PHILADELPHIA — Mary Strickler was eagerly awaiting the arrival yesterday of a Chihuahua named Trixie from Norfolk, Va., as the newest addition to her South Jersey home.
Strickler, 72, of Westampton, Burlington County, and her mutt, Elvis, previously hosted two other Chihuahuas until their owners returned from military service.
She is one of more than 30 Philadelphia-area volunteers who have offered to foster pets through PACT for Animals, a Montgomery County-based nonprofit that finds foster homes for pets of servicemen and women.
"These people are serving, and here is a way I can serve them," Strickler told the Daily News. "I know how bad I would feel if I had to give up my dog for any length of time."
Since founding PACT for Animals in 2010, Buzz Miller, 72, has found foster homes for more than 60 cats and dogs whose owners are serving abroad or recovering in hospitals stateside. Close to half have been reunited after the owners returned from duty.
Business is booming, Miller said, adding that he's on pace to place more than 50 animals in homes this year, with demand rising faster than his ability to find new homes.
Miller's unique journey began in 2003, when he left a lucrative career as a real-estate and business lawyer to focus full time on helping rescue animals.
Seven years later, he founded PACT (it stands for People/Animals = Companions Together) in his Main Line home to help match honest and caring owners who were in circumstances that prevented them from continuing to house their pets.
Within a year, local animal shelters began reaching out to Miller because they were inundated with inquiries from military personnel forced to give up their pets to shelters with little hope of seeing their animals again.
"[People] told me, 'Buzzy, we get animals here, usually it's because the animals are sick, or stupid reasons, but people have not made a lifetime commitment and they take the easy way out. The difference is we are getting animals from military people, some of them are big guys, and they're crying their eyes out,' " Miller said.
Brig. Gen. John Gronski, 57, commander of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard, told the Daily News yesterday that the program provides a vital service and "peace of mind" to those on active duty.
"It is an example of citizens of this particular region doing something really nice for their military personnel," Gronski said.
Roughly 30 homes have taken in animals through PACT, Miller said, and most have agreed to take in animals more than once. Although PACT has worked only with cats and dogs, the organization also has area residents who are willing to take in parrots and horses.
As part of their contracts, foster owners are required to send updates and pictures of the pets to their original owners. Miller said that after they are reunited, many of the owners allow their pets to stay with their foster families while they go away on honeymoons or vacations.