Category Archives: Fostering Experiences

Returning to Gunner: A Homecoming Tale

 

Emotions run high when a military service member returns from his or her assignment to pick up their beloved pet from a Dogs on Deployment boarder. This was true for Sara Liming, United States Navy, when she recently reunited with her dog, Gunner, a beautiful brindle colored Boxer mix who turns four years old this June. She can remember getting Gunner when he was no bigger than her boots.

Sara visited a San Antonio, Texas animal shelter, where she officially adopted Gunner ‘Bubs’ Liming. Gunner told us that he had her at “hello,” after which he climbed on Sara’ lap and immediately fell asleep.
Sara visited a San Antonio, Texas animal shelter, where she officially adopted Gunner ‘Bubs’ Liming. Gunner told us that he had her at “hello,” after which he climbed on Sara’s lap and immediately fell asleep.

 

The Bond Between a Dog Like Gunner and Sara

As a member of the United States Navy, Sara Liming, like any member of the armed services repeatedly encounters situations which can induce stress easily and quickly. The reality is that sometimes friends, and fellow brothers and sisters in arms often find themselves in danger, and everyone faces the real possibility of death. But Sara says, “no matter how dark my days might get with work or life in general, when I come home and see my dog Gunner wagging his tail and happily jumping all over me, any issue seems to melt away as I stare at that little furry face of my pound puppy.”

Sara had never been away from Gunner longer than a day or two when she found out that she would be deploying in 2015. She’d deployed with the Navy before, but this was the first time that Sara had anything back home that she “was worried about – worried about losing, or hurting. Gunner had been everywhere with me up to that point,” added Sara. “He used to go to duty with me and play with students and walk around base with me at work. I had mixed emotions about going because I didn’t want to leave something behind that had become such an integral part of my life.”

In an effort to solve the gut-wrenching dilemma someone recommended Dogs on Deployment to Sara, but initially she had reservations about the idea, wondering how random people would just volunteer to take your pet into their homes and love them as one of their own.

Since the day I rescued Gunner he rescues me every day with those adorable brown eyes and his unconditional love, says Sara Liming, Gunner’s owner.
“Since the day I rescued Gunner he rescues me every day with those adorable brown eyes and his unconditional love,” says Sara Liming, Gunner’s owner.

 

 

 

Sara was terrified that if she left Gunner with someone long term then they either wouldn’t give him back upon request, (“because he’s amazing!”) or Gunner wouldn’t remember her. She decided to check out DoD anyway.

DoD Boarders Give New Meaning to “Peace of Mind”

Sara first met Carla Schultes, Gunner’s potential DoD boarder online, where the two exchanged emails. Carla is actually a well experienced and wonderful representative for Dogs on Deployment’s boarding program, who has a dog of her own and has previously fostered other dogs. Carla told us “Dogs on Deployment combines two of my greatest passions, i.e., supporting those who serve in the military and helping animals.” (Before any boarding agreement is reached, Dogs on Deployment takes measures to ensure a successful boarding experience and smooth transition for all involved; see DoD Policy Guidelines on this website).

Though an old pro at this, Carla did tell us that first meetings among everyone involved are “a little strange – like a blind date!”  But Sara’s fears were put to rest because, as she says, “Gunner loved Carla the minute we pulled up. He was so excited when he met her, all smiles and loving on him. Then he met Carla’s dog and the two were instant friends. The more Gunner interacted with her, her husband and her dog the more at ease I felt. I didn’t think it would click right away, but before I left they offered to foster Gunner.” Carla remembers that “Luckily for us, it was a match! Gunner and our dog, Donovan, got along well and once Jon and I spent some time with Gunner, we knew he was a happy-go-lucky guy who would be just fine with our family.”

Adds Sara, “Finding someone who loved their dog as much as I love Gunner made it easier for me to leave him. The passion and love Carla has for what she does, and for her family and dog, Donovan, made me feel that Gunner would be loved and cared for the same amount as though it were coming from me.”

Pals Gunner, and Donovan.
Pals Gunner, and Donovan.

Sara’s ship deployed Sept 10, 2015, for what turned out to be her third and longest deployment. Having photos and videos emailed to her from Carla “helped me get through the rough patches of deployment where there seemed to be endless work and not enough sleep. The day I returned to San Diego the only thought on my mind was getting home and then to Los Angeles to get my baby, Gunner,” continued Sara. “The entire deployment I had kept his pictures in my rack, on my phone, on my computer, traveling with them, and now I was a two-hour drive from seeing Gunner. I remember worrying that he wouldn’t remember me, and that maybe he was happier with his foster family. It was all I could think about the entire drive — after seven long months, will my dog remember me?”

How Sweet It Is

Sara finally arrived at Carla’s house for her reunion with Gunner. She remembers her dog’s boarder greeting her and welcoming Sara home with a “giant, warm smile. Carla turned to go into her house first and I followed. I barely made it into the front door before Gunner pounced. He immediately began whining and jumping at my legs, nearly knocking me down. He was trying to lick my face, smell me and climb up into my arms all at the same time. All I wanted to do was hug him and smell his puppy smell to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This once little dog who I saved still saves me, remembers and loves me like no time at all had passed — as if I’d just left to go to the store. “

Their Reunion – “Gunner just kept jumping up and licking me for a long time, “ Sara told us.
Their Reunion – “Gunner just kept jumping up and licking me for a long time, “ Sara told us.

 

“When he finally settled he stayed close to me and every time I walked away towards another room in Carla’s house Gunner made sure I was within sight, welcoming me back each time with a throng of kisses. People always say a dog is not a child, he or she is a pet. My dog is my life, and I can’t remember being so happy and so elated over a ‘pet’ in my life!” Sara added, “I love Carla and Jon for their amazing care of my boy while I was gone. They are the most fantastic couple to do what they do and ask nothing in return. They loved and cared for Gunner like he was their own precious Donovan and I am eternally grateful.”

Modest as always, Carla says, “as boarders, we know what we are doing is a genuine service, but we feel that the greater service is being done by the owner as a member of our military. Watching their pet pales in comparison! “

Says Carla, pictured here with Sara, Donavan and Gunner, “for us the reunion is the best gift of all!”
Says Carla, pictured here with Sara, Donovan and Gunner, “for us the reunion is the best gift of all!”

 

Carla adds that when people ask about the Dogs on Deployment program, she always tells them “if you are willing to open your heart and home, this experience will change your life in all the best ways possible. I encourage everyone to look on the DoD website and find a pet that matches their family! Our vets deserve to have their animals taken care of because they are the ones taking care of us!”

Agreed.

When a Foster Situation Goes Wrong

While the majority of our foster families, volunteers, and service members have overwhelmingly positive experiences with our programs, it’s important to highlight instances when something doesn’t go perfectly. When a foster experience goes to the dogs as it were, it doesn’t have to be all bad news though; we can learn from it to help future fosters and service members avoid the same scenarios.

Kate (all names have been changed), a wonderful volunteer boarder, has just such a cautionary tale to share. Like all of our volunteers, Kate couldn’t wait to be matched up to the perfect dog, and help a service member.

She says, “Our service members have made an incredible commitment by making the decision to serve our country, and to go where they are called…we who benefit from their service can honor their commitment by providing their furry companion(s) a safe, nurturing environment that allows their pet’s spirit to thrive, until the return of their master.”

Kate has experience with dogs; she has 35lb, unneutered, male Queensland Heeler. Her house is so dog friendly that the standing rule is that “when friends visit, they bring their dog(s)!” she says.

So, when she saw Jack’s dog, Britta, a 70lb Akita, listed on our website, she thought it would be a good match, and they arranged a meeting. Kate was undeterred by Britta’s size. She thought that she could handle a larger dog, and Britta’s sweet demeanor, with people, put her at ease.

When dogs get along, it's great!  (image credit: freedigitalphotos.net)
When dogs get along, it’s great!
(image credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

Still, in Kate’s eagerness to find a way to help, and in Jack’s eagerness to find a good home for Britta before his impending deployment, they were both too quick to overlook potential problems. Unfortunately, these potential problems turned into large problems down the road.

While Jack was still home, they went on a getting acquainted hike with one of Kate’s friends, and another small dog. During an off-leash moment, Britta lunged at, and bit the small dog, causing enough damage that the small dog needed an extensive veterinary visit, and additional visits for infection.

The incident, while upsetting, went smoothly, and was resolved amicably between all parties. Because Kate and Jack were both present, they agreed that they both bore responsibility for the incident, as they both should’ve been more careful about the off-leash moment. They decided to split the cost of the bill.

However, it’s DoD policy to not board dogs with a bite history, and in hindsight, this should’ve been a red flag for Kate, about Britta not being an ideal fit for her household. But, time was short for Jack now, and she was still eager, and confident in her ability to help – a combination that just wouldn’t work for anyone, including Britta.

When Jack dropped Britta off, things deteriorated quickly. Jack informed Kate that Britta had recently attacked and killed a goat, and she heard of an additional violent encounter in which Britta attached another dog.

Because Jack’s departure was imminent, and because Britta was so gentle, kind and obedient with her, Kate felt obligated to take Britta anyway: the pressure of Jack’s departure date, and her original commitment weighed on her; and, her knowledge of simple obedience and training seemed like it would be enough to handle the situation.

It didn’t take long for Britta to clash with her dog. Britta attacked her dog, biting him in the neck, and injuring him. She says that she thinks the attack was a “warning,” a way to assert dominance and indicate Alpha status, in a situation where her dog was certainly used to dominating that position. She believes that while the injury was not life-threatening, Britta certainly could’ve killed her dog, had she intended to.

She tells us, upon reflection, both the Akita and the Queensland are dominant dogs, by nature, and were likely not ideal dogs to be boarded together. Because they are both naturally affectionate to their human masters, it’s easy to see good, kind, and even gentle behavior in dogs that are separate from other dogs; but then see aggressive behavior when they are placed with other animals.

Unfortunately, because of this, to keep both dogs safe, an immediate change in boarding situation had to be made. Kate contacted us, and Jack, and the process began. Britta had to be muzzled when she was with Kate’s dog, which pained Kate. She says, “no dog can thrive by being muzzled.” Plus, she couldn’t take either dog out on play dates, hikes or walks – taking one without the other caused jealousy and resentment, and taking both was out of the question. She calls the situation “untenable.”

Thankfully, within a week, another placement was found for Britta. Although it was a relief to get things back to normal in the house, she says that saying goodbye to her was “bittersweet.” She says that, overall, Britta was “absolutely beautiful and very loving.”

As a warning to others, she says that it was her “naivety and eagerness” that created this situation, combined with “pressure” from Jack. In all, we couldn’t have asked for a more cooperative, reasonable, and patient foster, in this stressful situation. Her first concern was always the dogs, and in reaching a peaceful resolution.

Meet and Greet

Not all meet and greets go this smoothly!  (image credit: freedigitalphotos.net)
Not all meet and greets go this smoothly!
(image credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

Never underestimate the value of meeting the animal and the owner. If you are uncomfortable with either, it’s okay to say no. Remember, this animal will be in your home for an extended period of time, and you will be responsible to this service member; if there’s hesitancy, allow yourselves to find a match that works better for both of you. Don’t settle for just one meet and greet. Consider having your first meet and greet in a dog park, or public place where neither dog has a territorial claim, and others to occur at the home where the dog will be boarded. It may also be a good idea to schedule an overnight trial run, if time permits.

Familiarize Yourself With the Breed

If you are entering into a foster relationship with a breed that you are unfamiliar with, research the breed. If you find that the breed has natural tendencies that don’t integrate well with your household, lifestyle, or personal training philosophies, someone else may be a better match.

Animal’s History

Ask lots of questions about the animal’s health history, especially if you are integrating a pet into a home with other animals. It’s not being nosy; it’s being smart. You would want to know if an animal were bringing disease into your home, just like you’d want to know if the animal had a history of aggression. Some things to consider include, but aren’t limited to, socialization and health history.

Contract

Dogs on Deployment encourages that you use a contract to seal the arrangement between the foster and service member. This protects both of you, in the case of any financial issues, and clearly spells out anything that might go wrong. Make sure you both agree to the terms on the contract and make any additions or deletions as you deem fit.

Consider Insurance

Avoid a dog bite situation! (image credit: freedigitalphotos.net)
Avoid a dog bite situation!
(image credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

Deployment is a stressful time, and it doesn’t need to be made more so by the sudden financial burden of a sick animal. Consider Pet Insurance to cover any medical expenses that may crop up. Dogs on Deployment partners with Pets Best Insurance.

DoD doesn’t allow animals with a bite history to be listed on the website; however, bite insurance may not be a bad idea, if there is any fear of this being an issue.

Contact DoD

Should anything go wrong before, or during boarding, don’t hesitate to contact Dogs on Deployment. While DoD is not responsible for any occurrences during boarding, we do offer our support, advice and help if able. Boarding should be a positive experience for DoD Boarder, pet owner and pet, are our goal is to ensure this.