As any servicemember with a pet knows, animals are very important members of the family. One of the most heart-wrenching decisions is having to leave a beloved pet behind. That was the dilemma facing Navy Lt. Jay Morrison regarding his dogs William and Zack.
“I was stationed on Guam at the time and received orders to deploy,” says Morrison. “The options on Guam for dog care are very limited, and many of my fellow servicemembers who otherwise could have helped had pets or children of their own or were geographic bachelors overseas.”
But then he stumbled upon Dogs On Deployment (DOD). The nonprofit was created by an active duty, dual-military couple to meet the needs of servicemembers and their pets and is run by an almost entirely volunteer staff, most of whom are in some way connected to the military. DOD uses an online searchable network for servicemembers to locate volunteers to care for their pets while the servicemembers are away. Since its founding in 2011, the organization has arranged temporary care for nearly 1,000 pets and has volunteer foster homes in all 50 states.
After posting his online profile, Morrison says a “very motivated” Marine Corps couple from Miramar, Calif., expressed interest. The couple had a background in caring for rescued dogs and access to land where the dogs could run and play. Morrison flew out to meet the couple to ensure they were a good fit.
“They were wonderful,” says Morrison, who, while away, could see his dogs via Facebook and receive pictures of them through email. “They also went extremely above and beyond their obligation. When their time caring for the dogs was over, they assisted me in finding follow-on care.”
DOD was founded by husband and wife team Shawn and Alisa Johnson, who serve in the Navy and Marine Corps. The idea for the organization took root after Shawn was deployed and Alisa had to leave for six months of training, forcing them to frantically find care for their dog, D.J. They say their now-thriving pet family - two miniature Australian shepherds, two caique parrots, and two rescue cats - is the inspiration for their continued work, which includes fostering seven dogs since 2009.
“I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to make an impact in the lives of other servicemen and -women,” says Alisa. “DOD has allowed me to have that passion beyond just my service but … in another area of my life: philanthropy [by] helping servicemembers and their animals.”
The organization advocates for lifelong pet ownership in the military by promoting pet owner rights on military installations. It also grants financial assistance to help with a pet's care during emergencies and promotes healthy pet lifestyles through spaying and neutering, insurance options, and vaccinations.
“I have learned so much and have been so humbled by other's plights and challenges and have become not only a better person, but [also] a better officer because the organization has taken the concept of selfless sacrifice to another level,” says Alisa.