A greyhound at the Pine Farm kennels in Eriswell. It's one of five stray dogs currently being held at the kennels that are up for adoption. The Air Force has hired an animal welfare officer to help ensure that pets owned by Americans stationed in the U.K. are not abandoned or mistreated.

A greyhound at the Pine Farm kennels in Eriswell. It's one of five stray dogs currently being held at the kennels that are up for adoption. The Air Force has hired an animal welfare officer to help ensure that pets owned by Americans stationed in the U.K. are not abandoned or mistreated. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

RAF LAKENHEATH — The Air Force in the United Kingdom has taken another step to protect the four-legged members of the American military community.

Yvonne Chadwick, who has 20 years of experience caring for animals in the U.K., recently became the first-ever animal welfare officer serving RAFs Lakenheath, Mildenhall and Feltwell.

The new position follows the institution of a policy in June requiring all military and civilian pet owners to sign a form holding them accountable for their dogs and cats while stationed in the U.K. The focus on animal welfare is meant to help prevent American servicemembers and civilians from abandoning their pets in the U.K., as well as reduce any other animal welfare complaints.

“Pets are part of the family,” Chadwick said.

Last year, there were 91 animal welfare complaints reported to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals involving homes registered to U.S. military personnel in the tri-base area, Chadwick said.

“That number has to go down,” she said.

Air Force officials haven’t tracked the number of animals abandoned over the years, but it had become a community relations issue, Chadwick said. Along with the animal welfare complaints, a recent case of animal abuse has created negative publicity for the bases in this pet-friendly country.

Senior Airman Dustin Yandell is scheduled to appear at the Mildenhall Magistrates Court on Monday for allegedly slitting the throat of his Labrador dog and dumping the carcass in the trash back in March.

If convicted, Yandell could face up to six months in jail and a 5,000-pound fine, according to the RSPCA.

Chadwick, who has run kennels in the area, also will serve as a pet liaison between the bases and the RSPCA.

“They are the pet police,” she said about the British agency.

Before the animal welfare officer job was created, pet concerns were handled by base community relation advisers who are now helping Chadwick build up her position.

“I think it’s very positive. It’s good to have a specialist in that field,” Sal Davidson, RAF Lakenheath’s community relations adviser, said about the hiring of Chadwick.

One of Chadwick’s duties will be to ensure that all incoming pet owners sign and follow the requirements of the pet responsibility form. The forms also create a census of the pet population, which as of June stood at about 4,000 animals. Knowing who has animals is expected to help prevent personnel from leaving their pets behind, Chadwick said.

Soon she will take over all the in- and out-processing procedures for pets on the bases while working closely with the U.S. Army Veterinary Clinic on RAF Feltwell, she said.

Chadwick also is available to answer pet owners’ questions about having a pet on a military installation or to clarify any U.K. laws.

For instance, all dogs and cats should have a collar and a tag with the owner’s address, name and contact number; and owners could get fined for not picking up their pets’ feces or for excessive pet noise.

In the near future, Chadwick will provide incoming pet owners information packets that will include U.K. animal laws, how to quarantine a pet, traveling tips and more.

Animal advocates are hailing the Air Force’s decision to create Chadwick’s position.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Sophie Wilkinson, spokeswoman for the RSPCA.

“We encourage anything that educates people in responsible pet ownership, because that’s our main focus — to prevent cruelty and neglect to animals,” she added.

One of the goals Chadwick has for the bases is to start up obedience and behavior classes.

“It will take time, but we will get there,” she said.

Another goal is to find more foster homes that could afford abandoned pets a second chance. Currently, there are 18 foster homes in the tri-base area, she said.

Off-base kennels take in strays as well, and offer future pet owners the opportunity to adopt.

“If [pet owners] feel that they can’t take their pets when they move somewhere else, they should come and see us. Don’t just put your pet out there,” she said.

If pet owners have any questions or if anyone wants to adopt an abandoned pet, contact Yvonne Chadwick at 226-5796 or 01638 525796. Her office is located inside Building 977, Room 36 on RAF Lakenheath.

Is a pet for you?Here are some tips from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on responsible pet ownership. Pet ownership takes time, money, commitment and patience — it will completely change your life.

Think first

Before you get a pet, think carefully about why you want an animal. Pet ownership is great fun but a huge responsibility.

Overly house-proud? Then don’t get a cat or dog. Their hair can get everywhere, and some never stop chewing furniture even if they have toys and scratching posts.

Squeamish? Pet owners need to worm their animal, treat it for fleas or other conditions and generally clean up after it.

Discuss having a pet with all members of your household before you commit yourself.

Never take on an animal out of pity.

What sort of pet?

Before choosing a pet, think about your lifestyle and where you live.

Cats and dogs like to spend time outside. Do you have a secure garden? It doesn’t make sense to have a dog if you live in a high-rise flat or cats if you live on a busy main road.

Do you work or have a baby, young children or an elderly person living with you?

Will you be able to give your animal a good home for perhaps the next 15 years?

How much will it cost?

Food, bedding, equipment, housing, veterinary bills and insurance can be expensive.

It costs around 700 pounds a year in the United Kingdom to keep an average-sized dog.

Most pets need regular vaccinations and veterinary checks.

The RSPCA recommends that all dogs and cats get neutered to prevent unwanted litters, so please consider this cost when deciding whether to get a pet.

The RSPCA recommends taking out a pet insurance policy to help pay for illnesses or accidents.

Do you have the time?

The sort of animal you choose depends on the amount of time you can spend with it.

Avoid dogs if you work full-time. They need regular walks and a lot of attention.

Cats are more independent but can get lonely. If you are going to be out all day, and can afford it, get two cats so they can keep each other company.

Long-haired cats need combing every day to keep them mat-free.

Reprinted with permission of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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