What if it were your dog?

I have had JD since he was an 8 week old puppy, and he just turned four in March. (Where does the time go?) Since his “infancy,” he has been exposed to nearly everything but a plane ride, rock concert and scuba diving. He has met people, other dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs, parrots, squirrels (he really LOVES squirrels…) etc. To put it short, he is well-socialized. He is (mostly) well-trained, and despite his protests, he’ll usually roll over or play dead for a treat (unless he’s being very lazy). I feed him food that I would eat in an emergency, take him to the vet for his annual checkup, spend about 30 minutes an evening brushing his ridiculously thick coat, and spoil him rotten. I’d say, overall, I’m a decent pet-owner.

JD has a step above most dogs, because he has an owner who really cares about his physical, mental and emotional well-being. One of the ways I keep him stimulated, is by near-daily trips to the dog park. He has been to parks across the nation through our military-commanded travels. He’s met so many dogs and people I’m sure butt-smells are a blur to him.

Never in his four years has he had an incident with another dog. Until today.

I took JD and Jersey to a new dog park. We normally go to Bayview dog park in Pensacola, because there is a beach, a nice running trail and also a fenced in dog park. Due to errands I had to run today, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone (I was getting brochures printed for our event at the Shiloh Airport in North Carolina, on April 14th!). They excitedly ran into the park, smelt the new dogs and explored their new surroundings, always keeping me in sight. Jersey brought me a disgusting germ-covered ball and I gladly threw it for her because she’s so cute and in her puppy-way she asked “Please!” We were having a grand old time. I thought, maybe I found a new dog park that is closer to home (and one without a beach, because every time we go to the park portion of Bayview, JD stares at me wondering why we’re not at the beach portion…).

The dogs were getting a little worn out but my brochures weren’t going to be done for another 30 minutes so we sat on the bench and JD jumped up beside me for a good scratch behind the ears. Jersey joined shortly after and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I laughed and told the girl next to me, “We could be doing this at home!” Indeed – that is what we’re doing right now, sitting together, all three of us on the couch.

A dog that JD had been somewhat getting a long with came up to sniff JD. The girl next to me sat down and put her backpack between us. The dog, which we will name “Precious,” (we will use this as an euphemism) came up to sniff the backpack, which JD was also sniffing, and suddenly, went into attack mode. (I found out after that there was some food in the backpack.)

Precious grabbed JD by the scruff and yanked him to the ground. Without screaming or making a sound, I leaped to my feet, grabbed Precious by her scruff and threw her a good four feet from JD. All I saw were tuffs of JD’s white fur floating peacefully through the air as Precious attacked again. JD, backing away and trying to avoid getting bit by his neck area, took protection behind me while I seized the dog one more time and then pushed JD even further away. This time, Precious lunged at ME! She grabbed me by the wrist before finally coming-to and let go.

Artist rendition of the owner of Precious

I had yelled for the owner, who stood idly beside us with his leash in hand, a bit dumbfounded. I told him frankly, “Get your dog out of this park.” He apologized several times, leashed his dog and left. Despite some missing fur, a bit of shock, a scratched cell phone (from falling out of my lap when I leaped to save my dog – whatever – a million and one cell phones wouldn’t amount to the worth of my dog [a million and one cell phones at the price iPhone charges – without a contract]) and a bruised wrist that temporarily doesn’t bend, all is fine.

I myself left immediately after gathering my things. JD, Jersey and I took a well-deserved trip to Petco (will they pay DoD royalties for this?) to buy entirely too many toys and a can of Wellness’ Lamb stew. At checkout, as I was awkwardly holding my keys, dogs, wallet and purchases due to my swelling wrist, the cashier asked me what was wrong, so I briefly explained what happened.

Her reply, “Was it a [breed of dog – I don’t want to cause any biases… but it was NOT a bully breed!!!] owned by an older man?” I said, why yes, yes it was! And she said she stopped going there because she had seen that same dog in attacks with others before!

Wow. And he still brings his dog back?

The dog bite

I am a strong proponent for “Blame the deed, not the breed.” I didn’t even want the man’s name or number after I found out JD was OK. First, JD is insured (I highly recommend pet insurance in case of injury or illness) but second, JD was in fact, OK. I have no idea what the background of this dog is. She looked healthy; good weight, bright eyes, friendly demeanor. Her owner obviously cared some about her since she was at the dog park. Was she a rescue? Did she have a bad past? But how can an owner stand idly by while his dog is attacking another? Why would you bring your dog back if it had been in incidents before? Do you ever blame the dog, and not the people?

I don’t know if I did the right thing by not reporting this man’s dog. I think I did. It wasn’t so serious that I felt it needed to be reported. But what if it had been? Or what if the next time this dog attacks, it is serious? I warned that man he should not bring his dog back to the park. But now we’re punishing the dog for a possible lack of responsibility on the owner’s behalf. Its a catch-22 scenario. There is no perfect solution.

What I can say is this, I won’t be returning to that park as long as that crowd is there. I can also guarantee all of you that my dogs will remain properly socialized and stimulated, and if one of my dogs ever becomes aggressive, I’ll be seeking professional help to put them back on track, because what if it were ever JD who was the perpetrator of a dog attack? I hope that it would be the same for my readers. If you’re reading this, you must give a hoot about the welfare of animals, as we all should.

Dawn and Honey’s Story

Dawn, a Navy spouse living in Guam , had a strong love for animals and constantly was trying to improve the lives of the stray animals living in Guam best she could. One particular dog changed her world. Dawn came across an abused and completely emaciated pitbull terrier mix chained in a backyard whom presumably was being used as a bait dog or breeding dog for dog fighting, a common sport in Guam.

A photo of how skinny Honey was when Dawn first found her.
A photo of how skinny Honey was when Dawn first found her.

After acquiring the dog through negotiating with the tenants, she and her husband found out he was being moved back to the United States within the next few months. Dawn took the dog to the island’s shelter, hoping they could help improve her health and adopt her; however they told her they would immediately euthanize the dog due to her history and terrible health condition, despite her sweet demeanor.

Honey enjoying affection from her Navy dad once moved to Washington.
Honey enjoying affection from her Navy dad once moved to Washington.

Dawn, undefeated to save her, named her Honey for her beautiful coloring and personally invested time and money into increasing her weight and medically treating her many conditions. Over the course of Honey’s recovery, Dawn became not only financially strapped, but also emotionally invested in Honey that she could not give her away for fear of her future. Dawn began looking into bringing her to the US, but found shipping costs plus the needed medical certificates were no longer in her already tight budget. She reached out to Dogs on Deployment who sponsored Honey’s final medical screening for travel, air line ticket and spay surgery. Honey is now happily living with Dawn and her husband in Washington state. Without Dawn, Honey would not be alive today.

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.

The Importance of Friendship… For Dogs

If JD could be by my side 24-7, I think he’d be a very happy puppy. Although that might not be an entirely healthy relationship for either me, or my dog, I know it would satisfy my dog’s need for companionship. My dog needed a friend. He’d been through so much in his young life. He needed stability.

How did I become involved with animals? With saving animals? With helping animals? Where did it start?

When I was about 4 years old, I got my first pet. My parents used to raise parrots when I was young. We had a breeder pair of love birds. One day after I got home from preschool, my mom called me into the aviary. The eggs were hatching! I looked into the nesting box, and sure enough there were little babies and one or two eggs still cracking. I picked one up, put it in my tiny hand, although the end was much smaller, and watched with amazement as life was born. Life, from this tiny little white rock, was appearing in my hand! After a few minutes, this bald, ugly little bird-thing was in the palm of my hand. Eyes closed, beak soft, skin gooey… I knew this bird would change my life. His name was Peachy.

Peachy IV

I had Peachy for 15 years. Well, in reality, I had about 4 different “Peachys.” Apparently as a child, my birds kept dying for various reasons, and my mother kept replacing them without my knowledge… So I had Peachy IV for maybe 10 years… Either way, he was an amazing little bird. He passed when I was 18 years old, and to this day I still keep a picture of him on my bedside table. It is important to allow children to experience animals – I learned love, respect for life, responsibility, how to be gentle, how to care, how to understand different creatures. I believe every child should be raised with a pet wholeheartedly, because of Peachy.

Tucker before he got sick, and the blanket he slept on

Through high school, I had a couple cats. I had a beautiful ocicat named Tucker. He was a “dog-cat.” Fetched, rough housed with my dog, etc. He was so cool. Unfortunately he died before he turned 3 due to irreparable intestinal tumors. He was put to sleep in my arms. I cried for a week straight in my room holding onto his blanket. It was my first real heart break.

Tasha in her watering hole, AKA the sunk in ground around the sign post

I had Tasha, my first dog. A red Australian Cattle Dog I got when I was 11. I always wanted an Australian Shepherd (hence JD). My mom thought I said Australian Cattle Dog… So she went to a ranch to pick out a puppy for me. My only requirement was I had to have a water dog! So when all the puppies ran to my mother, Tasha, ran through the water dish, stopped, turned around, and lied down in the oversized bowl. My mom said that was the dog. Tasha came home. She is now “retired” living with my parents on the island of Maui. Her life is pretty grand. She deserves it. She’s a great dog.

JD at three weeks old

Since I never did get my blue merle Australian Shepherd, when my then fiance and I decided to get a dog, Shawn had little option in what we were getting. I searched breeders across the states – I had to have the perfect dog. And found JD. This little guinnee pig looking new born puppy with black spots under his eyes. He was mine. He was the greatest thing to ever come into my life (greater than my husband you ask? It’s debatable…) He has provided me with such joy, calm, love and comfort, I don’t know what I would do if something were to happen to him. But that is why he is microchipped, insured and has a GPS tracking device when he goes on trips.

Getting a dog from a breeder was hard. I felt like a complete hypocrite. I always told my friends, ADOPT, ADOPT, ADOPT! And here I am getting my first dog from a breeder. I felt so guilty, but then I looked at JD’s faced and I knew I didn’t make a mistake. I went to a responsible breeder, he came from a good line, and I didn’t buy him from a pet store. Eventually I got over it, but only because I went on a rampage to make up for the fact that I didn’t adopt my first dog.

Shawn went on his first deployment in 2010. It was the first time I was home alone without my husband’s constraints. Oh what fun I had! My friends were all in San Diego, I had so much free time, I could do whatever I wanted! So what did I do? I filled the void in my soul.

I was driving home from work one day and saw a dog run across the road, almost getting hit. He was a little, brown dog with a big fluffy tail. I have NEVER passed a stray or loose dog on the road without stopping and at least attempting to catch it. I once stopped an eight-lane expressway to allow a family of ducks to cross the street, I definitely couldn’t leave a dog to fend against a road. So I stopped, and surprisingly, this little brown dog smiles, wagged his tail, and walked right up to me.

I thought when I first saw him, “this dog has to have a home, he’s too cute!” Then I picked him up… He was covered in fleas. He was completely emaciated, nothing on his body but skin and bones. I was afraid of hurting him picking him up because he was so skinny. He was unneutered, and I later found unmicrochipped too. I took him to the shelter, where he was never claimed, and then I decided to foster him.

JD and Loxley on the couch

His name was Loxley… he looked like a mix between a corgi and a German Shepherd. JD and Loxley became the best of friends. They were about the same size, they wrestled constantly, they cuddled, they played, they loved each other. I had him for 8-months before I adopted him to one of my best friends, a fellow Naval aviator. I cried when he left. I think JD did too.

I thought that would be the last time. Until one day, I was driving home from work (sound familiar) and saw two white dogs bolt across the busy street. I stopped my car and followed them down an alley way. I lost one of the dogs, but the other, a Parsons terrier, stopped in the front yard of this run down house. I thought, this must be his home. So I went to pick him up. That’s when he turned his face. He was missing half of it. Literally, half his cheek had been torn off (dog fight?) and was badly infected and trying to scab. His tail was also broken. I knocked on the dog and asked the person if this was their dog. They informed me in broken English, that they couldn’t take the dog to the vet. They didn’t want it. I asked if I could have it. They said yes. I took the dog.

Tuck with his face healing (right side)

His name was Tuck. I took him to the vet, his face healed, his personality thrived, and he became an adorable little friendly companion. He and JD were inseparable! They would fight over who got to be in my lap, they would chase each other around the backyard for hours, then would pass out on the bed together. I had Tuck for two months, then I adopted him to a young girl who already owned another Parsons terrier and was familiar with the breed. Off he went. I was happier this time, JD wasn’t.

My husband said “Not again! No more dogs!” Our lease didn’t even allow two dogs. I agreed. No more dogs. Then it was Easter weekend. I had just parked my car in the driveway coming home from work… And down the sidewalk bolts this little blonde dog. She stopped when she saw me, ran up to me, and proceeded to look at me cutely. I picked her up. I recognized her from the neighbor’s yard. I walked down the block to their house. I said, “Isn’t this your dog?” They said, “Yes! But she ate the Easter baskets! So we kicked her out!” I said, “Do you mind if I keep her?” They said, “What do we care? Just don’t bring her here!”

The irresistible smile Jelly Bean gave

Her name was Jelly Bean. She was a healthy puppy, I got her spayed, I gave her love. JD and her played tug o war endlessly. She followed him around with great admiration. I had her for a month before I adopted her to another young girl who was looking for a companion and her first puppy. I was happy to give her away, I was done with puppies! And she was going to a good home. JD was bored when she left.

And then TBS came, and we uprooted JD’s entire world, moved him across the country, and stuck him in a house with a new family and new dogs. JD and Bailey became “boyfriend and girlfriend.” JD used to get terrible separation anxiety when I would leave him, but after befriending Bailey, right after the door would close, they would frolic in the backyard for hours. They slept together, they ate together, they played together. JD would have been happy to live with Bailey forever.

But then I completed TBS, and uprooted JD again, and moved him to Pensacola, FL, put him in a new house and expected him to adjust.

How can a human really expect a dog to adjust to that? JD went through four “best friends,” and each time I think he must have thought, “This is the one! This is going to be my friend forever!” But all the same, the time would come his best friend would disappear one day. He became depressed, I think he felt abandoned. Every time we’d go to the dog park, it was as if he was looking for Loxley, for Tuck, Jelly Bean or Bailey. Bailey most of all. But he never found them.

It is so important for your dog to have stability in their life. It is impossible to live a life the entire lifespan of a dog and not have change; moving, babies, new pets, old pets die, new people, marriage, etc. But something must be stable. JD needed a friend, a permanent friend. A friend that no matter what they would be comforted through our crazy life, together. This will not be the last military move we do. This is just the first. JD needs a friend who understands him on a dog-level, to go through all this together.

JD and Jersey sharing their bed

So I finally got to adopt my dog. After years of scanning PetFinder.com for a female miniature Australian Shepherd to be a companion for JD, I found one right before TBS graduation. I submitted my adoption application, and the rescue group didn’t need to think twice before they called me up and told me I was accepted.

Her name is Jersey. And she is my little girl. She is JD’s best friend. And she will be there all the times I can’t be, to experience this crazy military life with JD. And hopefully, just hopefully, JD will know that he’s always got a friend.

Starting Dogs on Deployment – the perspective you haven’t read

I never thought that starting a non-profit would be so much work… I also never thought that I could find such passion in doing so much work…

2ndLt Sieber, USMC commissioned by her husband, LT Johnson, USN

Back in May 2011, my husband and I were frantic about what we were going to do with JD, our completely beloved and spoiled Australian Shepherd, because due to our military commitments, we knew there was going to be a period that neither of us would be able to watch him. I had just commissioned in the US Marine Corps and had orders to go to The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia. TBS is a six-month infantry-based leadership school that every Marine Corps officer is required to attend. While I was there, I would have to live in military barracks, where I couldn’t keep JD. Even if I could keep him, it would have been entirely impractical since I would spend days-weeks at a time in the “field” (AKA lost in the forest someplace, covered in mud and trying to defeat the “enemy”). Me keeping JD was impossible. My husband, Shawn, was scheduled to go on his second deployment that coming fall. He may have been able to keep JD for a couple months, but he would soon need to make other arrangements for him. What were we going to do?

I call JD my “soul puppy” because of this face

I straight up decided JD had to come to Virginia with me. JD is my “soul-dog.” He is a part of me. I look at him and my heart gets butterflies. I have to fall asleep with my hand touching his fur. I needed to know he would be safe, wherever we would end up keeping him. I needed to be able to visit him every chance I got. The training I was going to go through was going to be hard; I was going to be physically and mentally pushed to my extremes. I knew with my husband gone, losing my house in exchange for a roommate and a barracks room, being on the opposite coast from all my family, I was going to need some sort of comfort. I needed to have my dog! Without my dog, how could I live?! No literally, this is how I felt…

I first started looking into professional boarding facilities. I soon realized this was impractical. Not only was the price for long term boarding up to six-months absurd, but let’s be real. MY dog in a kennel? He is not crate trained, he is not a “dog.” He is a human-being dog, a “fluffalump” as I like to call him (Urban Dictionary: Fluffalump is a fluffy creature who is very soft and huggable). He belongs in a home with free rein to sit on any couch he’d like and have table scraps for rolling over and performing “beg.” No boarding facility. It was silly I even considered it.

Next thought was hiring a professional dog sitter to keep my dog for me and allow me to visit him on the weekends. Surely this would be a great option! Anyone once they met my dog would love to keep him long term. Ahhhh, there was the problem! How on earth was a pet sitter going to agree to watch a dog for six-months without ever meeting the dog? JD was in California. Once we brought him to Virginia, he was staying there, with or without a place to stay. No matter how many emails, pictures or videos I sent, I could not get anyone to agree to a long term boarding contract for my dog! “Unbelievable!” I thought. Oh, I received one agreement, for $1000/month! That pays for a small house where I’m from! Here my husband and I are trying to save for a house…again… Not happening.

What to do? What to do? Time was running out. It was the start of May and my report date was June 1st. Then one day, to our absolute zeal, we received a call from my husband’s mother. She mentioned she had a cousin in Warrenton, VA who loved dogs. Maybe we could call them and ask if they would be willing to watch JD?

I asked Shawn if he knew this family. This was his mother’s cousin, whose husband is a retired Naval aviator much like Shawn. Seemed reasonable they’d want to help close family! Turns out Shawn hadn’t seen this family since he was very young, maybe 15 years ago. I was nervous… how often does family go out on a limb for FAMILY anymore?

JD and his pal, Bailey at the river at Manassas Battlefield Park

I called. I got an answer. M seemed too good to be true. She said she’d be happy to watch JD. She lived in a large house in a rural area. They had a one-acre backyard and owned a female black lab named Bailey, and a senior Jack Russell named Walter. “We’ll see you when you get here!” she said. And that was that.

I was stunned. This woman and her husband agreed to watch my dog, who by the way is not the easiest dog to live with (although it pains me to admit that), for six months. Not only were they taking on my dog, but they knew I would be visiting every weekend I could; staying at their house, eating their food, sitting on their couch – trying to find a bit of normal during a very unnormal time of my life. This family opened themselves up to me and my dog. I was literally so thankful it brought tears to my eyes. They were my saviors.

So Shawn, me, JD and about 100lbs of uniforms and combat boots, fit in my convertible coupe for the near 3000 mile journey from California to Virginia. Did I mention my dog HATES the car? He whines and barks every time we left the freeway, afraid we’d stop, get out of the car and abandon him. Oh, it was terrible. No matter what threats I threw at my dog to calm down, he would not listen. It made for an extremely aggravating trip….

Our family at the red rock state park in Sedona, AZ

Ok, it wasn’t ALL terrible. Our itinerary was based around gas stations, dog parks, and pet-friendly La Quintas. JD has literally visited dog parks across the country! We stopped in Sedona, AZ and went hiking and swimming in the red rock rivers, we walked around Bricktown in Oklahoma City and stayed at the historical Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, KY. Somewhere between windy plains of the mid-west and the humid heat of the south, Shawn and I got to talking, about life, about our future, about JD…

What a predicament we were in, we thought. What would we have done with JD if we didn’t find M? We can’t be the only military family to have experienced this. Just a couple months ago, a friend of Shawn’s had to get rid of his dog of 6 years due to a military commitment. This is a huge problem! We need to do something! And so we did.

While staying at a boutique hotel in Alexandria, VA (JD already dropped off at M’s and already in love with his new pal, Bailey) I opened up my lap top and downloaded the trial version of Adobe Dreamweaver. Shawn and I had already discussed our mission and scope on the drive over and agreed on the name Dogs on Deployment. “It’s catchy,” he would say, “the dogs on deployment while their owners are as well… and it’s ‘DOD!’ It’s clever!” I agreed. Dogs on Deployment it was. I bought a Dreamweaver instruction manual from the local bookshop and we spent our last couple days together building a simple HTML site and setting up a Facebook page. My father bought the domain name for us. We thought we were crazy. Everyone thought we were crazy. What were we really going to accomplish? How does one husband-and-wife team accomplish a goal nationwide? How on earth were two people, one who was deploying and one who was going into one of the most difficult military training schools, going to be able to maintain a website? They laughed. We persevered.

Me doing urban operations waiting for an ammo reload for my M240G Machine Gun

Then Shawn left. I left him at the train stop in Alexandria. I watched him walk up the stairs and catch the train to the airport. I cried. My heart sank. But I put my head up, put on my Service Alphas and drove (and got lost) to MCB Quantico and checked into the school that would change my life. I relied on Dogs on Deployment to keep me sane. Everything around me was moving so quickly and was so chaotic. There was training, there was lack of sleep, there was studying, there was PT, there was the field, and then more field, and some more field. I had to cut my long hair short because we spent so much time in the field that my hair was falling out from lack of care.

And through it all, on the weekends I drove 35 minutes through the beautiful Virginia countryside to Warrenton, pulled up to a big country style home, ate home-cooked meals, cuddled with my dog, took ALL the dogs to the river, and worked on Dogs on Deployment. DoD, DoD, DoD, DoD. Emails upon emails, postings, recruiting, asking for help, linking, networking, finding support! Not giving up! I had to work to help other people who were in my situation. Worse, to help other people that were facing giving up their pets because of the military.

In the Marine Corps we have a saying. “Semper Fidelis.” It means “Always Faithful.” We are always faithful to our troops, to our core, to our country and to ourselves. I found that working on DoD was the greatest way I felt I was achieving that saying. Here we are, ten months later, my husband’s deployment nearly complete, and we are a thriving non-profit with greater goals and success that I could ever have imagined.

I am proud of what we accomplished. I am proud of my supporters. I am proud of the military members that use our site because they love their pets, and they couldn’t imagine life without them.