Is Your Military Family Ready for a Pet?

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Although some might think the time, money, and planning for lifetime pet ownership isn’t worth it, many military families wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My husband and I don’t have children, and I stayed on Oahu during his last deployment. I can’t begin to imagine how depressed and lonely I would have been without my pets,” said Erin Wildman, a military spouse stationed in Hawaii.

“I have friends, but in the wee hours of the morning following a bad day, my pets were here 100 percent of the time with 100 percent of their devotion, company and love. Every animal is an emotional support animal in a military family,” she said.

One of the reasons I started writing on pets in the military was responsible breeders, rescues and other pet owners would tell me that troops dump pets at shelters only to get a new animal at the next duty station.

That hasn’t been what I’ve observed. Since starting Hawaii Military Pets, I find most military families are responsible and go to great lengths to provide for their furry family members. As with so many issues, it’s the few making irresponsible decisions leaving a lasting impression, but they’re not a reflection of the broader community of military families owning animals.

For many families, the benefit of forever pet ownership outweighs the drawbacks, especially with children. More clinical studies are looking into the emotional and psychological effects of pet ownership. According to the Delta Society, research shows that having a pet enhances a child’s self-esteem, responsibility and respect towards other living beings, and kids with a pet are more involved in activities such as sports, hobbies, clubs or chores.

Now, there are factors to keep in mind when any family takes on the role of pet parent.

Timing is everything. The military lifestyle is different from our civilian friends, with constant moves, deployments, raising children alone and the stress of a spouse serving in a potentially dangerous location. However, the bottom line is this is the lifestyle we signed up for. It’s only fair we do right by these companions and be ready for the possible 15-20 year commitment.

Besides thinking through the long-term commitment, it’s equally important to obtain an animal from a respectable source. When deciding to seek a breeder, the only way to know for sure if the pet was raised in good conditions and is well socialized is to inspect the breeding home and ask detailed questions. Never buy an animal from a pet store, as most have little to no regulations. A responsible breeder never places the animals they raise with care and love in a store for strangers to purchase.

If a shelter animal is preferred, consider starting the search with the shelter contracted to enforce animal law. This facility can provide a wealth of information on other city-run services, such as if there’s a spay/neuter program, or a listing of veterinarian facilities, animal trainers and pet-friendly events. They can also inform on any volunteer opportunities, such as pet fostering which is a great way to “test-drive” forever pet ownership.

A responsible breeder or rescue works with the family to ensure the animal is the right match and is a trusted resource for questions about pet ownership. Many have rigorous screening processes because they don’t want the animal returned. Some require a home inspection and personal references.

Before selecting a pet, consider your family lifestyle. Some things to keep in mind are how much time is spent at home, how active your day-to-day life is and if the existing pets get along with other animals. Sometimes pets are people-friendly, but they don’t like other animals and that’s OK. It’s important to understand these issues first before making the commitment. And please be careful at off-leash bark parks. Many irresponsible people bring sick and aggressive animals there, as many of these parks are unsupervised.

When it’s time to make the move with pets, pay a visit to the nearest Military Veterinarian Treatment Facility and ask them the pet policies at the next duty station. It’s important to be aware of prohibited animals or pet weight/numerical limits for the housing desired. Military pet policies on base are not consistent from duty station to duty station, so it’s vital to know what the rules are as soon as possible.

Equally important as understanding housing policies having is a plan for who could take the animal should there be an unexpected emergency or deployment.

Army Cpt. Kymberley Jurado, assigned to U.S. Pacific Command, understands pet planning firsthand as she deployed to Afghanistan for 15 months in 2008, leaving her Maltese Diva in the care of her grandparents. She encourages pet owners to have arrangements in place.

“Since pets are part of the family, having a plan ensures your animal is taken care of in your absence. If you are single like me and don’t have an ability to leave your pet with a family member, check out local shelters that foster military pets during deployments. The foster families are usually animal lovers, screened by the organization and committed,” said Jurado.

Pets are ideal family member for military families. We take duty seriously, as we swore to protect and serve our nation. This commitment extends to our families too, which includes the furkids. It’s only right that we do what’s best for them and make the best possible choices for their lifetime care.
Theresa Donnelly is an active-duty Navy Lieutenant with 16 years of military service, having done 10 years enlisted with multiple overseas deployments. She is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, an online pet resource for military families living in Hawaii. The blog and Facebook page provide information on moving with pets in the military, boarding information, pet policies in state and federal governments, and overall ways to celebrate the human-animal bond. She routinely partners with local and national animal nonprofits that place special emphasis on military and their companion animals, such as Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots.  Follow her on Twitter @tdonnelly76.

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