Many of us who are pet lovers see our milpets more like members of the family. They sure aren't simply just pets. They see us through the sometimes bumpy road of military life. And they are all super cute in the eyes of their owners.
I have been lucky enough to know several families that have fostered pets for other military families and/or service-members over the years. Many have done so via NetPets Military Pets Foster Project.
Families are always needed to help. Currently the need is high in Europe and the Pacific.
Europe- and Pacific-based animal lovers wanting to support their deploying neighbors can help out by offering their homes and/or cash to the foster pet organization NetPets.
NetPets, founded by Steve Albin and endorsed by the Department of Defense, matches people willing to care for pets to deploying servicemembers in need of their generosity. So far, his free service has placed some 12,500 pets into foster homes since he began the project two days after the 9/11 attacks, Albin said by telephone last week from South Carolina.
"I had people tell me how servicemembers called up for the first Gulf War had just three options: giving their pets away, putting them in shelters or abandoning them," Albin said. "More than 25,000 pets were destroyed. What kind of way is that for us to repay the people who protect and serve us?"
Albin - who's placed pets ranging from horses, dogs of all sizes and birds to boa constrictors, a five-foot iguana and hermit crabs ("Who knew hermit crabs lived for 10 years?" he marveled) - is in desperate need of foster homes in Europe and the Pacific.
"My total inventory in Europe and Asia is down to a total of four homes," he said.
Army veterinarian Dana McDaniel of Heidelberg, Germany, about to deploy to Afghanistan, discovered Albin's bare cupboard for herself recently when she tried to find caretakers for her two dogs.
"I only heard about the service a couple of weeks ago," McDaniel said last week. "I signed up online. Steve told me he gets 20 to 50 calls a week in CONUS (continental United States), but that right now he had no one available in Europe."
McDaniel eventually found homes for her dogs, but immediately set out distributing fliers seeking Europe-based volunteers for NetPets to help others in her situation.
People wishing to help out can sign up by clicking the Military Pets Foster Project tab on the netpets.org homepage. The site contains a form establishing what kind of pets the potential foster home can accommodate.
"I have to do my due diligence," Albin said. "If a bird doesn't bond immediately with its foster home, it'll pluck all its feathers out. They're very sensitive.
"Some people want some lunatic matchups," he explained. "One family had two chihuahuas. They wanted to foster a boxer. Another family, with a Lhasa apso, offered to foster a mastiff."
NetPets requires that a pet be neutered and have an implanted microchip before it will be accepted, Albin said. After that, the final decision on a foster home is up to the pet owner after a meeting with the potential foster family.
People wanting to help out with monetary gifts can contribute at the same Web site.
"Except for the 5 percent fee the credit card companies charge," Albin said, "100 percent of every donation goes to help the pets."
NetPets does not place cats, Albin said, but cat owners and lovers can visit www.operationnoblefoster.org to place or host the felines of deploying servicemembers.
Despite his 100-hour weeks, Albin said he's not ready to lighten his burden.
"As long as there are coffee, cigarettes and Pepsi," he said, "I'll continue to do this. I am totally and completely glad I did."