With the growing number of military personnel deployed overseas, more families at home are coping with the absence of a loved-one. The strain is emotional and often financial as well. While a network of support systems is in place for at-home families — from resources available on base to informal networks of other spouses and families who remain at home — one population is largely forgotten about: domestic pets.
For deployed troops without available pet care, the options are few and, often, the choices are grim. At the animal shelters and no-kill rescues where departing pet-owners often turn, the deployment is equally overwhelming. ‘We’ve seen our rate of owner-surrendered pets double during the deployment,’ said Linden Spear, director of The Haven animal shelter of North Carolina, ‘and we are overwhelmed.’
The Haven, North Carolina’s largest no-kill animal shelter, is situated near Fort Bragg, Camp LeJeune, and Pope Air Force Base. The animal shelter at Fort Bragg will take owner-surrendered pets, according to Captain Josh Hinkle, the Fort Bragg veterinarian, ‘But that means they are surrendering their ownership. That [the pet] no longer has an owner.’ The shelter on base is a kill-shelter and they put pets down if they cannot find new homes for them. ‘Pet ownership is about personal responsibility,’ said Hinkle, ‘We work with the soldiers to find new homes, but unfortunately if we can’t find a new home, the pet is put down.’
According to Spear, on-base animal shelters have been suggesting that soldiers turn animals over to animal control. ‘Animal control has a 90 percent kill rate for dogs and a 95 percent rate for cats,’ noted Spear.
The deployment has left shelters like The Haven short on funds, foster homes, and volunteers. Another complicating factor is that a majority of the military surrenders are medium to large size adult dogs, which are difficult to adopt out. ‘Puppies and small dogs are easy to place,’ said Spear, ‘but not bigger, older dogs.’ When some inquirers discover that no-kill shelters are full and animal control is their only option, they release their pets into the woods, said Spear. ‘They know that their cat, and even probably their dog, has a better chance of survival in the forest than at animal control.’
Some humane societies and no-kill shelters near military bases are not seeing the same increase. A shelter near Keesler Army Base in Biloxi, Mississippi said it had had a few military surrenders, but wasn’t overwhelmed. The Humane Society of Grand Forks, North Dakota has also seen minimal impact, ‘We haven’t had too many,’ said a volunteer at the shelter, ‘most military members here with pets have family who can care for them.’
But The Haven, triaging for the three large military bases around it, is feeling the deployment burden. To complicate the situation further, shelters on the eastern seaboard, including The Haven, have extended help to animal shelters in Florida who have been affected by the hurricanes. ‘It’s a blood-bath in Florida,’ said Spear, ‘We’ll be taking some of their animals up here, too.’
— Laine Bergeson
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