Ted was anxious about moving away from home.
Granted, he was only going three hours away, but he had never known anything but his house, his bed and his mother, whom he lived with.
But the day had come, and off he went - his bed, dishes, prized toys and a picture of his mom and him in tow.
Plus, four, 50-pound bags of kibble and two giant trash-cans on wheels to hold it.
Ted clearly wasn’t going to starve.
But the beloved mutt’s life was going to be different. His owner, a sailor in the U.S. Navy, had set off on a long deployment.
And Ted had moved into a foster home.
Ted is one of many dogs displaced by deployment, loved by an active-duty service member owner and no one else at home to take care of him when the call to arms comes.
“In the perfect world, a family member that the dog knows can step in and care for the pets. When that isn’t possible, it’s an organization like Dogs on Deployment that can help,” said Carissa Marks, public relations director for Dogs on Deployment, a non-profit agency that finds homes for displaced dogs like Ted while their owners are serving overseas.
Marks recommends starting very early if you have a dog or cat you need fostered during deployment. Contact the agency as soon as you can to set up a profile and start getting your story out there to look for foster options.
“It may not be right away that someone sees your story,” she said.
Plus, if someone does volunteer, both you and they need to feel like the foster owners and home are a good fit for the pet.
She also recommends immediately purchasing pet insurance, if you don’t have it already.
Without it, you can have a “whole lot of headaches if something unforeseen happens,” Marks added.
Then it’s time to prepare your pet.
Marks recommends allowing the pet to stay overnight and a few weekends with the foster owners. This allows the potential foster parents to familiarize themselves with the animal, too.
Also, take note of what items your dog or cat needs to be comfortable, Marks said.
When Ted finally moved in for the duration of the deployment, he even took the little stand his mother propped his food bowls on. And, he took a photo of himself with his owner, which his foster parents let him look at every day. Sometimes, he even licked the glass, Marks said.
He also came with a “Ted Bible,” as they called it. Inside, his mother explained what treats he liked, what kind of bones he could have, what people food he enjoyed and what kinds to avoid. She even listed his fears and dislikes.
“Who would have thought that a German Shepard, husky cross would be terrified of lizards?” Marks said. “This may have seemed silly at first, but the first time this big, fuzzy dog came charging through the house ki-ya-ing at the top of his doggy lungs and launched into the poor guy’s lap? It was not silly anymore.”
Ted also had a new vet because even though he was just three hours away from his old one, it wasn’t close enough for an emergency. His owner interviewed several before finding one she liked, and that info went into the ‘Ted Bible,” along with explanations of his previous care from his previous veterinarian.
She also made sure her best friend called and checked on Ted and his foster parents periodically during the deployment, to make sure he was happy and had enough food.
Finally, she left her father with pre-addressed envelopes and little gifts – gift cards for dinner out, for example – to show her thanks to the foster parents for caring for Ted so well.
Foster families who volunteer with Dogs on Deployment are not paid and often spend their own money on the animal’s treats and extras, because many are animal lovers themselves. The little thank-you’s that military owners send aren’t a “must-do” but a “want-to-do,” Marks said.
And pets often don’t have to go the full deployment without a visit from their parent. If FaceTime or Skype are available during a deployment, it’s a nice way to keep in touch with your dog or cat and their foster home, Marks said.
“My niece was keeping a friend’s dog while he was in Afghanistan last year. The night he called, the dog was in the middle of having puppies. He got to be a part of it, and her tablet needed the screen cleaned from where the dog kissed it several times,” Marks said.
However, if you can’t see or speak with your pet, leaving them with worn T-shirts that smell like you can help, she said.
Sometimes, the unexpected happens, too.
“I know there was one case where a returning serviceman had a change of circumstances in life and was unable to keep their pet,” Marks said. “The boarder had fallen in love with dog and ended up adopting the pet.”
And sometimes, the worst can happen. There also can be unforeseen illnesses that require more vet care than the owner planned for. There could even be a situation when the dog needs to be put down, Marks added.
“Plan accordingly,” Marks said. “Assume nothing and everything. Include a directive for your pets, just in case.”