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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Vote for Me for Military Spouse of the Year

VOTE for Alisa Johnson
for 2013 Military Spouse of the Year
February 5, 2013 5am-11:59pm EST

My name is Alisa Johnson. I am an active duty, Marine Corps officer, attending Naval Flight Training at NAS Corpus Christi, TX with the goal of becoming a C-130 pilot, providing the opportunity to represent women in the Marine Corps. I am married to my amazing husband, Shawn Johnson, who serves active duty also in the US Navy, stationed at NAS North Island, San Diego, CA. He flew MH-60s, was awarded for a life-saving rescue mission, and is currently on his shore tour training other service members in the aviation and special forces community. While we hold successful careers, we have been geographically separated for five of the seven years we have been together due to training and deployments. Our marriage has been a struggle won with trust, love, communication and weekend getaways when we can both get away from work, which does not happen as often as I’d wish.

Despite our physical separation, we are connected to each other through our passion in helping improve the military community, specifically in the aspect of pet ownership. In 2011, Shawn and I founded the nationally recognized, 501(c)(3) non-profit, Dogs on Deployment (www.dogsondeployment.org), which provides the largest online network of registered volunteers who are willing to board military pets during their owner’s deployments, PCS moves, training and other service commitments. We provide financial aid to needing families for help with pet care, work with the Veteran Affairs Department in helping homeless veterans care for their pets while they work to get back on track, promote responsible pet ownership through command education initiatives and advocate for pet owner rights through our national petition to standardize military pet policies, regardless of base, branch or breed of dog.

Starting a national organization, while serving in the military and being separated has been a challenge, but one we meet head on. As the President of Dogs on Deployment, I am responsible for the organization, execution and management of the projects we are involved in. Our work helps men and women in uniform stay focused on mission knowing their family members are in loving hands while they fulfill their obligations to our country. Dogs on Deployment is fully invested in giving troops peace of mind so they can defend and protect our freedom. This is my personal mission.

I humbly accept the nomination for the 2013 Military Spouse of the Year Award. I am three-faceted; I am a service member, I am a President, but most importantly, I am a wife. My support to my husband has been essential in the difficult lifestyle we have accepted, so that we may both proudly serve our nation. Winning this honor is not about recognition for my personal efforts. Winning this honor is about representing a modern career woman, the importance of community service, saving lives of pets, keeping military families together, and the strength of marriage through today’s military challenges. 


Alisa Johnson

President, Dogs on Deployment

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When You Save a Life

Dillard... so many of you have seen his name and pictures across our Dogs on Deployment Facebook page wondering to yourself, "When will he get a home?" I know I thought that every day I had him... "How could such a great dog not have a home?"

One day last November, I stopped at the mall. My phone had been acting up so I went to the store to get it fixed. When I was helped, the clerk told me I needed the box to make an exchange. Luckily, I had the box in my car. I said I'd be right back and rushed towards the parking lot to retrieve the box.

At the exact moment that I got to my car, I noticed a black body on four legs scamper past my vehicle. When I peered around the front, this sad looking, skinny and beat up bully breed dog looked at me, spun in a circle, and plopped on his side with his tail between his legs, eyes diverted and posture defeated. Immediately, my heart strings were pulled by looking at this literally, pathetic, creature. I had to help.

I called for him, but he didn't move. I came near him. Nothing. I touched him. He retreated. I went to pick him up. He curled into a tighter ball. I was able to lift the 40 lb dog off the wet grass and into my coupe. Tan leather seats with dirty stray dog? I didn't even care. What mattered was his life.

A face you can't resist.
I left the mall and took him back to my house thinking... "Oh dear... What have I gone and done again?" If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I have taken on stray dogs once upon a time before... And even successfully adopted three on my own dime, and found the original owners to four others. But I had never picked up a dog like this. He was larger, of a bully mix, unknown background, in an area where dog fighting, abuse and abandonment is very prevalent, he didn't look to be in great shape, and I had no idea if he would get along with my two dogs waiting for me at home, or if he would try to rip them apart. All I knew is he was sitting there by my car in a parking lot full of thousands of vehicles at the exact moment I by chance had to return to my car, and he asked for my help. How could I refuse?

I pulled up into the drive way. He didn't have a collar on him, so I picked him up and carried him to my backyard. I walked into my house and my dogs jumped on me smelling this visitor, all excited with the prospect of meeting a new friend. I washed my hands, and as I was drying them, I went over my options. It was a Sunday; Animal Control was closed, but I could drop him off tomorrow. I thought of his breed; an unneutered male, bully mix, stray, black dog in a shelter wouldn't last longer than the mandatory hold time. I couldn't do that. I thought of my lease and breaking my pet agreement. I couldn't keep him for that long. And then I thought of my dogs. Oh dear, what about my dogs? What would this stray do to my loving, submissive, gentle companions?

Images of dogs ripping each other apart came to my mind. Not because of his breed, but because of where I am. Corpus Christi, TX is two and a half hours away from Mexico, and the first major city between Houston and San Antonio. What this means is its a cauldron for crime and illegal activity migrating its way up from the border. As military members, when we first check into NAS Corpus Christi, we receive a safety brief from the local police department which warns us of the high rate of theft, drugs, trafficking, and other crimes which happen due to our geographic location. What they don't mention, and what I know due to my experience and involvement in the animal community, is with all that comes the side game of animal fighting.

At first look at this stray dog, I wondered if he was a bait dog, or worse, an actual fighting dog. He was of the right stature, and his face and body was covered in wounds, which appeared to be bite marks. I had no idea what I was going to do if he turned out to be aggressive. I would have no choice but to contact professionals, and unfortunately, we know the outcome of dogs that have past history of fighting.

So I stared at him through the window. He was smelling the grass, marking the fence, chewing on a stick... dog things. I went to the window and he saw me. He came up to the screen, placed his nose close to mine. Then, JD and Jersey, my dogs, came up to the window sill, and they smelt each other through the screen. And what do you know? The dog's tail began to wag.

My heart was elated. After a slow attempt to introduce my dogs to him, it turned out this stray was a huge fan of other dogs! His tail was wagging, his posture relaxed, a big smile on his face, playful behavior; the whole nine yards of what you want to see in a dog-friendly dog. My worries were for nothing. Nothing at all.

After giving him a flea bath and drying him off, I set him up with a place to sleep outdoors in my backyard. I got him a crate, covered it and stuffed it full of warm blankets. I gave him food and water, which he was extremely grateful for, and went to sleep.

The next day I woke up and did my morning routine. When I got to the part where I feed the dogs, I got a third bowl for my stray. I went outside to feed him... and he wasn't there. He wasn't in the yard, he wasn't in the crate. He was gone. I walked the fence and saw that under the gate, he had dug himself a hole and had crawled under to escape.

Now the real worrying started.

Here I am, standing in my empty yard, wondering now what fate lies ahead of this dog. I live on military base housing. I brought a large unneutered male, bully mix (some would automatically stereotype as a pitbull), black dog with no collar onto base. Now I'm deathly afraid that a mother with her kids is going to have the same concerns I was having last night about his behavior, only he's unconfined and on the loose. Stories of cops responding to a "vicious" dog on the loose which end in a dead dog and a crying owner whose dog was just misunderstood come flooding my conscious. I rush to my car and start to patrol the neighborhood. I called the base police, the housing office, the base veterinarian, the local animal control and the local police station and gave a description of the dog and that if they seen him, to call me. At this point he's not just a stray, he's MY stray.

After a couple hours of searching, I was forced to go into my squadron for my flight. It was a blessing that the weather that day was below minimums and my flight was cancelled. Having to cancel a flight because I was too concerned about a dog that wasn't even mine and I had absolutely no investment in was not something you want to explain to a Marine Corps Major. I made an announcement to the pilot ready room that if anyone sees a wandering black dog on base, call me, and rushed back home to continue my search.

I walked in the front door and just on a whim decided to check the backyard once more. And who do I see? My black stray dog sitting nicely with his tail wagging and tongue hanging lazily out one side. He had dug himself BACK in my yard and was waiting nicely for me to come home. The next day I shared my relief with my Major during my flight briefing. He told me that explained why he saw a black dog frolicking through the golf course on his way home after we were cancelled...

First thing I do when I find any stray dog is promptly search for the original owner. I contacted all the animal centers and rescues in the local area. I put up a few Found Dog flyers, and I posted a Found Dog ad on Craigslist. Here's where my jaw dropped. Over the weekend that I had found him, THREE ads were posted on Craigslist about a black dog spotted wandering the mall parking lot. This means that at least THREE individual people saw this dog and did nothing, but post an ad on Craigslist. At least they did that... the other hundred of people that went through that mall parking lot during holiday traffic hours and spotted the black stray dog and ignored him as an invisible problem... shame on them for doing nothing - not even calling Animal Control. When you see a person or animal in need, DO SOMETHING. After determining that I would help this stray dog find a new lease on life, I aptly named him Dillard; since he was found outside of Dillard's. The journey of his fostering began.

It was nearing Thanksgiving and I was going to California for the break. I had only two days to arrange a foster home for him during that time. I was lucky to have a friend that agreed to watch him. He fell hard for Dillard, so hard in fact, the day I came back he firmly told me I had to take Dillard back because he was falling in love with him and he knew he could not have a dog right now in his life. I was saddened; the idea of adopting him to a friend was relieving... unfortunately, things never work out the way they are intended to. I was about to learn this lesson the hard way.

Dillard and his Houston foster.
After putting out a plea for a foster for Dillard on Facebook, I was immediately contacted by a veteran who had used Dogs on Deployment to find a foster for her two pets through our networking partners during her last career deployment. She agreed happily to watch Dillard for me until the end of the year. I prayed and hoped I would have a home lined up for him by the New Year. I agreed to drive half way between Corpus Christi and Houston to meet her, make the transfer, and start work on finding him his home.

One of the first potential adopters who contacted me was extremely interested in adopting Dillard. He seemed like a great dog for their family; honestly, he would make a great dog for any family. He's THAT good. (unless they had cats, which we also learned the hard way...) The only problem was, they were in Georgia, and Dillard was in Houston. After another plea for help of Dogs on Deployment, we were able to arrange Dillard's transportation from Houston, TX all the way to Savannah, GA, making his transport through holiday travel to get to his new home. The day it was supposed to take place, the bad news came. The family could not take Dillard due to unexpected deployment changes. My heart dropped. His first home fell through. My hope for him fell through.

Not only did his first home fall through, but in the same week, his foster could no longer care for him. He immediately had to be transferred to a new foster home, which didn't even exist yet! Again, calling out to my Dogs on Deployment fans, we found 4 Paws Farm, which is a small rescue outside of Houston, that agreed to pick him up that day and foster him until we were able to find him his forever home.

Despite his perfect demeanor, goofy self and amazing personality, he just wasn't receiving the interest that assured me he would find his perfect forever home; at least not anytime soon. Maybe it was because it was during the holidays? Maybe it was his breed? Maybe it was his age? Size? Looks? I didn't care; I knew he was a great dog and I would keep trying.
Dillard just wants to be loved.

A week later I received another adoption application. A young, military family in Dallas was looking to add a dog to their family. They were planning on training the dog, hopefully Dillard, as a therapy dog for the husband who recently got out of the Army. They sounded great and anxious to meet Dillard. Coincidentally, my husband and I were taking our holiday in Dallas over New Year's. Everything was falling into place. The only wild card was that they had cats...

Dillard had met cats before, and the experienced ranged from interest, to fear, to prey drive. The current foster parents had several cats in their home and honestly thought that with the proper introduction, Dillard would be able to be in a home with cats.

We were wrong.

My heart still aches for the morning I got a call from the family telling me that they could not keep Dillard. He had shown prey drive towards their cats, and when I dropped him off I told them if that happened, I would come get him because endangering themselves, their cats or Dillard was not worth trying to make an adoption work. It was a very tearful afternoon. When I dropped Dillard off two days before, the family was so excited to meet him. Dillard loved the husband, rolled on his back for belly rubs, made good friends with the young daughter and even gave gentle kisses to their baby. When we all realized this wouldn't work, we said our good-byes, thanked each other gratefully for the opportunity to meet each other and Dillard, and I took Dillard away. I will not forget that family's sincere offer to love Dillard forever. I hope they find their perfect family dog soon. I'm sad it could not be Dillard.

Dillard however, was very happy to be reunited with me once again. I was wondering what I was going to do with Dillard. We were staying at a fancy, but pet-friendly hotel... typically for two pets... Here we are: husband, wife, parrot, and three dogs, in a small 400 square foot room. Luckily we had a king bed, otherwise I don't know where my husband was going to sleep...

Dillard being a good boy in the hotel lobby.
We had three more nights in Dallas with Dillard, and he made his statement! Every night, we would go to our hotel lobby for wine hour. The other guests with pets would meet us, and we would discuss our pets, trips, careers, etc over a glass of wine. While my terrible dogs would jump on people, pull on their leashes and whine because they weren't getting the crackers with pate, Dillard sat quietly, looking at the guests, wagging his tail and receiving pets with grace. He was such a good dog, that when we explained to people he was for adoption, a family was seriously considering adopting him on the spot. While we weren't going to adopt him on a whim, their interest in him gave us hope; once the right family meets Dillard, he'll get adopted.

What an interesting three days that was. Between potty breaks and being tied up in leashes in the elevator, my husband and I had a wonderful trip to Dallas. Wonderful all until the clock struck midnight on New Year's. We walked back to our hotel after the festivities ended, looking forward to crashing into bed... But that didn't happen... Warning to all readers: Do not give your dogs a new chew treat when left in a hotel room unattended. What should have been a relaxing New Year's, ended up being a two hour long scrub session of our hotel carpets... Which dog, JD, Jersey or Dillard, did it, we will never know. What we do know, is someone had explosive diarrhea across our entire room. And since my husband has the worst gag reflex to foul smells (I'm so looking forward to having children with him...) I was left cleaning the mess up. I think I did a fine job too. I won't release the name of the hotel, but I am very, very sorry, about what happened in that room... Won't happen again, I swear.

So the trip ended, two adoptions down the drain, no foster home lined up (4 Paws Farm took in an unexpected guest), and back down to Corpus Christi we go...

My husband was leaving for San Diego the next week. Originally, he was going to take JD and Jersey back to our home in San Diego while I finish flight school in Corpus Christi. "Change of plans, honey! You're now taking Dillard!" He wasn't too shocked, and since he had grown fond of Dillard, he was looking forward to the drive back (over driving back with our dogs who are monsters in the car). Shawn had a great drive back to San Diego with Dillard riding in the backseat, sleeping quietly and occasionally being mocked by our parrot from his cage (he can get along with a squeaky parrot, but not a cat... go figure.).

Once back in San Diego, we reopened his adoption (and made an adoption video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnOax6TjsPU) He was vetted, neutered, heartworm negative and microchipped; ready to go to his new home, and we were still waiving his adoption fee to a military family. We were shocked about the amount of interest we received on him now that he was in San Diego, which is in fact, our biggest place of support on our Facebook page and organization! The first family who contacted us had been following Dillard's story since day one. The wife, Molly, was so excited at the prospect of getting to meet this dog of her dreams who she had been following for months on Facebook. I could hear the sincerity in her voice; Dillard was the dog for her and her husband, and she knew it, and she wanted him, and she would prove to me she was the right family for him.

And she did.

After reading her emails, the story of her and her husband, who is a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, and talking with her on the phone, I told my husband to set up a meet and greet with them at their local dog park. When Molly first saw Dillard at the park, it was as if she knew he was already her's. Her and her husband had a great big backyard for him, a great dog-friendly lifestyle and plans to integrate Dillard into their life as any one could hope and dream for their foster dog. They will give him the life that he deserves. That first day I picked him up, scared and alone, thinking no one would ever save him, he can now sleep happily, in a big bed, with a loving family, who will always insure he has a roof over his head, food in his belly and love to be given.

Dillard has finally found his forever home.
Dillard and his new parents, Molly and Andre.

I want to thank every one who was involved in saving this boy's life. Whether you shared his Facebook posts or talked about him to your friends, our supporters online got his name out and got him his fosters and forever home. Thank you for caring about his life. And thank you to Dillard's fosters, Matt, Coree, Chris, Nancy and my husband Shawn. And to the families that had shown interest in adopting Dillard, but for whatever reason could not. I hope you find your family pet in another needing pet. Thank you for making Dillard's life possible!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

PCS: Pets' Confusion and Separation

Military life is anything but normal; one of those abnormalities is the constant change of scenery. Since my husband and I have been in the military, between the two of us, we have completed six PCS moves (Permanent Change of Station). This week, I'll be completing our seventh.

Its not just the humans that move, its the dogs too.

PCS moves are chaotic, disorganized, stressful and hard on families. You've got to deal with slow-moving administration offices who file your moving paperwork in methods that only were acceptable during days of the stone-age, you've got to upfront money for the costs of moving because the money department forgot to file your advances on pay, you've got to deal with movers that are paid minimum wage on a government contract where your stuff is in constant threat of being damaged, you've got to convince your housing complex to release you from your lease without finding the most absurd reasons to keep your housing deposit, you've got to find housing within 10 days at your new duty station that you've never been too while also going into work everyday, you've got to make sure all your check-in paperwork is in order, etc, etc, etc. Any military member or spouse can tell you PCSing is the least favorite part of military life!

And all this, you've got to deal with your fur-kids. They don't understand what is going on. You've brought them to a home where they've settled. They've thoroughly marked the yard and neighborhood, they've developed a relationship with the neighbor's dog and meet every morning at the fence line to bark for five minutes, they know the sound of your car coming in the driveway, the car ride to the dog park; and the one to the vet, they've established their favorite napping spot by the AC vent and their favorite place to pee (which happens to be indoors...). This is their home, then one day, strange people come and put everything in boxes, move it to a big truck and then they're stuffed in a car full of household goods (the most amount that can fit since you get paid to move by weight), off to a new place. 

This can be extremely stressful for animals, as well as people. The move that I will be making this week will be from Pensacola, FL to Corpus Christi, TX so that I can start Primary for Naval flight school. This is the first move that I've done on my own, and my first move where I have not only JD, but also Jersey (dog) and Kiki (parrot) tagging along.

JD and Jersey riding shot gun.
All week I have been worrying what to do with my dogs once I get to Corpus. Once I get there, I have to check-in to my new command; but I can't leave JD and Jersey in the hotel room by themselves, since they are not crate trained, so I've got to board them; that's fine, but JD has the WORST separation anxiety of any dog I've ever known. So now I've removed him from his home, taken away all his things save a dog bed and his favorite toy, dumped him off at a kennel (though the nicest one in town) and will need to leave him overnight so that I can check-in first thing in the morning. And hopefully, through all this, when I check in, my Service Alphas will not be covered in dog hair. (Which inevitably happens every time).

I've got a housing complex lined up to move into 10 days after I've checked in, which will have a yard for the dogs and my household good should arrive the same day. The dogs should be settled soon, but from now until then, their emotional well-being will be a top concern of mine. But as a responsible pet owner, I've gotten my priorities in line and have plans for them throughout this transition.

Now this is where Dogs on Deployment comes in...

Originally starting DoD, our goal was to help military members while they're on deployment. However, since founding, we've realized that military members need help for more things. A large contender against inconsistent pet policies causing families to have to give up their pets until they can find accepting housing, is families who are PCSing and need help. 

We see families list their pets for two reasons in regards to PCSing; (1) short term help while they move or deal with quarantine requirements (my situation fits the bill for this type of need) and (2) families that are PCSing to a new duty station and cannot, or choose not to, bring their pets with them.

DoD now gears at helping during PCS moves. Our website states short term boarding is available (3 months or less), but sometimes due to living situations at the next duty station (sometimes required to live in barracks), breed bans, size limitations for travel or numerical limitations (especially for oversea PCS moves), pet owners need to utilize our DoD Boarders for longer commitments until they can receive orders back to the US. We're here to help then too.

What we want to encourage, is that pet owners no matter where they're PCSing to or for how long, have plans for what to do with their pets. Here are some tips:

Jersey getting her vaccinations.
  1. Get your pet microchipped and update the information to include the address where you're going to.
  2. Ensure your pet is up to date on vaccinations in case professional boarding is required. Make sure you plan for this expense. Keep a record of your pet's vaccination record with you during travel.
  3. Have housing lined up before you arrive in your new town. Check their pet policy! Make sure they allow your pet's breed, size and the number of pets you own. Plan to have to put a pet deposit down, usually $100-$400 per pet depending on the housing complex. DoD does not allow pets to be posted on our website because pet owners moved into a housing complex without checking the pet policy first.
  4. Know where you're going to stay during your travels and when you get to your new duty station. Check your hotels policy on pets. Some hotels, such as LaQuintas, allow pets and do not require pet deposits! Others require pet fees and have limitations. These fees will not be reimbursed by the military. Usually, when you arrive at your new duty station, you will be required to live at the base's lodging (BEQ/BOQ, hotel, etc). Check for their pet policy. If they don't allow pets, make sure you obtain a signed certificate of non-availability so that you can get reimbursed for hotels paid for out in town.
  5. Research boarding facilities and veterinarians in your new duty station. Call beforehand to see their availability and requirements to board or be seen by them.
  6. If you think you'll require the services of a DoD Boarder while you get situated in your new command, register your pet(s) ASAP and interview DoD Boarders before you arrive in the area. 
  7. If you are having to ship your pet (either across the country or overseas), get advice and make your pets' travel arrangements through our partner, PCSPets.com. They are military-owned and operated and are a full-service pet travel agency specializing in families PCSing. Mention DoD referred you to receive 10% off their service fee. 
With these key points of advice in mind, we hope that pets will be a major concern when a family executes a PCS move. After all, they are a part of the family, please treat them as such! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Shout That Needs to Be Heard

When I started Dogs on Deployment, I had one intention in mind; help those on deployment find temporary homes for their pets. It didn't occur to me that there were so many problems that existed in the military-pet community, with no real resources to help. So here we are, trying to make change happen.

Recently, more and more owners of the infamous pit-bull have been registering for our site. Approximately 20% of our Pets in Need registered on Dogs on Deployment have been pit-bulls or another "aggressive" dog breed or some mix of. But unfortunately, our success rate for placing these dogs is not as high as other "non-aggressive" breed dogs. I can exactly pin point why when reading emails back and forth between Pet Owners and DoD Boarders.

People fear these dogs. Their housing complexes don't allow them. They don't want to be responsible if the dog becomes aggressive.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone not feeling comfortable boarding a certain type of dog. I personally would not feel comfortable boarding anything over 30 lbs; I have two dogs that pull as it is, give them 30 lbs more of pulling power and I would be keeled over in a heart beat. That is not the issue at hand. The issue is the organized discrimination against the breed. The issue is the bans, the lack of education and responsible pet-ownership, the lack of effective means of determining a dog's temperament rather than relying on the breed alone.

Good dogs and responsible pet-owners are being punished for the unfortunate actions of the few, scum of the planet folks that choose to abuse these dogs and participate in heinous crimes. The worst, is when its someone that has faced the terrors attacking this country, when they come home, their war has only begun; now they are fighting for the right to keep their pet because its breed is considered dangerous by some influential circles.

When I think back on pets that have gone through our site and have really affected me, they are all pitbulls. The first were Aries and Artemis; two pitbulls that were abandoned by their caregiver in the dead of winter outside with no food, water or shelter while their owner was deployed. My first thought when I heard this story was, "Two pitbulls? Who will take two pitbulls?" It broke my heart at the prospect we might not be able to help them because of their breed. Miraculously, our networking efforts paid off, and they both went to a safe home until their owner returned.

Next came Diego. Diego and his owner I may never forget. After getting a desperate call from Diego's caregiver that she could no longer keep him in his owner's absence, we put out a plea, and a group of pitbull loving activists went to work transporting Diego from Southern California to Northern California, and organizing a heartfelt reunion for Diego's owner, supplemented by a BBQ and even media coverage. The relief was immense.

Most recently is Pele and Kekoa. A supporter posted a news story on our Facebook page of a military member who received orders to Hawaii, but owns two pitbull mixes. Each are over 9 years old and have always been family pets. But with the breed bans sweeping base housing like wildfire, their family dogs were not allowed to live on base due to breed restrictions. While the family could theoretically live off-base, their housing allowance is not enough to put them in a family home in a safe neighborhood with a good school district for their children. They were placed in the situation that no one should have to face; choose between rehoming your dogs, or living in a safe area for your children. They ended up having to rehome their dogs permanently.

We know as an organization specifically helping military families, we are not going to be able to end breed discrimination nationwide, but perhaps we can start within our internal community; the military. After all, the civilian populace looks to the military for social guidance. If the military ends breed bans, who knows who will follow. Hopefully everyone.

So we've started a petition with our partner Hawaii Military Pets - an active group in the military-pet community. Our goal is to standardized military pet policies. We don't want to just attack the ineffectiveness of breed bans, but also the lack of consistency on pet policies service and installation wide. A pet owner might be fine to have their three dogs on one base, but upon moving to a new base, they find out they are only allowed to have two. How are they supposed to prepare for this?

Since base housing has been privatized, each base housing group is able to establish their own policy, and unfortunately each one is difference. So we've started a petition to Congress to ask for standardized policies, and hopefully an end to breed specific legislation which attacks not only pitbulls, but rottweilers, chows, shiba inus and on some bases, German Shepherds, boxers, etc. Even if they keep breed bans, allow an option for exclusion through a Canine Good Citizen certification.

Here's some keen thoughts for policy change:
  • If numerical limits from base to base are to be imposed, make them consistent.
  • Weight limits due not dictate any problematic behavior of a dog. A Great Dane is the world's largest couch potato while a small terrier can be a flower bed's worst nightmare. 
  • Exchanging breed bans for an effective dangerous dog policy, targeting instead dogs that have has a record of bad behavior through dangerous dog registries, and if deemed effective and time worthy, temperament testing for "aggressive dog breeds."
  • If breed bans are to remain imposed, make the list of breeds consistent from base to base. Allow an exception through a dog who has earned their Canine Good Citizenship despite any breed and a grandfather clause for dogs that have previously lived or are living in base housing.
  • Requirements for current vaccinations, microchipping, and possible alteration.
  • Policy wide anti-tethering laws.
  • Pet educational courses and resources for on-base families.
The above mentioned are my personal thoughts for what key leaders can consider when they write new regulations. None of us have the power to write the new policy, as that will ultimately be up to the higher ups. But we can vocalize our ideas in hopes that when we contact Congress and key leaders with this petition, that we can submit our recommendations in hopes of adoption.

And what will all this accomplish? IMPROVED MORALE! Security in your pet ownership rights. Knowledge that no matter where you go, the rules will be the same. That way, when you add a new pet to your family, you know exactly what you are getting into, and potentially risking.

We've started a Facebook page to help promote this cause and hope you'll join the fight against inconsistent policies. We're happy to note that other national organizations have taken notice of the problems of base housing, including Stubby Dog, a non-profit focused on changing public perceptions of pit bulls. They've asked for pitbull owner's personal stories from people in the military (past and present) who have (or have had) pit bull type dogs. We'll be doing the writing and need YOUR stories! Email me below.

We want consistency! We hope you pledge to help. Sign the petition here and please share with anyone who would like to support us. If you represent an organization that would like to get involved and endorse this petition, contact me to join our efforts at alisa@dogsondeployment.org.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

EMPOC Sundays

Because the military loves acronyms, Dogs on Deployment is coining "EMPOC." What's it stand for? An action close to our hearts; End Military Pets On Craigslist.

Craigslist is one of the most popular posting sites out there. On any given day, you can peruse thousands of listings in your city for anything from "dating" to furniture, cars to unopened packages of paper... And somewhere in there, under "community," you'll find hundreds of listings for pets.

Puppies for sale. A dog in a shelter looking for home. Feral cats looking for a place to live out their lives. Lost ferret. Lost llama (you know I love my llamas). And mixed in, few posts here and there warning people not to use Craigslists to rehome animals.

And yet, people continue to list pets on Craigslist.

Do a quick search on the dangers of Craigslist and you'll receive hits on recent scams and crimes associated with the site. All this transfers to the pet community, and the dangers increase because now we're dealing with a valuable commodity, and one that has a life. Military owners are not the only ones at risk here; anyone who posts a "free to good home" pet is putting themselves and their animals in danger. Unfortunately, military members are often desperate to find a home for their pets (temporary or permanently) when they resort to using Craigslist, and often will post them as "free" without knowing the risks.

Jeffrey Nally Jr. was sentenced 10-45 years in prison
for torturing and killing at least 29 dogs he collected from Craigslist .
Probably the greatest risk of free to good home ads is the quality of person who targets free to good homes. If a person is not willing to pay a small adoption fee, and expect a pet to be free, they are probably not the type of person that is willing to put any investment into an animal. Animal hoarders, families that cannot afford proper pet care and those who believe pets to be disposable are the ones who respond to free to good home posts, and not posts that ask for an adoption fee. In rare circumstances, it has been reported that criminals who seek pleasure from abusing and killing animals will pick up free to good home pets under the guise of an animal lover. One such case was reported in West Virginia, where a 20-year old male was picking up free to good home dogs and severely mutilating, torturing and murdering them. In total, he killed 29 puppies. (Via Pet Pardons)

Another growing scam is dubbed the Pet Profit Scam. The pet owner posts their pet on Craigslist for free, an adopter responds that they will give your dog a loving home, you meet, it seems like a good match so you give them your dog. Check back on Craigslist in a day's time. Your pet might be listed on Craigslist again for a profit of $100-$200! This happened to a woman in New Jersey who posted her dog free on Craigslist. She met a nice husband and wife who took the dog. A week later, she found out that her dog had been sold to another family for $100. (Via Ripoff Report)

The farm of Floyd and Susan Martin in Southampton, PA
which was keeping an inventory of dogs to
sell to medical testing facilities.
There have also been reports of free pets being sold for medical testing to companies, some in the states and some across the border. There have been kennels shut down that were keeping inventory on stray, lost, or free to good home pets. They were selling these pets to leading medical testing facilities for $50-$75 each. (Via PennLive)

Pitbull puppy found free on Craigslist.
He was lucky to end up in a good home
and not as a bait dog.

Free to good home dogs and cats are also in extreme danger of being picked up and used as bait dogs and the fighting rings. Dog fighting is a crime that is prevalent among certain social groups, and typically the pitbull terrier has the highest risk of being picked up by these groups. Young pitbulls posted free to good home might be picked up by someone who wants to test their aggression and potential to be a fighting dog. (Via Examiner) Other breeds, even cats, or pitbulls which do not have good potential can be used at bait dogs. Becoming a bait dog is a fate that no living creature should ever have to endure. Bait dog's muzzles are duck taped closed so they cannot fight back, they are thrown into a ring with a fighting dog, and the criminals excite the dog to attack the bound dog until it is so wounded they kill it, leave it to die or allow the fighting dog to finish the job.

With all these risks, its a wonder anyone would post their pets on Craigslist. No pet, whether owned by a military member or not, should ever post their pet on Craigslist, especially as "free to good" home. This is why Dogs on Deployment has started EMPOC Sundays. Our goal is to every week thoroughly scrub Craigslist for any military pets posted on Craigslist due to deployments or other military commitments. They need to know about Dogs on Deployment in order to increase their chances of finding a responsible and loving DoD Boarder who will care for their pet, eliminating the risks of posting on Craigslist.

So do your part. Every Sunday, do a local search on Craigslist for free or military pets and warn them of the dangers and if applicable, share our organization with them. This is something that everyone can do in order to make a difference in the life of human and canine alike.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What if it were your dog?

JD at 16 weeks old after his last set of shots
and a day at the dog park for his first time.
I have had JD since he was an 8 week old puppy, and he just turned four in March. (Where does the time go?) Since his "infancy," he has been exposed to nearly everything but a plane ride, rock concert and scuba diving. He has met people, other dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs, parrots, squirrels (he really LOVES squirrels...) etc. To put it short, he is well-socialized. He is (mostly) well-trained, and despite his protests, he'll usually roll over or play dead for a treat (unless he's being very lazy). I feed him food that I would eat in an emergency, take him to the vet for his annual checkup, spend about 30 minutes an evening brushing his ridiculously thick coat, and spoil him rotten. I'd say, overall, I'm a decent pet-owner.

JD has a step above most dogs, because he has an owner who really cares about his physical, mental and emotional well-being. One of the ways I keep him stimulated, is by near-daily trips to the dog park. He has been to parks across the nation through our military-commanded travels. He's met so many dogs and people I'm sure butt-smells are a blur to him.

Never in his four years has he had an incident with another dog. Until today.

I took JD and Jersey to a new dog park. We normally go to Bayview dog park in Pensacola, because there is a beach, a nice running trail and also a fenced in dog park. Due to errands I had to run today, I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone (I was getting brochures printed for our event at the Shiloh Airport in North Carolina, on April 14th!). They excitedly ran into the park, smelt the new dogs and explored their new surroundings, always keeping me in sight. Jersey brought me a disgusting germ-covered ball and I gladly threw it for her because she's so cute and in her puppy-way she asked "Please!" We were having a grand old time. I thought, maybe I found a new dog park that is closer to home (and one without a beach, because every time we go to the park portion of Bayview, JD stares at me wondering why we're not at the beach portion...).

The dogs were getting a little worn out but my brochures weren't going to be done for another 30 minutes so we sat on the bench and JD jumped up beside me for a good scratch behind the ears. Jersey joined shortly after and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I laughed and told the girl next to me, "We could be doing this at home!" Indeed - that is what we're doing right now, sitting together, all three of us on the couch.

A dog that JD had been somewhat getting a long with came up to sniff JD. The girl next to me sat down and put her backpack between us. The dog, which we will name "Precious," (we will use this as an euphemism) came up to sniff the backpack, which JD was also sniffing, and suddenly, went into attack mode. (I found out after that there was some food in the backpack.)

Precious grabbed JD by the scruff and yanked him to the ground. Without screaming or making a sound, I leaped to my feet, grabbed Precious by her scruff and threw her a good four feet from JD. All I saw were tuffs of JD's white fur floating peacefully through the air as Precious attacked again. JD, backing away and trying to avoid getting bit by his neck area, took protection behind me while I seized the dog one more time and then pushed JD even further away. This time, Precious lunged at ME! She grabbed me by the wrist before finally coming-to and let go.

Artist rendition of the
owner of Precious
I had yelled for the owner, who stood idly beside us with his leash in hand, a bit dumbfounded. I told him frankly, "Get your dog out of this park." He apologized several times, leashed his dog and left. Despite some missing fur, a bit of shock, a scratched cell phone (from falling out of my lap when I leaped to save my dog - whatever - a million and one cell phones wouldn't amount to the worth of my dog [a million and one cell phones at the price iPhone charges - without a contract]) and a bruised wrist that temporarily doesn't bend, all is fine.

I myself left immediately after gathering my things. JD, Jersey and I took a well-deserved trip to Petco (will they pay DoD royalties for this?) to buy entirely too many toys and a can of Wellness' Lamb stew. At checkout, as I was awkwardly holding my keys, dogs, wallet and purchases due to my swelling wrist, the cashier asked me what was wrong, so I briefly explained what happened.

Her reply, "Was it a [breed of dog - I don't want to cause any biases... but it was NOT a bully breed!!!] owned by an older man?" I said, why yes, yes it was! And she said she stopped going there because she had seen that same dog in attacks with others before!

Wow. And he still brings his dog back?

The dog bite
I am a strong proponent for "Blame the deed, not the breed." I didn't even want the man's name or number after I found out JD was OK. First, JD is insured (I highly recommend pet insurance in case of injury or illness) but second, JD was in fact, OK. I have no idea what the background of this dog is. She looked healthy; good weight, bright eyes, friendly demeanor. Her owner obviously cared some about her since she was at the dog park. Was she a rescue? Did she have a bad past? But how can an owner stand idly by while his dog is attacking another? Why would you bring your dog back if it had been in incidents before? Do you ever blame the dog, and not the people?

I don't know if I did the right thing by not reporting this man's dog. I think I did. It wasn't so serious that I felt it needed to be reported. But what if it had been? Or what if the next time this dog attacks, it is serious? I warned that man he should not bring his dog back to the park. But now we're punishing the dog for a possible lack of responsibility on the owner's behalf. Its a catch-22 scenario. There is no perfect solution.

What I can say is this, I won't be returning to that park as long as that crowd is there. I can also guarantee all of you that my dogs will remain properly socialized and stimulated, and if one of my dogs ever becomes aggressive, I'll be seeking professional help to put them back on track, because what if it were ever JD who was the perpetrator of a dog attack? I hope that it would be the same for my readers. If you're reading this, you must give a hoot about the welfare of animals, as we all should.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

So You're Going on Deployment

I've received many calls and emails from concerned Pet Owners asking about our DoD Boarders. Do we do background checks? Do we do home checks? Do we personally know the DoD Boarder? Unfortunately, the answer is no. This is outside our means and mission scope.

Running a national non-profit single-handily has been an eye-opening, yet rewarding experience. I've learned how to answer many questions about our process. And being an extremely OCD/critical/controlling Pet Owner, I understand the calls I get from our military members asking "how do I choose a DoD Boarder?" I'm going to give you my presidential opinion (and while I call it "presidential," I do not elevate my word as being all-inclusive or appropriate for all situations... there's my disclaimer).

The time comes. You've received orders. "Where's my pet going to go?" Well first thing I don't do is post on Craigslist. First thing I do do, is ask my friends and family; people I know, people I trust, and most importantly people my pet already is comfortable with. Turns out, my family's housing complex doesn't allow dogs and my friend just had a baby. No help. The next things I definitely DON'T do is take my pet to the shelter. Seriously people, let me reiterate...

This does so many negative things. Let me rant off a few:
  1. Shelters are completely overflowing with unwanted pets. "What's one more pet? He's such a good dog/cat/llama/etc. He's sure to get adopted." Wrong! The ASPCA estimates that approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, but approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized. What does this mean for your beloved family pet? Unless you take them to a no-kill shelter, there is a chance they will be euthanized without your knowledge, and no-kill shelters usually have month+ long waiting lists. The older the dog, the higher chance of euthanasia. If your dog is a mutt, even higher chance. If you have a cat... well, cats don't have 9 lives in shelters. So please, no shelters. It shouldn't be an option.
  2. It gives the military a bad name. There are many advocates out there that say military families should not be allowed to adopt pets because their lifestyles are changing so much they cannot provide a stable home for their pets. Some shelters, I've heard from the grapevine, won't adopt to military because of this reason. If you are a pet owner, you are a pet owner and you deal with it the best way you can. As military members, we are expected to be responsible members of society. If you do not think you can properly take care of a pet from day one. Do not get a pet until you are settled, in a non-deployable status, have a stable family situation, or out of the military. Else, always have a plan for your pet while you serve. It is your responsibility as a pet owner, a care-giver... as a human. 
  3. It is entirely unfair to your pet. Here you are, a furry dog lying on your bed in a warm house. You are used to the sounds of the tv, the dishwasher, the hall clock, the kids playing outdoors... You are used to your master coming home everyday at 5pm and to feed you a meal. You're used to taking up half the bed space because obviously you require that much to sleep comfortably. Then one day, because you're owner didn't research options, your living in a cold, damp, box. You hear barking of strange dogs, you see people passing you everyday without a second glance, you have no toys... This is the life you want for your pet? And let's revisit #2. 
Ok, now that the bad part is over, lets assume you are a loving and responsible military and pet owner. You've done your homework, and ta-da! You've discovered this awesome organization called Dogs on Deployment! This is great! You list your pet. You have 5 DoD Boarders registered in your area. Two respond and say they are highly interested in boarding your pet for your deployment! Now what?
  1. Conduct a phone interview. Talk about their lifestyle. Do they have other pets? What kind of housing do they have? Apartment/yard? Do they have kids? Do they work long hours? Are they experienced with pets? If you get a good feel from the DoD Boarder, you're 10% done.
  2. Schedule a meet-and-greet for the DoD Boarder to meet your pet. Do this in a non-threatening environment, someplace your pet will not feel territorial or uncomfortable. Good places are dog parks (if your dog is well socialized) or just a regular park. Let the DoD Boarder observe your dog. Don't feel obligated to force your dog to meet the DoD Boarder. Perhaps bring some treats for them to give your dog. Allow the dog to come to the boarder, not the other way around. If your DoD Boarder has other dogs, this would be a good time to meet to check for compatibility.
  3. It went good? Your DoD Boarder didn't try to smother your dog? They didn't yell or hit it if they jumped? They seemed kind and pet-loving? Good! Those are the types of people we want in our program. Now is a good time to ask for some references from the DoD Boarder. Consider asking for their employer reference. Do they have pets? Ask for a veterinarian/boarding/groomer reference. Ask for a friend or co-worker. Ask for their landlord. Anything that will give you a sense that this person is responsible. At your discretion you might even want to ask for a background check. But that's up to you. You just don't want to find out too late that this caring person is actually [enter society's bad stereotype here].
  4. Things check out good. Let's proceed. You want your dog to be completely comfortable with your DoD Boarder. After all, they might be together for 6-12 months. Invite your DoD Boarder to your home. Let them sit on your couch. Let your dog play a game of fetch or tug-o-war with them. Make sure your dog is accepting them into their territory. If your dog is growling or barking uncontrollably and irregularly, your dog might not be comfortable with them and may need more time and meetings.
  5. Meet the DoD Boarder at their house! This is a great time to allow your dog to explore their new home. If the DoD Boarder has other pets, it might be best to keep them in a separate room to avoid territorial problems. Let your dog sniff, play with the DoD Boarder and get comfortable.
  6. Now is time for the trial. You want to make sure your dog is completely comfortable with this family (and you too). Schedule a weekend for the DoD Boarder family to have a doggie sleepover. Let them watch your dog for 1-2 nights, this way they can talk to you about any problems they might have encountered. Did the dog mark? Did they bark? Did they have separation anxiety? The point of this is to one, get the dog comfortable, but also highlight any problems the DoD Boarder might have with your dog. This can also help decrease the chance that the DoD Boarder might become overwhelmed with your pet's behavior AFTER you're gone, and be stuck with a pet they can't handle. This is the DoD Boarder's chance to determine if your dog is a good fit in their house. 
  7. Did it go well? No accidents or barking? DoD Boarder is still on-board? Awesome! Time to prepare your legal rights! Dogs on Deployment provides an example contract to go over and sign with your DoD Boarder to ensure you have set forth requirements and expectations for your pet's care in your absence. That contract can be found here. Go over it with your DoD Boarder and determine if there are additional things you might need to cover. 
  8. Prep your pet! You want to make sure your pet is completely healthy before transferring care to someone new. Not only is this good for your pet, but it can also protect you legally. If you have on file that your pet weighed 50lbs when you dropped them off but 6 months later they weighed 40lbs due to malnutrition, you have documentation that can stand in court (although we REALLY hope this won't be needed, its good just in case). Schedule an annual exam with your vet and make sure you have them spayed/neutered, current on vaccinations, valid rabies license, microchipped and have enough flea/heartworm prevention to give to the DoD Boarder. If you need financial assistance with getting this accomplished, Dogs on Deployment has a Pet Chit financial assistance program which can help qualifying military members get this pet care before they deploy. If you would like to donate to this fund, please do so here! 
  9. While you're there, set up a payment account with your veterinarian. In the DoD Contract is a Veterinarian Release Form that you should give to your vet in case of injury or accident. This authorizes the vet to charge your credit card and treat your pet in your absence. 
  10. You're finally ready to drop off your pet with your DoD Boarder. Make sure you provide them with enough food to get them through at least a couple months. If you plan on paying a stipend for your pet, ensure you set up a bank transfer for your pet's care to their personal account. Drop them off with a bunch of treats, love, their favorite toys, bed and something that smells like you. Don't be too emotional when you leave; they'll pick up on it and may stress them out. Thank your DoD Boarder!!! They are doing a wonderful thing for you, while you're doing a wonderful thing for our country.
I hope this checklist will help military members (and DoD Boarders) better use our networking service. Have a safe deployment, care for their pets, and do good things.