When military commitments arise, it can be stressful making sure personal responsibilities are taken care of. When it comes to four-legged family members, furry or scaly, having the best possible care at little or no cost can sometimes be nearly impossible to find.
Helping take-in military members’ fur babies, 17 current volunteer families and Department of Defense members focus on the commitments they made when they raised their right hand. Though they may have an obligation to their country, the affiliates of the non-profit organization Paws Abroad, said they also have an obligation to their pets.
“I knew the military lifestyle would be challenging when I joined and brought my dog Keira with me,” said Capt. Annaleis Hunter, founder of Paws Abroad. “I didn’t want those challenges to keep me from serving my country or force me to question whether or not I could keep her, and I don’t want any service members to have to face that same agonizing question.” Paws Abroad has shown to be a success through positive experiences and is well supported by volunteers, though it is still a new organization that began in November 2014.
“Recently, we had someone come in who couldn’t get their pet into (temporary living),” said Senior Master Sgt. Cathlyn Clark, treasurer of Paws Abroad. “She contacted us and we had a temporary foster home for the pet almost instantly. That’s how awesome our volunteers are.”
It can be difficult and expensive for military members to find someone to take care of their pet when it comes to temporary duty assignments and deployments. Difficulties such as these
are what sparked a unique friendship between a local national and an Airman, and ultimately, the organization was born.
“I met Annaleis at the dog club where I work,” said Patrick Eckerle, vice president and local resident of Paws Abroad. “A few months later she asked me to look into boarding for Keira when she was going on a (temporary duty assignment). We looked around and saw how expensive it was, so I decided I would take care of her. That was the first step we took to start Paws Abroad.”
The organization’s mission is to form bonds between the local nationals and Americans. Eckerle, also a former soldier in the German military, said he understands the importance of helping service members find a temporary care provider for their pets because he experienced a similar situation with his dog.
Along with being founder of Paws Abroad, Hunter is a service member and pet owner, therefore she has experienced both sides of the organization. While on deployment, she can rest easy and focus on the mission knowing someone she trusts is taking care of her dog, Keira.
“The most Paws Abroad has helped me is by being a beneficiary of the services it offers,” Hunter said. “Keira has been with me on every assignment through three (permanent changes of station), and has lived in three separate countries in four years. She’s family, and you don’t just let anyone take care of your family. Through Paws Abroad, I was able to find a German foster family that Keira adored and I trusted to take care of her during my deployment.”
Paws Abroad acts as a facilitator between pet owners and volunteers. Once an owner is in contact with a volunteer, meetings can be set up between them to see if their pets are compatible, if necessary.
“Right now, we’re gaining volunteers through Facebook and word-of-mouth,” Clark said. “We’ll post a photo with information about the animal, and then we’ll get messages from people who are interested in taking care of them. Once we receive the messages, we’ll direct them to our website and provide them the owner’s contact information. Everything is worked out between them whether it’s money for (veterinary) bills, daily nutrition or the amount of time they’ll be watching the animal.”
Paws Abroad is always looking for volunteers to temporarily foster pets. Anyone wanting more details or to volunteer can apply through the Paws Abroad’s website, www.pawsabroad.org, or visit Paws Abroad’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pawsabroad.