boarder is still on-board? Awesome! Time to prepare your legal rights! Dogs on Deployment provides an example contract to go over and sign with your DoD Boarder to ensure you have set forth requirements and expectations for your pet’s care in your absence. That contract can be found here. Go over it with your DoD Boarder and determine if there are additional things you might need to cover.
  • Prep your pet! You want to make sure your pet is completely healthy before transferring care to someone new. Not only is this good for your pet, but it can also protect you legally. If you have on file that your pet weighed 50lbs when you dropped them off but 6 months later they weighed 40lbs due to malnutrition, you have documentation that can stand in court (although we REALLY hope this won’t be needed, its good just in case). Schedule an annual exam with your vet and make sure you have them spayed/neutered, current on vaccinations, valid rabies license, microchipped and have enough flea/heartworm prevention to give to the DoD Boarder. If you need financial assistance with getting this accomplished, Dogs on Deployment has a Pet Chit financial assistance program which can help qualifying military members get this pet care before they deploy. If you would like to donate to this fund, please do so here!Â
  • While you’re there, set up a payment account with your veterinarian. In the DoD Contract is a Veterinarian Release Form that you should give to your vet in case of injury or accident. This authorizes the vet to charge your credit card and treat your pet in your absence.
  • You’re finally ready to drop off your pet with your DoD Boarder. Make sure you provide them with enough food to get them through at least a couple months. If you plan on paying a stipend for your pet, ensure you set up a bank transfer for your pet’s care to their personal account. Drop them off with a bunch of treats, love, their favorite toys, bed and something that smells like you. Don’t be too emotional when you leave; they’ll pick up on it and may stress them out. Thank your DoD Boarder!!! They are doing a wonderful thing for you, while you’re doing a wonderful thing for our country.

I hope this checklist will help military members (and DoD Boarders) better use our networking service. Have a safe deployment, care for their pets, and do good things.