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Serving in the military is unpredictable. A soldier never knows when they will be uprooted from everything they know and sent to a foreign land. Though most of us relate deployments to wartime, the truth is, thousands of soldiers are deployed during peacetime and for humanitarian efforts year-round. Today, there are over 200,000 troops deployed overseas for various reasons. The people, cultures and languages are strange. They leave behind everything they know and hold dear; everything that provides them the least bit of comfort. The horrors they witness during war and serving on humanitarian missions are memories that will no doubt, affect them for the rest of their life.
Military and health professionals have tried for centuries to understand the psychological damages experienced by our military personnel. They have learned that sometimes, it is the simple things like pictures, letters, videos and trinkets sent to our soldiers overseas that often help them get through each day. It is comforting to the soldier to know someone back home cares. Thanks to today’s technology, the peace of mind afforded to today’s soldier is way beyond what was offered to their predecessors. Skype has enabled the soldier to talk with his or her family, see their spouses and children, and ensure their family that they are okay. And now, thanks to PACT for Animals, they can catch the antics of the companion animal they were forced to leave behind.
For generations, the majority of those being deployed have been in their early to late twenties except during both World Wars, the Korean War and Vietnam where soldiers, both young and old, were drafted. A soldier’s tour of duty can be as little as four months to several years but their notice to deploy is usually only a few weeks to two months. This leaves little time to make necessary arrangements for their personal obligations.
One such obligation is caring for a companion animal. When deployed, soldiers are often forced to surrender their best friend and constant companion to a shelter, unless they are lucky enough to have a family member or friend who will commit to the companion animal’s care until the soldier returns home. Boarding is an option; however, one companion animal could run a soldier between $20 and $50 per day at a cost of $7,300 to $18,250 annually. A one to two year deployment involving two companion animals would be a huge percentage of a soldier’s pay according to Buzz Miller, founder of PACT for Animals; a Montgomery County based non-profit organization founded in 2010 which now helps service members find foster homes for their pets while they are deployed.
Miller stated that “the sad reality is many of these soldiers are single and between the ages of 18-30 and boarding is not financially feasible. They love their companion animal who is often their whole world. They don’t know who to give their companion animal to and are often forced to take their best friend to a shelter where they will be euthanized or adopted to a third party never to be seen again by the deployed soldier.”
Miller also explained that many times a spouse who remains at home will care for the pet; however, additional responsibilities such as a second job to meet financial obligations or raising children as a single parent places undue hardship on the family and they are forced to surrender the companion animal while the soldier is deployed. There are also military families where both spouses are enlisted and deployed within a short time of each other. Whatever the case may be, to many deployed soldiers, losing their companion animal is like losing a child.
PACT for Animals implemented the Military Foster Program in the summer of 2011. Since then, they have placed four dogs in foster homes in 2011, fifty companion animals in 2012 and to date in 2013, three companion animals have been placed in foster homes with another six more military families applying to PACT for foster homes. PACT, which stands for People/Animals=Companions Together, operates in the Eastern United States, mainly within a 2-3 hour drive of Philadelphia. Its founder, Melvin “Buzz” Miller left his lucrative Philadelphia based business and real estate law firm in 2003 to focus on the welfare of animals. The companionship Miller’s own adopted rescue dogs have provided him over the years and what he witnessed at a shelter would change his life forever. He realized when he was in his sixties that even though he was living very comfortably from the proceeds of his law practice, something was missing in his life. Today, he devotes his time and money to PACT; is the president and CEO of Buzzy’s Bow Wow Meow in Narberth, Montgomery County and is a leading national advocate against breed selective legislation, particularly in regard to pit bulls.
A short conversation with a PACT volunteer at the Montgomery County SPCA Perkiomenville shelter led this author to want to know more about PACT. Next week, the Community Connection will go behind the scenes with Miller and his PACT organization and learn how his efforts are changing the way the military prepares soldiers for deployment and provides soldiers peace of mind. It truly is a remarkable story and one that needs to be shared.