SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- When a military member receives a deployment checklist, circumstances surrounding pets are not on the list. Many members have a hard time finding a place for their pet during these situations, and the Dogs on Deployment organization caan be a big help.
Senior Airman Jakia Chang and her husband were both due for a deployment and needed a home near Scott to board their dog Bonsai, a German Sheppard-Corgi mix.
"You can put your animal in for overnight boarding, but it is extremely pricey and they do not get one-on-one care," Chang said. "The families that are a part of Dogs on Deployment watch your pet for free. The only expenses are normal items you would purchase while you were home [like] food, groomers and treats."
Dogs on Deployment is a program founded by a military couple that realized that dogs needed a place to go while their owners are deployed. The couple experienced times when they needed a home for their dog and decided they wanted to assist others.
Laura Turner, local Dogs on Deployment member, and her family took care of Bonsai for Chang and her husband.
"I like fostering pets because [military members] have a lot of things to worry about when it comes to deploying and they shouldn't have to worry about their pet," said Turner.
Chang said her mother's co-worker saw a talk show segment for Dogs on Deployment and Chang began to research it.
"We took Bonsai on a few home interviews and shortly before we deployed Laura reached out to us," Chang said. "We knew Laura and her family was the best fit for our boy, he fit right in."
Turner has two sons, ages 10 and 12 years, who fall on the autism spectrum. She did not know how her sons would react to having a dog around. She saw the Dog on Deployment program was an opportunity for the family to do a trial run.]
She said that during the first encounter with Bonsai, the kids had a meltdown.
"They were saying 'I don't want a dog, I don't like dogs,'" Turner said.
The Turner family lost their cat of 13 years last December and hasn't had a pet until May when Bonsai came to stay for six months. The kids were only familiar with cats, but Bonsai changed their perspective.
"My older son now says 'I miss Bonsai, he was my favorite dog,'" Turner said. "My younger son never engaged with pets before, but he would actually play rope with Bonsai."
She said with autism, it is small victories like that which really makes them glad to have fostered Bonsai.
Chang said Laura took him to the groomers, the park, swimming, and on walks.
"She cared for him just as well as we would and we felt so at ease while we were gone," Chang said. "It was a huge stress reliever; words cannot describe how thankful we are for her and her family."\
The program allows pet owners and foster parents to decide whether the pet is a fit for the home. Contracts can be made for both parties and expenses can be discussed.
In addition, the Turner family got to experience the responsibilities of owning a dog.
"It's completely voluntary and we've had a wonderful pet for six months," Turner said. "I would highly recommend the program to others."