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Over the past two weeks, the Community Connection has been honored to share information about PACT’s Military Foster Program which provides foster homes for the companion animals of our deploying troops. Whether deployed in peacetime, wartime or for humanitarian efforts throughout the world, PACT is offering our warriors an alternative to surrendering their best friends to an animal shelter. It is without a doubt an act of kindness and support that has been long overdue to our troops.
Buzz Miller’s idea is growing rapidly as more people are learning of PACT’s Military Foster Program. With over six companion animals placed in foster homes in just the first few weeks of 2013 and pending applications for many more placements, Miller expects the growth to continue and surpass last year’s 50 foster placements. “If this rate continues” Miller stated, “we are looking at finding over 100 foster homes for our soldier’s pets which means we need more people willing to foster animals and support PACT financially to help us cover the costs of our administrative expenses, staff and supplies.” PACT’s program is like a well oiled machine. From the initial application process to the reference checks, home visits and introductions, PACT is there to support the foster families throughout the entire experience to ensure smooth fostering for the companion animal until returned to their military owners.
PACT’s advertisements and flyers are popping up all over the Delaware Valley and beyond. Articles have been in various newspapers, on websites and Facebook. The Military Foster Program has caught the attention of radio and television news programs for the past two years and now has the full support of Brigadier General John Gronski of the Pennsylvania National Guard in Indiantown Gap. One only needs to talk to those who have opened their hearts and homes to the military’s companion animals to realize that it has saved these pets lives and impacted both the soldiers and foster families. The reaction of both the pets and the soldiers when they are reunited is priceless.
Valley Forge resident, David Calvaresi, noticed an advertisement for PACT while searching Craig’s List for adoptable dogs. Considering that the program helped those that were sacrificing so much for our country, he and his wife Deborah quickly agreed that it would be the right thing to do and a way for them to give back to our soldiers. They started the application process and soon, when everything was ready, Kathleen Barton brought her two beautiful dogs to meet the Calvaresi’s, their three teenage children and their boxer rescue, Duke. After some initial growling and snarling the three dogs were running around the yard as if they were always together.
“I was anxious over leaving my babies with a strange family so far away,” said Kathleen. “I was so happy to have such a nice family watching my girls.” After Kathleen and Andrew Barton deployed with the Air Force to Afghanistan, Sasha, a 95 pound Cane Corso and Vada, a 40 pound German shepherd quickly became a part of the Calvaersi pack. “To be honest I was a little worried the girls would not want to return home because of how well they had it there. Vada and Sasha are two of the most loving dogs I have ever come across. Who wouldn’t want them?”
Though going from one dog to three is not without its trials, Calvaresi described the four month foster experience as “great.” For David and Deborah’s children, each of the dog’s individual personalities left an impact on them and a bond they will always cherish. “They were sweet and adopted us just like we adopted them. The most difficult part of the whole process was letting them go at the end.”
Kathleen was pleased with David and his family. “The Calvaresi’s were so good with communicating to us from here to Afghanistan. They posted all kinds of pictures from the holidays When we returned from the deployment Sasha seemed to have been caught off guard. She came out, looked at us and hesitated. Once she realized it was mommy and daddy she took off with her sister Vada and just jumped into our arms. They literally jumped on me, knocked me down and we started to cry. They covered me with kisses. It was a homecoming to remember forever.”
The Calvaresi’s were the first foster family to reunite the foster animals with their deployed owners. Kathleen and her husband gave them a token of their appreciation for the care they provided Sasha and Vada while deployed: a shadow-box with a folded American flag that was flown on a combat mission across Afghanistan by one of the pilots who flew Kathleen’s plane. According to Kathleen, the folded flag and certificate were “a one-of-a-kind gift. It cannot be replicated.”
“It is easy to come up with reasons why you can’t participate in this program,” said Calvaresi. You don’t have the time, the resources, the money, etc. The reality is there is a very large need here, and Buzz and his staff make it very easy and provide as much support as you need. If you have a love for animals and want to give a little something back, I highly recommend participating in the program. It is rewarding on so many levels. Knowing that we were able to ease the burden and create one less worry for someone who is sacrificing so much for us and our country makes it all worthwhile.”
Patrice Smith and her husband Max took in Riley, a female Boxer/Treeing Walker Coonhound mix (BT Hound), from a Massachusetts marine that was being deployed to Afghanistan. After the Smith’s 14 year old Lab mix passed away, they yearned for another dog. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer told of PACT’s mission and having been involved with an alternate Christmas shop through their church that provides gifts for various non-profit organizations, they felt the Military Foster Program would be a great match for them. Like most dog owners, they knew first-hand how difficult it was to come home to an empty house that once had a vibrant healthy pet greet them at the door. They couldn’t bear the thought of soldiers going overseas only to come home to an empty house with no best friend there to greet them.
“We have a fairly large wooded yard with an electric fence and live close by to a large Delaware County park. Riley trained quickly to our fence and spent his days fascinated by the critters he spotted. He loved the walks in the park.” When Ashlee and her marine husband Justin arrived to pick up Riley, he went into the protection mode at the sound of the doorbell. Once Ashlee called his name and said, “Riley, it’s us,” his tail started going and he literally jumped up into their arms.” An impressive sight given the fact that Riley was nearly 60 pounds! “It was obvious that they were glad to see each other. This is a way for those of us who can’t help in a tangible way to help those serving our country and their pets. It is good for us and benefits everyone involved.”
Both the Calvaresi’s and Smith’s had completed their first fostering and are now on their second “tour of duty.” The Calvaresi’s have stayed in touch with the Barton’s, even watching Sasha and Veda while the Bartons went on vacation for ten days. They now have welcomed Samson, a boxer into their home. Initial arrangements for Samson fell through with no time to make other arrangements before the soldier was deployed. Sadly, Samson was surrendered to a shelter. When PACT got word, they contacted the Calvaresi’s about fostering another dog. They agreed and Samson was rescued from the shelter the next day and brought to stay with the Calvaresi’s. They never had a chance to meet Samson’s owner but through the wonderful world of technology, they have been in constant communication with him, sending pictures, videos and texts about Samson’s well-being.
The Smiths have also entered their second tour fostering two pit bulls, nine year old Kato and eight year old Karmen for Captain Harris who has recently been deployed. Though Captain Harris’ dogs are well traveled, having been to Italy on a peace-time deployment and various transfers within the States, this deployment would be too dangerous. Patrice and Max took in the 60 and 45 pound dogs with open arms. “They are so loving and sweet” said Patrice. “They give tons of kisses. They will be so hard to give back.”
Max said “It just feels good to do something for someone who risks their life for us.”
Hearing the kind words of fosters and service members are heartwarming. Reading a certificate presented to Buzz Miller by Brigadier General John Gronski of the Pennsylvania National Guard for his efforts in helping the military during deployments was absolutely humbling.
“...The morale of our country’s troops, especially in war zones, is a necessary component to their well being. Many companion animals in this country are treated like family members. Without a close friend or relative to care for them, military personnel are often forced to relinquish their beloved pets to animal shelters, which can result in the animal being adopted or more likely euthanized due to overcrowding....For the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country, this Military Foster Program is crucial to both the animal’s well-being and the owner’s peace of mind...It gives me great comfort knowing that the military personnel we depend on can rely on PACT’s Military Foster Program for their companion animals while they are deployed.”
When Buzz Miller walked away from his lucrative law practice in 2003, he set out to make a difference. For the many companion animals, both cats and dogs, that PACT has saved from euthanasia and the peace of mind he has afforded so many deploying troops, he has definitely met his own challenge of making a difference and will continue to do so. Hopefully, these unselfish acts of kindness bestowed upon our troops by members of our communities will continue. We can all do a little part to ease the minds of our soldiers by caring for their companion animals while they are away. If you would like to help PACT with this program or learn about their similar foster programs with Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia or the Ronald McDonald homes in the Delaware Valley for families of sick children, please, go to www.pactforanimals.org to fill out the foster application or to donate. All information remains confidential and will only be released with permission of the parties involved.