Major Randall G. Baucom was coping with a divorce and the death of his mother when his deployment to Iraq came up in 2006. He couldn't bear losing his two dogs, Buster and Little Girl, but didn't see any other option.
What happens to a servicemember's four-legged friend when he or she is deployed? Some are lucky enough to have a family or friend take custody for a year. But for many pets, there is no one able or willing to take them in while their owners are serving. As a result, many end up in animal shelters or with the local humane society and the servicemember ends up losing a companion.
That sad reality prompted Linda Spurlin-Dominik and Carol Olmedo to start Guardian Angels for Soldiers' Pets (GASP), a nationwide network of volunteers who provide a foster home for pets of the deployed.
It all started in January, 2005 when Spurlin-Dominik saw a posting on a military-support message board about a deploying servicemember who didn't know what to do with his dog, Scooby Doo. Because he had no friends or family who could step in, the soldier's only option was to relinquish his dog to a shelter and hope that they were able to find a permanent home for him. He knew that euthanization was a real possibility. Spurlin-Dominik believed that there were members of the military across the country in similar situations and wanted to find a way to help. GASP was her solution.
"These pets belong mainly to couples who are being deployed at once and single owners who are in the military," she says. "Of course, parents or other relatives will take in their children. But pets are often another story. This is a way to find these pets a good home until they can be reunited with their owners." (Read about the military's Family Care Plan to ensure children are cared for during a parent's deployment.)
The first animal officially fostered through GASP was a Chihuahua named Johnny Cash from Fort Hood, Texas. More than six years since its founding, Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet oversees a national network of about 2,600 potential foster homes willing to care for the pets of active-duty troops, Guardsmen and reservists during deployment. The non-profit is managed by national and state management volunteer teams across the country. (Apply to foster a military pet.)
"We do not charge the military or veteran pet owner a fee for our services nor do we ask them for donations in order to provide these services," says Spurlin-Dominik. "The only thing we ask is the pet owner be responsible for costs related to their pets' care."
To date, GASP has played matchmaker for more than 300 military families nationwide with people willing to take the pets into their homes.
Barbara Lawrence, a retired doctor and animal lover, became a foster pet parent to two large dogs when a military mom was left behind with a young child and another on the way while her husband was deployed. She quickly grew overwhelmed and moved in with her parents temporarily. But she needed a place for their large two dogs. The family had almost resigned themselves to giving up their dogs when Lawrence agreed to foster them on her 3-acre Aledo, Texas farm for a year.
As for Major Baucom, Guardian Angels was able to find a foster family to care for Buster and Little Girl during his 15 month tour of duty.
"Members of the military are putting themselves in a position that could force them to face the ultimate sacrifice and they shouldn't have to give up their pets, too," says Spurlin-Dominik.
> Search our selection of local pet sitters near you.
> Read more about care resources for military families.
> Learn the 10 things to do before deployment.