Pet care for deployed troops

With the threat of war looming, pet care for deployed troops is a concern in Washington County and nationwide

With the threat of war looming, pet care for deployed troops is a concern in Washington County and nationwide

March 14, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

The soldier swept in unannounced, two 6-month-old buff-colored brothers in tow.

His orders had been punched, an open-ended ticket to Kuwait taking him out of the country that Feb. 27 night. Bandit and Taz, his two domestic shorthair cats, would have to stay behind.

And, since the California native didn't know if he'd even return to Maryland after his tour, he decided to put the duo up for adoption.

It happened so quickly, Humane Society of Washington County employee Julie Draper never even got his name.

But the episode did get the front desk attendant and her co-workers thinking, about what could be done to prevent military personnel shipped abroad from losing their pets in the process.


"We're not really sure how many more we'll get, but we'd like to get something started, just in case," says Draper, who also handles the society's communications. "It's hard enough knowing they're going overseas. To know they have to give up their pets, too, is harder, so we're going to try to give them a good home."

With the threat of war looming, pet care for deployed servicemen and women is a growing concern nationwide.

Humane societies in Denver and Idaho are seeing an increase in animals put up by members of the military, says Betsy McFarland, program manager for animal sheltering issues for The Humane Society of the United States.

Other areas, such as Erie County, N.Y., have not seen a spike. But if war breaks out, she expects the number of pets without homes to rise. The trend is an echo of what occurred a decade ago during Operation Desert Storm.

"That's really why a lot of organizations jumped on that bandwagon as soon as Sept. 11 happened," McFarland says. "We knew from previous events that this could happen."

If friends or family are unavailable to watch beloved pets, what is the recourse? Boarding them somewhere, says local Humane Society FosterCare Coordinator Jennifer Scuffins, is an expensive option.

Creating a foster program seemed the least the humane society could do.

"It's a good opportunity to provide a service to the community as they're serving their country and, obviously, don't want to get rid of their pets," Scuffins says. "They don't have to get rid of them or put them up to adoption."

If it takes off, this foster program would augment an ongoing initiative, which places special needs dogs and cats, whether young or infirm, in temporary custody of trained care providers until the animals are able to join the general population of the society's Maugansville Road headquarters.

There are 15 animals presently in the foster program.

In Chambersburg, Pa., the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter has no similar program for military pets. Nor do the Humane Societies in the Morgan and Berkeley counties of West Virginia.

Draper says individuals interested in fostering pets or finding a temporary home for their animals can take advantage of the Humane Society of Washington County program.

Any foster guardians must complete an application, and receive training if necessary. With roughly 100 dogs and 200 cats in society custody, there is not enough room to house any onrush of pets from military homes.

Ideally, family members or friends would be willing to care for pets. But, as in the case of the soldier who appeared on a late February day, that is not always possible. So, Bandit and Taz reside in a cage in the society's administrative office, playing with one another and waiting for someone to adopt them.

If there is a downside to fostering other animals, should the need arise, Draper says it is the inevitable problem of returning pets foster guardians may grow fond of during what could be months of caretaking.

"You get attached to them like your children," Draper says. "People who get real attached to pets will have a hard time giving them up."

For information on becoming a Humane Society of Washington County foster guardian, call 301-733-2060 and ask for Jennifer Scuffins or Julie Draper.

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