When Brandon Harker returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Afghanistan early this month he was looking forward to picking-up his two-year-old Labrador Retriever, Oakley, which he had given to a friend to take care of while he was gone.
So imagine his surprise when he called the friend who had his dog to arrange pick-up and discovered that his dog was no longer there.
"I was told that Oakley was gone when I was on a layover coming back to the United States. I've had him since he was a puppy. It's heartbreaking," he told the Seattle Pets Examiner "My friend just said they 'got rid of him' - they never gave me any other explanation. He would say 'I don’t know who we gave him to' and 'I don’t know their phone number.' I just want him back."
Harker launched what has turned into a major media campaign to locate his lost pooch. He's been calling local shelters, vets and posted an ad to Craigslist in hopes that whoever has the dog will see them and hand it back over.
While Harker had a friend hang onto his dog due to a deployment (where he absolutely could not have taken Oakley with him) we know that military life is full of instances in which your family may need to temporarily re-home your pet. For example, if you own a banned-breed or are PCSing during the summer when heat-base flying restrictions are in place, you may not be able to take your animal OCONUS.
So what do you do?
Here at Household Bushatz we have already developed a just-in-case contingency plan for our "terrier mix" -- my in-law's farm in Ohio. The dog goes full on native there. At this point I think she likes them more than us.
But many military families are not so lucky.
So if you must temporarily re-home your pet outside a place you know for certain they will be loved, how do you make sure he's still there when you get back?
The folks at Pets for Patriots have a few suggestions over on Military.com today. They have some great advice for servicemembers who need to re-home thanks to deployment. Here's what they had to say for those of us who need a non-deployment solution:
If for whatever reason your only option is leaving your beloved pet with a friend or family member, first ask yourself:I don't know what kind of relationship Brandon Harker had with his friend who was taking care of his dog for him. I don't know if he called to check on Oakley while he was gone.
-- Can this person manage my pet's physical needs? -- Does this person have an existing and positive relationship with my pet? -- Can I provide all of the necessary resources to ensure my pet's care in my absence? -- Can this person reasonably maintain my pet's daily routines? -- Does this person live in a residence or municipality that allows the type of pet (usually a dog) that I have?
If you can answer 'yes' to each of these questions, the next step is to execute a foster agreement. An example foster agreement between a pet owner and foster is available through Dogs On Deployment, however, they do not endorse its legality and - like all legal documents - you must consult your attorney prior to executing the agreement. Once completed, make sure your attorney has a copy of the dually signed agreement, and keep another copy in a safe deposit box or other similarly secure location. It's essential to have a signed agreement, even if the foster is a family member or friend.
But I do know that careful planning should help other families avoid a similar fate.
Do you have a plan for if you need to temporarily re-home your pet?
Pets for Patriots® saves lives by connecting veteran and service members of the United States military with shelter pets in need of a loving home. Operating nationally, the charity is one of the only organizations in the country dedicated to both at-risk pets and military personnel, at any stage of their careers and from all armed forces. Pets for Patriots is a proud member of the Army AW2 Wounded Warrior Program national community support network, a Real Warriors Campaign national partner organization and is listed by the National Resource Directory for ill and wounded veterans. Pets for Patriots, Inc., is a registered 501(c)(3) charity; learn more online to find out how you can Be A Pet's Hero™.