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...
DO NOT TAKE YOUR PETS TO THE SHELTER DUE TO DEPLOYMENTS!
This does so many negative things. Let me rant off a few:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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].
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.