(ANIMAL CONNECTION) It’s hard enough to find a petsitter for a weekend away. Imagine how difficult it must be for US soldiers to find someone to take care of their beloved pets while on a tour of duty. With no friends or family members able to care for the pets, shelters have been the last resort. Not any more. Read the heartwarming story of how thousands of volunteers are opening their homes to the animals who stay behind while their guardians are serving our country. What an extraordinary way to support our troops! Find out how you can help, too. – Global Animal

Photo Credit: Joe Barrentine, AP

Paw Nation, Josh Loposer

Finding a safe and loving place to leave a pet during service overseas can be a heart-wrenching experience for many members of America’s armed forces. Fortunately, thousands of concerned civilians across the country are stepping up the help lighten the load for America’s men and women in uniform.

Recognizing the Need
While many of our soldiers can rely on friends and family to care for Fido and Fifi, others find themselves in a situation that leaves them little choice but to turn their pets over to a shelter — or worse. In fact, one such heartbreaking situation inspired one very patriotic animal lover to create one of the nation’s largest military pet fostering networks: Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet.

“Our founder, Linda Spurlin-Dominik, was part of a list-serve for people supporting the military through a letter writing campaign,” Guardian Angels’ Jessica Semon tells Paw Nation, “One of the emails that came through was about a soldier’s dog that was going to have to be euthanized because the owner didn’t have anyone to take of it.”

Not only was the dog rescued, but the situation launched an organization that works tirelessly to keep soldiers from having to worry about their beloved pets when they are serving our country abroad.

How it Works
While each military fostering organization is different, the good news is that there are similar programs taking root in almost all of America’s military communities. Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet, for example, has gone nationwide with over 2,500 potential foster homes spread across all 50 states.

To take advantage of the Guardian Angels’ massive network, Semon urges members of the military to fill out an application located in the “Submit a Pet” portion of the organization’s website. From there, a GASP volunteer will verify that the pet is in good health, match the animal with an appropriate foster home, and arrange a face-to-face meeting between the soldier and foster parents.

Taking yet another approach, Pennsylvania-based PACT is currently launching a program that will not only match foster homes with military pets, but also keep soldiers in touch with their pet while they’re overseas.

“Under a contract, you must send pictures of the dog and a narrative about the dog to the soldier at least once a month, to boost their morale,” PACT founder Melvin Buzz Miller tells Paw Nation. Under the PACT’s military pets program, the foster families will actually have visitation rights to their foster pet after the soldier returns home!

For a Worthy Cause
Like most rescue and fostering efforts, these organizations rely solely on the goodness of volunteers to support their cause. According to Semon, none of GASP’s foster homes receive compensation for taking care of military pets. Soldiers are typically responsible for food, medical costs, etc., but these foster families house the pets simply to support the troops.

Fortunately, this patriotic and humane cause is so compelling, it’s easy to find people who want to get involved. “When I’ve spoken about it to anybody, no matter what their walk of life,” Miller tells Paw Nation, “there hasn’t been a single person who doesn’t agree it’s a great program.”

To get involved with a military fostering program, contact a local pet shelter or submit an application on GASP’s “Foster a Pet” page.

Tail Wagging Reunions
To get an idea of just how much something simple like fostering a pet can do to boost a soldier’s morale, you need only to take a peek at some of the photos on GASP’s “Mission Accomplished” page.

“I am so grateful for this organization,” one soldier writes on GASP’s Facebook page, “They found me a great home for my dog and I was able to deploy and return with no worries about my 8-year-old puppy. Thank you so very much, I don’t know what I would have done without the help.”

More Paw Nation: http://www.pawnation.com/2011/04/12/military-foster-programs-watch-pets-during-deployment/