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Soldiers Reunite with Pets, Thanks to Free Foster Program

Monday, May 27, 2013
Many soldiers face a difficult choice when they’re called up to serve — whether to surrender their beloved pets to a shelter.

woman, dog, adoption

Memorial Day is when we pay tribute to the brave men and women who volunteer in the military to defend our freedom as Americans. But many soldiers face a difficult choice when they’re called up to serve — whether or not to surrender their beloved pets to a shelter.

Andrew and Kathleen Barton, both with the New Jersey Air National Guard, were headed to Afghanistan in 2011 and had no one to care for their dogs Veda and Sasha. They knew that leaving the Italian mastiff and the Doberman-German shepherd mix at a shelter in their hometown would lead to 1 of 2 possible outcomes: adoption or euthanasia. Each year, 8 million pets enter shelters in the U.S., but only 4 million ever find homes.

“These dogs are my life, my children,” says Kathleen. “I had a week to find a solution and was at a point that I didn’t want to go if I had a choice.”

Kathleen went online and learned about Buzz Miller, a retired attorney in Philadelphia and founder of the PACT Military Foster Program. Miller founded the nonprofit in 2010 to provide free foster care to the pets of deployed servicemen. PACT stands for People Animals Equal Companions Together.

He arranged for Sasha and Veda to be fostered by the Calvaresi family in Pennsylvania. The dogs soon felt right at home with the family and their boxer, Duke, even started going to work with David Calvaresi every day.

dogs, foster, familiesDavid says fostering helped his daughter and 2 sons learn the value of giving back. They friended the Bartons on Facebook, sending them photos of the dogs dressed up for the holidays, as well as real-life care packages from home.

“It was important that they learn about the sacrifices others make for what we have,” says David.

When the Bartons returned home safe from their deployment in 2012, they presented the Calvaresis with a special commendation from their squadron. The Calvaresis received a retired American flag that had accompanied a military aircraft on a mission over Afghanistan as a special thank-you for keeping the pets out of harm’s way.

“They were just so good with the dogs and there’s nothing I can do to say thanks,” says Kathleen.

Nearly 50 military families have been assisted by PACT to date. It takes an army of volunteers to ensure that foster homes are well suited for the type of pets in need and to cover costs like pet transport, spay/neuter surgery and medical care.

“This is a win-win situation for both the foster parents who open their hearts to these pets and the solider, who does not have to surrender his or her best friend,” says Miller. “PACT helps strengthen the human-animal bond and ensure that there’s a happy ending.”

Editor’s note: The Calvaresis are now fostering another dog for a serviceman who is deployed to Kuwait.

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