Adopting a dog is a big decision, especially as a military family. Too often pets are dropped off at a shelter or abandoned when deployment or assignment orders arrive.
“Relinquishment is a terrible thing for the military community,” warns Alisa Johnson, President and Co-Founder of Dogs on Deployment, a nationwide non-profit that provides service members with temporary homes for their pets during separations due to military commitments. “It decreases that member’s morale, gives all military members a bad name, and also can influence shelters and rescues to outright refuse to adopt to military families.”
Are you interested in adding or adopting a dog, but aren’t sure what to consider as a military family? We asked three pet experts: Alisa Johnson, Dr. Harry Markham, DVM, and Beth Zimmerman to weigh in with advice.
✓Pick a pet for a lifetime of love.
“While I hate to say it, consider the breed you choose,” notes Johnson. Dogs on Deployment and Johnson support all breeds of domesticated dogs, but military housing and insurance companies are not as accepting. Picking a breed that is commonly banned from military installations, civilian communities, and overseas, may leave a family having to rehome, relinquish, or find a long-term boarder for their dog.
Beyond breeds, size restrictions can keep larger dogs off of some airlines and out of many house rentals. Multiple dogs can also make renting a home and travel difficult. Some families have been able to work around these problems and enjoy a larger or multiple dogs, or a banned breed; others have not been as lucky.
EXPERT TIP: Pet owners must consider what they might experience in 15 years (including frequent moves, deployments, and new babies). If they see their dog living with them through all of their plans, then they should adopt, advises Johnson. If not, they may want to get a fish.
✓Take your time.
Choosing a dog should not be a spur of the moment decision. Slow down and figure out if pet ownership is right for your situation.
“Often times the active duty spouse is deployed or goes somewhere on TDY, leaving the other to take care of the pet,” notes Dr. Harry Markham, DVM, whose mobile veterinary practice serves many military families in the Fort Campbell, Kentucky area. If the at-home spouse doesn’t feel comfortable caring for the dog, this can lead to serious problems.
Long before adopting, discuss care of the dog including how you will handle deployments and moves. Avoid quick decisions after spotting a cute dog at an adoption event or when a friend offers you a puppy.
EXPERT TIP: Don’t pick a dog that the at-home caregiver cannot handle in the absence of the main caregiver. ‘A pet cannot be left to just exist, tied around a tree or in an outdoor kennel, when the military member is deployed,” warns Dr. Markham.
✓Know the cost.
“Be sure you have the financial ability and stability to be able to provide proper care, including veterinary costs, for that animal’s life,” advises Beth Zimmerman, Founder and Executive Director of Pets for Patriots, Inc., a non-profit that connects members of the military community with homeless adult dogs and cats.
For any family, the typical costs associated with pet ownership include immunizations, food, boarding for travel, and grooming. Unexpected medical problems may also become costly. For military families, frequent moves add to the cost of pet ownership.
Expenses for dogs include hotel pet fees, transportation costs, and boarding, which may increase with the size of the pet. Overseas moves can cost upwards of several thousand dollars due to quarantine and flight fees. A new home may also bring a pet deposit or fee and additional rental payments.
EXPERT TIP: “There’s great information on our blog (blog.petsforpatriots.org) and on the web in general about average annual pet care costs,” offers Zimmerman. Make sure you can fit the expenses into your overall family budget.
What do other military spouses say about getting a dog? Here are tips MSM readers offered on our Facebook page:
All too often I see families who want a dog solely to protect their family when the service member is gone. That isn’t a fair reason to get a pet and, if that’s the only reason, a security system is a better option – Ann Marie
If you are going to get a dog, please read about personalities and what it takes to raise a certain breed of dog. For us, Siberian Huskies are a perfect fit. We are active people, who get her the appropriate exercise for her. Don’t get a breed just because they “look cool.” Sibes are hard dogs. – Jodi
Crate train. You might only use it when PCSing, but it will be highly worth the effort. Having to forcefully shove your beloved pet into an unfamiliar place, for an undetermined amount of time, in a very loud, stressful environment can be heartbreaking. The more you can do to lessen the potential stressors, the better. – Michelle
Advocate for change: Frustrated by lack of standardized military pet policies on military installations? Sign Dogs on Deployment’s petition to bring consistent military policy for all pet owners at www.change.org/petitions/standardize-military-pet-policies.