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Deployment desperation

Foster families take pets when troops sent off to serve

Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2005

 

  Lakewood, Wash. resident Susie Coulter, background, who is providing a home for dalmatian Pongo while the dog's owner is deployed as a Fort Lewis Ranger, prepares to go for a ride Jan. 19, 2005. AP Photo/The News Tribune, Bruce

Lakewood, Wash. resident Susie Coulter, background, who is providing a home for dalmatian Pongo while the dog's owner is deployed as a Fort Lewis Ranger, prepares to go for a ride Jan. 19, 2005.

AP Photo/The News Tribune, Bruce

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Spouses and kids are not the only ones affected when troops are sent overseas. Life also changes for dogs and cats when military humans are mobilized.

Sometimes the situation is desperate.

Several months ago, Sgt. 1st Class Troy Dill, a Fort Lewis Ranger, had trouble finding long-term boarding for his Dalmatian, Pongo.

"He thought he was going to have to have him euthanized," said Puget Sound Pet Pavilion kennel manager Janet Morrill. "But we don't do that here."

The Tacoma kennel, like most animal-care facilities, doesn't board pets for more than two or three months at a stretch. But Morrill found a foster home for Pongo.

Deployment can mean being gone as long as 18 months, and those who don't have family or close friends in the area often struggle to find longterm solutions. Some give up their pets for adoption. Some abandon them. Some get lucky and connect with small, informal local networks of pet foster parents — one sponsored by 4-H.

When troops started leaving Fort Lewis and McChord bound for Afghanistan and Iraq, the Humane Society began logging names and numbers of people willing to provide foster care for pets. But the effort was dropped when there were no takers initially.

Now when the agency hears from soldiers looking for long-term boarding, it refers them to Pierce County 4-H club program assistant Nancy Baskett, who has established a small network of foster contacts for military families with pets.

It's part of a national effort to provide some constancy for the animals, she said. Plus it's important for military pet owners to have one less thing to worry about, said Baskett, who has three military cats in her home.

In her nine months with the effort, Baskett said she's had about a dozen calls for emergency boarding, some from soldiers who say they're leaving in 24 hours.

It's not just deployments that separate pets from their humans, Baskett noted. In mid-January, she got a call from a family headed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. They needed to board their dog during an open-ended stay on the East Coast to be with a wounded soldier, and Baskett lined them up with a caretaker.

"We didn't want to (permanently) separate the kids from the dog," she said. "They already have an injured father to worry about."

In Pongo's case, Morrill came up with a longterm caregiver: dog lover Susie Coulter, who's active in a Dalmatian rescue group.

Coulter is keeping the dog at her Lakewood home and expects to have him for at least another year while Dill is overseas. She even got pictures of Pongo taken with Santa, which she sent to Dill along with e-mails written from the dog's perspective.

"I'm glad to have him because he's just so sweet," Coulter said. But she added, "These dogs are the lost victims in this whole boondoggle. It's a significant problem."

Maxie, a 7-year-old golden retriever, also landed a cushy deal. Her foster dad, Doug Marcum of Steilacoom, works as a physician's assistant at Madigan Army Medical Center.

He got involved when he overheard Maxie's human, Army Lt. Col. Ruth Lee talking to a co-worker, "worried about the possibility of being deployed and finding someone to watch her dog."

Last fall, he and his wife, Jodie, agreed to keep Maxie as long as Lee needs them to. Lee, a nurse evaluating hospital standards in Iraq, sends Maxie care packages with toys and treats.

Some troops abandon their animals, said Capt. Matt Wegner, a veterinarian at Fort Lewis' Stray Animal Facility. On a recent visit, the shelter was nearly full of animals needing adoption. But the chief veterinarian, Maj. Patricia Rasmussen, said there hasn't been a significant increase since Iraq War deployments began.

Tom Sayer, spokesperson for the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, said his agency sees three times more animals than the three King County public shelters combined.



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