A PACT to stay together

Pet foster families provide hope, relief for military personnel

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Mary Strickler of New Jersey plays with Clover, a 17-year-old boxer mix, and Roscoe, a 13-year-old Australian shepherd mix, in December after agreeing to foster them for a military counselor from Boise who is working in Japan for several months. Strickler volunteers with PACT, a national foster network that finds temporary homes for pets of military personnel and hospital patients in crisis.

Military men and women sent overseas shouldn't have to say "goodbye" to their four-legged family members.

This is the sentiment of People + Animals = Companions Together (PACT), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting military personnel by providing safe, free, loving homes for their pets while they are away.

"Being a foster home for PACT not only is an amazing experience personally as a pet owner, but also is a huge relief to our nation's military personnel," said PACT assistant director Deborah Bedoll of Philadelphia. "When somebody is deployed overseas or goes to training, they may not always have someone to take care of their best friends. The last thing I want for someone who goes to risk their lives for our country is for them to have to surrender their best friend at a shelter and never see them again."

PACT is based in Pennsylvania, but Bedoll, originally from Seattle, said the organization is hoping to expand across the country to provide its services to more people, especially in the Northwest.

"We just don't have as many foster programs in that area as we would like," she said.

The organization recently experienced a success story from Idaho when a Boise military counselor was sent to Japan for nine months. Through PACT, he was able to find a temporary home for his two senior dogs, Clover and Roscoe. Bedoll said while there are fosters in Colorado and California, there are none in Idaho, and Clover and Roscoe were flown to a New Jersey foster home that best suited their needs.

"We desperately need fosters. I don't care what a foster is individually as long as they take care of the pets," Bedoll said, explaining that more foster homes nationally means less flying transport for the cats and dogs, and that's a good thing.

Bedoll said one crisis situation happens when someone gets divorced overseas and animal companions become caught in the crossfire, making it difficult for those who are away to find new temporary homes for their buddies.

"They can't just come home from Afghanistan to take care of their pets," Bedoll said.

One such story is that of U.S. Army Specialist Adam Walton who became entangled in a divorce while he was deployed for a year in Korea. His soon-to-be-ex-wife told him she no longer wanted his much-loved Great Dane, Ares, and she had given the dog away.

"Adam, about to lose his wife, daughters and dog while he was deployed, desperately contacted PACT for Animals to see if we could help," Bedoll reported.

His parents tracked Ares down and PACT was able to find him a temporary family. Nine months later, Ares was reunited with Walton, who had feared he would never see his canine companion again.

Uniquely, PACT also helps find pet fosters when people are hospitalized. Bedoll told of a little boy who refused to get heart surgery until he knew his dog would be OK, and thanks to PACT, his parents didn't have to get rid of his pet.

"We're here to make sure that people who desperately love their pets don't have to lose them in a crisis," Bedoll said.

PACT requires foster families and pet owners to fill out detailed applications. In-home inspections are conducted, references are contacted and fosters must check in with the pets' owners to ensure the animals are happy and healthy. PACT is primarily a volunteer-run organization and fosters are not paid, but pet owners are responsible for costs of pets' food, medical care and transport to and from the foster homes.

"Together, we give hope to our nation's brave military personnel that their best friend will be happy and heathy and waiting for their return," Bedoll said. "We save the lives of their family."

For information, photos, videos and how to get involved, visit www.pactforanimals.org.

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