Finding a trusted pet sitter if you’re going away for an overnight or a weekend is a time fraught with stress for many pet parents. Now imagine you’re in the active military and you get called to duty… you don’t know how long you will be away. What will you do with your beloved furbaby?
This is a very real situation many military men and women find themselves in.
“Who will care for my dog, cat, ferret, bird, hamster…. while I am deployed or stationed elsewhere?”
Alisa Johnson, President & Co-Founder, Dogs on Deployment found herself in that very situation close to a decade ago and knew she had to do something about it. “I was seventeen when I joined the Marine Corps and right around that same time I decided Australian Shepherds were my favorite dogs. I went to college and met (the man I would eventually marry) Shawn. We got engaged and adopted our first dog together — a mini Australian Shepherd. He was the glue that held our relationship together.” For the first ten years of their time “together” Alisa and Shawn spent seven years apart because of their military commitments.
Filling A Personal Need
Alisa was accepted into a six-month training program at Quantico in Virginia at the same time Shawn was deployed. “We were in panic mode — who was going to watch JD? We considered boarding him or paying someone to stay with him. Thankfully a distant relative who lived in Virginia offered to watch him for six months. ”
It was what inspired us to start Dogs on Deployment. “We had the financial means to board JD, but we knew a lot of military personnel didn’t. They worry, ‘who’s going to watch our pets’?”
Fun fact: Alisa and Shawn’s dog, JD, was named after a character on the TV show, Scrubs. “Even though my husband and I were separated because of our respective deployments we would watch Scrubs together and that’s where we got our dog’s name from.”
What Dogs On Deployment Does
Dogs on Deployment was started to fill that void and offer peace of mind to military personnel. We started the service in June 2011 and have been at it ever since. “Dogs on Deployment is a volunteer organization and is a testimony to how passionate I am about what we are doing.”
It is the only online foster network that connects military members with volunteers who are willing to board the military member’s pet. “We provide financial grants to military members who need it. We have also covered the expense of shipping a pet overseas to be with its military family (this is a cost that can sometimes cost up to $10,000) and we also cover the cost of bringing the pet back after the deployment is over.”
So far Dogs on Deployment has helped more than 1,900 military pets find boarding while the pet parent is deployed. It has also provided nearly $700,000 in grants for emergency vet care for the pet and moving/travel costs. “Ninety-one percent of all our spending goes toward programs — everything we do is geared toward providing peace of mind to the military pet owner.”
How Does Dogs On Deployment Work?
“We think of ourselves as a ‘dating site’ for military members and potential boarders,” Alisa said. Military members fill out an extensive application to see if their situation qualifies for boarding. The military member fills out a profile for the pet, creates a boarding and health care plan so the boarder knows the unique needs of that pet (whether it’s a dog, cat or other small animal or bird). “The military member is responsible for the costs associated with their pet — grooming, food, health care, etc.”
After the military member is approved, he or she will view the boarders listed on the site and find someone whom they think would be best-suited to care for their pet.
“We suggest the military member conduct a meet and greet in a public space,” she said. “We also suggest doing a trial run, at least for a weekend, prior to committing to leaving their pet with that potential boarder.”
How do boarders get chosen? The boarder creates a profile on the site and lists what type of pet he or she is willing to board. There is no lengthy application or approval process for them. The boarder can also search the site and contact the military person directly. “We have boarders nationwide,” Alisa said. “We also have volunteer chapters across the country. These groups love our mission and love pets and work to raise awareness and funds for our programs.”
It is Alisa and Shawn’s very personal story and very personal need for finding a place for their beloved JD that turned into the passion project that is Dogs on Deployment.
“When we see reunion videos or hear about a pet we helped with a financial need and see how we impacted someone and his or her pet, we know we are not a ‘faceless’ entity,” Alisa said. “We are impacting the lives of real people and real pets and we are the only organization doing this for military personnel.”
Dogs on Deployment is a grassroots organization completely funded by people who feel moved to send in a check. “We have people who will send in a check for $25 to help us out.” Dogs on Deployment has an operating budget of close to a quarter of a million dollars, she said. “We have also received a few donations that have topped $15,000 to help us keep going.” Those donations, she said, are a “testimonial to people believing in what we are doing and wanting to help military men and women and their pets.”
Military Pet Of The Year program
Every year we feature a military dog and use him or her as our mascot. This year, 2019, the Military Pet Of The Year is Elmer. Alisa shared that Elmer was adopted by Bryan Moore and his wife, Val. “They are both very invested in rescue and have done hospice fostering — the real hard stuff. They are incredible people who adopted Elmer. He’d been severely neglected and abused. His jaw was fractured, he had a bullet in his chest; I don’t know if anyone thought he could be saved, but Val and Bryan advocated for him and did fundraising for his medical bills and here he is today.” Alisa said she had tears in her eyes as she shared his story (and I admit I did, too!).
Elmer had been originally rescued by a group called Danny & Ron’s Rescue. A new Military Pet Of The Year will be chosen in January.
DOGTV is happy to partner with Dogs On Deployment this holiday season. Through the month of December, a $10 donation from every new subscription will be donated to help military members and their pets. Sign up or donate here.
Learn more about Dogs On Deployment here.