In October 2009 we found out that we (my husband and I both) would be deploying from Ft Riley, KS. We already knew what we were going to do with our son. We began trying to find a family member that would take Maddie and Ranger (our two chocolate labs) – we did not want to split them up. They are brother and sister and have NEVER been apart. We asked my aunt, my parents, friends, our vet clinic. We spent a couple of months trying to figure it out.

My Aunt had several dogs already and wasn’t sure how she could handle 2 more “labor intensive” dogs. At the time Maddie and Ranger were just shy of 4 years old so they still had a little bit of puppy excitement in them. I could tell that she really didn’t want to keep them but that she was going to try to figure out a way in order to keep us from having to give them up.

We continued talking about it for over a month and a half. We started talking to Lab rescue organizations and other rescue organizations that might could help us out. We were having no luck finding a “foster” type situation. We were desperate because these were our kids too and it was breaking our hearts to think that we were going to lose our 2 labs. They are a huge part of our family and we had no idea how we were going to tell our children (7 and 12 years) that there dogs were not going to be around after we returned from Iraq. My Aunt kept doing research trying to find some type of foster organization. She happened upon Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet on the interenet and I jumped on their website.

I researched the organization and looked into everything I could find about them. After discussing it with my husband, we decided to fill out an application. Within just a few days we heard back from a potential family that was willing to take BOTH dogs. I called the Barre family and learned their story and why they were willing to do this for us.

The potential foster family had lost their beloved golden retriever Maggie on Veterans Day of 2009. They were devestated at their loss. She was 12 years old.

The potential foster family was getting ready to make a donation to an “adopt a platoon” organization and she was looking for the link online. She somehow ended up on the GASP website. She began reading through their website. She began thinking that this was something the family could do to help them through the loss of Maggie and determine if they were ready for another dog. She went home and talked it over with her husband and 2 children. The little boy was a little hesitant because he thought it would be too hard to give them back. He was sold though when he saw the “mission accomplished” page and saw the Soldiers reunited with their pets.

So about the same time I was submitting an application for placement, the potential foster home were submitting an application to be a foster family.

They sent me an email, as I mentioned, about 2 days after our application went in. I contacted them and we talked on the phone about our dogs, family, etc. We decided that we would get together at their home 2 weeks later. So, the 2nd week of December we loaded Maddie and Ranger in the SUV and headed to DC. Maddie and Ranger fit right in instantly. They explored the house, romped in the backyard, played with the kids, wrestled with the foster dad and just overall seemed very at ease. We spent 3 or 4 hours hanging out at their house just talking and watching the dogs interact with everyone. Before we left we decided that the foster family would come to our house right after Christmas but before the movers came so that the dogs wouldn’t get stressed out about the move.

Now for the most amazing part of the whole thing – they refused to let us pay a dime for the care of Maddie and Ranger over the year. They said that this was the least that they could do to thank us for our service and sacrifice.

The foster family took Maddie and Ranger and loved them with all their hearts for almost 13 months. We kept in contact through email during our deployment. The foster mom would write me and tell me about the latest adventures of those 2. She would tell me about trips they went on to New Jersey  and would send us pictures and keep us up-to-date on anything that was going on with them. They worked with Maddie and Ranger to teach them new commands, they got to where they didn’t have to stay in their kennels when no one was home, they would just lay at your feet and sleep when they were home. They became very calm, mature adult labs during our deployment.

When we found out exactly when we would be coming home, we looked at the calendar and figured out the best time to link up to get the dogs back. We were trying to figure out a way to get back to DC to get them or fly them home. However, the foster family were kind enough to meet us half-way. They drove from DC to Louisville, KY while we drove from Ft Riley, KS to Louisville (each family drove 10 hours). They refused to let me pay for their hotel room or any of their expenses for this trip either. This planning also allowed the foster family the time to find a new puppy for their family. They planned it so Lily came home the weekend after Maddie and Ranger returned home with us. Lily is a beautiful Golden Retriever puppy.

We have an extension to our family in the foster family. We will never be able to thank them enough or repay them for their kindness. All we can do is hope to pay it forward some day by possibly being a foster family for another needy Soldier.

Had it not been for this organization and the foster family, our family would not be whole today. This wonderful organization and amazing family allowed us to keep our beloved pets. It allowed us the peace of mind of knowing our 4-legged kids were being taken care of as well.

I have told anyone that would listen about this organization. I have tried to find ways to spread the word on post. I am actually going to give the animal hospital on Riley as well as the local area the website so that they can put up flyers in their clinic. The foster family included Maddie and Ranger in their Christmas card photo for 2010 and put the Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet website on their Christmas card to help spread the word.

– Written by U.S. Army Captain