Subscribe
Ebony, a seven month old Lab/Shepherd mix, hopes for a new home after her Army owner gave her to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va., in late February. The owner, who works at Fort Belvoir, had no time to care for Ebony anymore because the impending war with Iraq played havoc with her work schedule.

Ebony, a seven month old Lab/Shepherd mix, hopes for a new home after her Army owner gave her to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va., in late February. The owner, who works at Fort Belvoir, had no time to care for Ebony anymore because the impending war with Iraq played havoc with her work schedule. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)

Ebony, a seven month old Lab/Shepherd mix, hopes for a new home after her Army owner gave her to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va., in late February. The owner, who works at Fort Belvoir, had no time to care for Ebony anymore because the impending war with Iraq played havoc with her work schedule.

Ebony, a seven month old Lab/Shepherd mix, hopes for a new home after her Army owner gave her to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va., in late February. The owner, who works at Fort Belvoir, had no time to care for Ebony anymore because the impending war with Iraq played havoc with her work schedule. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)

Megan Brooks gets a kiss during a play session at the hopes Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va. Brooks is in charge of adoptions at the shelter, which is seeing an increase in animals brought in by military members who are getting deployed.

Megan Brooks gets a kiss during a play session at the hopes Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va. Brooks is in charge of adoptions at the shelter, which is seeing an increase in animals brought in by military members who are getting deployed. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Ebony just loves to romp in the yard. And when the young Lab/shepherd mix is tired of playing, she just wants to snuggle.

But Ebony’s home is now a small wire cage, and there is no one to snuggle with anymore. A soldier who is suddenly too busy with war tasks to care for her left the 7-month-old pup at an Alexandria, Va., shelter Feb. 20.

Ebony isn’t alone: Around the nation, shelters are reporting thousands of animals given up by servicemembers who have deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or the Gulf buildup.

“For most people, this is the last stop,” said Megan Brooks, of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. “By the time they get to us, [troops] have exhausted all the other possibilities.”

Sometimes “the last stop” is just that. Shelter animals face an uncertain future, including the possibility of euthanasia for lack of adopters, Brooks said.

Knowing that leaving a pet at a shelter may lead to its death makes such an action especially agonizing, said Brooks, who is married to a member of the Army National Guard.

“It’s a really difficult choice, but the military comes first,” Brooks said. “We certainly realize that people are not going out of their way to be bad pet owners. But you can’t say ‘no’ to a deployment order.”

There is no way to track accurately the number of pets that servicemembers are leaving behind, but military officials are aware it’s happening, according to Maj. Steven D. Osborn, chief of the Animal Medical Division at the U.S. Army Veterinary Command in Fort Hood, Texas.

“We had a ... meeting last week, and young vets were coming up to me asking what we recommend” deploying servicemembers do, Osborn said.

The U.S. military has no program to assist deploying servicemembers with pets, Osborn said, but many of the more than 150 military veterinary clinics around the world have advisory efforts under way.

The first choice pet owners should look into is family or friends who might take over temporarily, Osborn said.

Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many military people stationed far from loved ones, Brooks noted.

But there is one last stop before a shelter: pet foster homes.

Around the country, people are working with shelters and other organizations to get pets into temporary homes, Osborn said.

To find such organizations, servicemembers should find out what their local organizations might have to offer, Osborn said.

And if local searches aren’t successful, there are two national, nonprofit military pet fostering efforts: www.netpets.org, and www.felinerescue.net (click the “Operation Noble Foster” box).

Both NetPet and Feline Rescue include online forms to be filled out by both parties, including information such as location, breed, personality quirks, health issues and veterinary references. Site volunteers then work to find matches.

NetPets founder Steve Albin said Monday that since he set up the fostering program, right after the Sept. 11 attacks, he has received more than 15,000 applications from people interested in sponsoring military pets.

Albin has helped broker more than 1,000 agreements, he said. The program is now expanding to Germany, where potential pet foster homes are desperately needed, he said.

Another good resource for pet fostering information is the Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org). HSUS doesn’t offer a pet-fostering program itself, but the organization does have a Web site with information for military members who need help finding a temporary home for their animals.

Fostering a pet with strangers can be a dicey proposal, pet advocates say.

“We don’t usually steer people in that direction because there are a lot of issues at stake,” Brooks said, such as who will make major medical decisions if the pet is hurt or dying, or what will happen to the pet if the servicemember is killed.

The key, Albin said, is to make sure all parties discuss all contingencies. And a signed contract — preferably one that has been approved by a lawyer — is a must, Albin said (the HSUS site has a sample pet-fostering contract).

All in all, “fostering beats the alternative,” which is a shelter, Osborn said. “If all parties understand what’s involved, it can really be quite beneficial.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up