WASHINGTON – Military personnel have to leave their families and their homeland to fight the war against terrorism — and some have to leave their pets.
But in Maryland, a military call-up does not have to mean goodbye forever to a pet. State and local officials have set up networks of animal lovers and animal shelters that can step in and care for a pet until its uniformed owner returns.
“At least it’s nice that they don’t have to give them up,” said Mary Ellen Poole, director of the Frederick County Animal Shelter. “I think this is something we can do here, in a small way, to help these people that have to go off to serve.”
Poole’s shelter, near Fort Detrick, has a foster program under which shelter staff and volunteers could provide long-term care for pets of military personnel. No one has left a pet yet, but Poole asked fort officials to spread the word about the foster-pet service and she expects some takers.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture also has a network of veterinary clinics and kennels that can provide temporary homes to pets in emergencies. Program coordinator Jack Casper said the plan was set up in 1991 at the request of the Red Cross, which does not allow pets at shelters after a disaster.
A list of participating veterinarians, shelters and kennels in counties throughout Maryland was compiled by the state and sent to each county. The plan can be activated for local emergencies and individual cases, like a house fire, said Casper.
“It’s like a hotel-locating service,” Casper said. “The arrangements are strictly between the pet owner and the facilities owner.”
The department offered the emergency service for pets of terrorist victims, which could have been left without care for several days, but, “nobody took us up on our offer,” Casper said.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Humane Society of the United States sent information to shelters about what to do in an emergency. Betsy McFarland, program manager for animal sheltering issues at the society, said she had not heard of many military personnel leaving their pets at shelters yet, but she expects that to change.
For some who leave to serve their country, the only option still may be to give up their pet. But that does not mean the pets are being abandoned.
Magellan, a domestic short-hair tabby, was dropped off with the Anne Arundel County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals just a few days after her owner was called up to overseas military duty. “Maggie” has since been adopted by Mary and Larry France of Arnold, who lovingly refer to her as “a cat that likes to curl up in your lap . . . a man’s cat.”
Frank Branchini, executive director of the Humane Society of Baltimore County, said his shelter has already found a new home for a puppy that a military man brought in two weeks ago.
Jean Rattick, director of the Patuxent Animal Welfare Society, said her group frequently places animals with military families. As a result, she was surprised she had not had more military people trying to place their pets in foster care.
People who adopt pets from Rattick’s group are required to sign a contract that they will bring the pet back to be adopted by another family if they cannot take care of it. Rattick said her group “intentionally held spots open,” expecting to place more military pets with families.
Rattick has had one military couple that had to give up a beagle, but that dog has since been placed with another family. The woman works at the Pentagon, and has been working extended hours since the Sept. 11 attacks, and the man was deployed for service.
McFarland said shelters nationwide provided care for pets during the Persian Gulf war. But she said people should try to leave the pet with a family member or friend, and only depend on shelters as a last resort.
“Most of what we’re trying to do is help pet owners keep their pets,” she said.