Foster program cares for pets left behind when troops ship out

Giving up a pet can be heartbreaking, but even worse is having to give up your four-legged friend to go serve your country.

Sue Miller served two terms in the Army and knows firsthand the hardships of trying to bring two cats with her everywhere she went. Her cats traveled to five states and had to remain quarantined for three months when she went to Australia.

Overall, Miller said she spent more than $5,000 on their travel and quarantine.

"We worked very hard to have some savings because we knew that our pets were an addition to our family, and we had to bring them with us," Miller said.

Miller, who lives at MacDill Air Force Base with her husband, Col. Christopher Miller, decided to become a volunteer for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay because she is passionate about helping surrendered animals find a permanent home.

She is also a foster volunteer for a new program the humane society launched to decrease the number of animals being surrendered by military personnel.

The Foster Military Pets program seeks to provide a temporary home for pets until their owners return from being deployed. The program is assistance for military service members who are unable to find someone to care for their four-legged friend.

Miller said the program is a way to show gratitude to military personnel and recognize their hard work. She also feels it's important for the women and men serving the country to know they can return home and be reunited with their beloved pet.

"Not many people can afford to travel with their pet, so this program gives them a great alternative," Miller said.

Sherry Silk, humane society executive director, said that this year she was asked by Bill Gates of Cox Radio in Jacksonville to become part of the program. Gates and Phil Howort, a radio account manger in Jacksonville, developed the service last year because they had experienced having to surrender a pet because of military assignments.

"My father was in the Army and we had to move a lot," Gates said. "I had to give up my dog when I was a kid. I remember looking for my dog for years."

Silk was eager to be a part of the program because it's a way to show support for the personnel at MacDill. Foster homes and pets go through a rigorous screening process to find the perfect match.

According to Stephanie Surber, foster care coordinator for the society, many of the foster volunteers have family in the military or were in the military themselves. She said it's great to witness military members supporting one another.

Surber said she visits the foster volunteers' home to make sure it's animal friendly.

"This is a fairly new program but we are hoping to expand, we want to spread the word to people in the military," Surber said.

Gates said the Foster Military Pets program is a way the community can get involved and support the troops. Pedigree and Winn-Dixie are sponsors, providing food to the foster homes and giving financial aid to the society.

According to Gates, the humane society was chosen to be a part of the program because it's a "no-kill for space'' shelter and a nonprofit organization.

"Without the support of our sponsors, community members and volunteers, this program couldn't have been possible," Gates said.

For ways to help, call Silk of the humane society at (813) 774-4309 or visit fostermilitarypets.com.

Krystel Knowles can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

Foster program cares for pets left behind when troops ship out 12/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 9, 2010 3:30am]

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