Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) -- Although some U.S. military personnel being deployed to the Middle East have had to surrender their pets to animal shelters for adoption if family and friends cannot take care of the animals, others are trying to find foster families for their pets.
In the hurried days before deployment, finding a relative, friend or stranger to provide care for a beloved companion animal for an indefinite period might not be easy. The pet must be compatible with any of the foster family's existing pets and children. Grandma might be willing to care for a 15-pound miniature poodle but a 120-pound Great Dane might be too much for her apartment.
The SPCA Serving Erie County, N.Y., has an existing foster program for animals that need to be placed for a temporary period and has expanded its program to serve the military.
"In the one week in which we announced the foster care program for pets of those being deployed in the military, 175 people have called to be foster families," Gina Browning, director of public relations for the SPCA Serving Erie County, told United Press International's Animal Health.
The trouble is, except for a reserve air base in Niagara Falls, there is no military installation nearby.
"So far, we had no one from the military request a foster home for a pet, although we've had some calls," said Browning.
The SPCA Serving Erie County is the second-oldest SPCA in the nation and has been in existence since 1867. Its 78 staff members are willing to go the extra mile to help a pet or pet owner.
"It's not unheard of for someone working here to go after work and drive to Ohio or someplace to pick up an animal," Browning said.
Pets are evaluated for health and temperament, must be spayed or neutered and have all shots. A steward must be appointed and if contact is lost, the SPCA becomes the primary owner of the pet, according to Browning.
"All participating pet owners and/or stewards must authorize the SPCA to charge a pre-agreed-upon amount on an active credit card, in the event of a veterinary medical emergency in which the steward cannot be reached," Browning said. "We require a pet foster family to provide the pet food, equipment such as kitty litter while the pet owner must pay for a yearly visit to a veterinarian and for any emergency care."
Relocation is way of life in the military and the American Forces Press Service reports that, as everything else in life, there is a "right way" to handle temporary pet adoption.
"The 'right way' from our perspective involves planning in advance for someone to care for the pet because in the military there's always a chance that people will get transferred and while it may not be deployment, it could be overseas or require quarantine," Betsy McFarland, program manager for animal shelter issues for the Humane Society of the United States, in Washington told Animal Health.
"We suggest coming up with a plan long before one is needed and even if it's a relative or friend we suggest putting the agreement in writing so that both parties understand what is expected."
The HSUS has a sample agreement on its Web site, hsus.org, that can be used to protect the pet and ensure the chosen guardian has the legal right to care for the pet during its owner's absence.
"It's important to think of contingencies in advance and have the agreement in writing because although both parties are of goodwill, misunderstandings may occur and we don't want them ending up on 'Judge Judy,'" she added, referring to the TV show.
The agreement should cover important issues, such as what would happen if the temporary caregiver can no longer care for the pet, who is liable for any damage done by the pet, what would happen if the owner is unable to reclaim the pet, and what happens if the pet is injured or dies while in the temporary home.
The HSUS also has a dog or cat personality profile that can help the pet's caretaker understand the pet's particular needs. It includes a list of the pet's likes and dislikes, where the pet sleeps, what the pet eats, what medications the pet takes and any other important information as well as a checklist for military personnel in arranging foster pet care.
Although the SPCA Serving Erie County has a ready-made foster program for an area of 1.2 million people, many small towns near military bases might not.
"Our air base near Portales, N.M., that employs 4,000, is near a town with a population of 34,000, so I don't think the town's animal shelter could accommodate much," Andrea Pixley, who maintains the Web site, 4militaryfamilies.com, as a service to military families, told Animal Health.
"We're getting more requests about pets and it's getting to be a larger problem -- so far, mostly we've been watching each other's pets because there aren't other facilities."
Animal shelters or SPCAs represent one alternative for finding foster programs for pets but they are not linked nationally and can have different functions in different communities.
"The SPCAs in different communities are not related and each can have different policies," Browning said.
To locate a shelter or SPCA, in any part of the country, the Web site, petfinder.com, lists the facilities under a zip code.
Another way to find foster pet care for the military is through the Web sites, netpets.org and felinerescue.net.
"I started the netpets Web site seven years ago to have pet-related information under one roof," Steve Albin, who used to show dogs and ran a pet grooming business, told Animal Health.
"Military Pets Foster Project was started after Sept. 11, 2001 and I didn't know what exactly I got myself into."
Some military bases, such as Fort Bragg, N.C., near Fayetteville, have three shelters nearby but they have thousands of strays, according to Albin.
"Our Web site has fostered dogs, horses, snakes, reptiles, rabbits, ferrets and even a pot-bellied pig," he said, "but I will not foster an animal that has not been spayed or neutered and the pet owner must finance all food, treats and veterinary care for the pet."
He added: "I try to foster the pet as close as possible to the owner's home to allow the pet to get the same grooming and veterinary care. People volunteer after hearing about us in the media and I check out the volunteers with their pets' veterinarian and ask how they care for their pet and if the vet would have its pet fostered with the volunteer."
Albin said foster volunteers and pet owners should to contact him via e-mail first because his phone bill is $500 a month and people often can't get through because the lines are always busy. He said he also has a pet foster agreement that both parties must sign and requires two relatives be named as stewards.
"The trouble is that there's a percentage of the population that won't surrender a pet to a shelter because they think it will be euthanized so they just let the pet loose hoping someone will take care of it," Albin said.
"The same percentage occurs in the military, but if members of the service want to have their pet returned to them upon returning from deployment, there's a way, but they have to seek it out and not do it at the last minute."
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