After several starts and stops with potential pups we were finally matched with the Beagle Boyz. Their owner supplied everything we needed for the Boyz to begin their deployment with us, crate, leashes, collars, pre-paid credit card, shot records, food, and snacks. I had been a school nurse for a dozen years so I appreciated receiving the immunizations and medical history which was so much better than ones I filed on school children. I was also humbled and moved by the thoroughness of Captain J with all that she had to do for her own deployment she fully applied her military precision to the resettlement of her Boyz. That’s when I realized how easy it would be to deal with the military, the I’s were dotted & the T’s were crossed.
My husband and I were the unknown variables in the equations. We had to tune into the Boyz’ personalities, establish our ranks, and give the fellows a sense of safety and security. A barrel of monkeys may have been more sedated than two excited beagles. But the Boyz were funny, affectionate, even grateful for the first seven days as we let them establish a routine. We felt so sorry for them since their lives were disrupted but that was our mistake, allowing the inmates to run the asylum.
The Boyz already had a pack order, Captain J., Lt. Tucker, and Private Clancy. However, after a week with us, Pvt. Clancy saw the opportunity for a coup seeking potentate status while Tucker promoted himself to Major and I was on mess hall duty. They got full of themselves with a new woman in the house and upset the whole order. One ferocious fight broke out in the living room, one that would have required a fire hose to suppress had they been outside. Wearing stove gloves for our protection and draping them in blankets, we separated them and retired them to neutral corners. They spent the night in different parts of the house while I stayed up watching the Dog Whisperer on Netflix.
Dawn came and so did their new world order. A “command voice” with an iron fist in the velvet glove declared to them just how the rest of their deployment would play out. With Caesar’s direction I took control. From that day on, the Boyz were greeted with my morning affirmation, “I’m the Leader of the Pack” (temporarily). Being overly indulgent, allowing them to neglect their manners, and not giving them clear leadership simply unleashed them. They got all fouled up and it was a real strain on us.
In no time at all, order was established and they knew what to expect and how to behave. The fault was ours so it was up to us to protect the Boyz from themselves. The next eight and a half months went very, very well. No more outbursts or confusion. Tucker did maintain his battlefield promotion to Major and in a matter of weeks Clancy was promoted to Sargent. They were a honor to the Army, although many former Marines speculated that Clancy had some Marine in him.
All dogs need structure and an obvious chain of command. The dogs from Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet already understand that by virtue of being the dogs of military families. But you can teach old dogs and old civilians new tricks.
It’s Memorial Day 2014, a day of considerable weight for me as I think of those who have given all of themselves for the U.S. It’s a day for looking back and remembering. It was the week of Memorial Day 2013 that we met the our Beagle Boyz for the first time.
A few years ago I’d been thinking of a way to do something proactive for the military, perhaps even for an individual soldier. I wasn’t affiliated with any military organizations, didn’t live near a base and didn’t have any particular skill set…or did I?
Our family was still feeling the loss of our 16 year old Brittany, Shivas Irons, and didn’t want to get into another 16 year dog experience but we missed that canine contribution to our home. My husband and I are dog people and if I do say so myself I’m good with dogs, know basic commands, and scoop poop with polished discretion. I began looking for some sort of pet fostering opportunities when I came across Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet and signed up online. It was a comprehensive application and eventually we were approved as a foster family.
Due to various travel commitments in the winter of 2012/2013 we had to turn down two Pit Bulls, a Boxer, and a Dalmatian. I was beginning to question my own commitment to Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet by wondering if I was chickening out by being so unavailable. I’m sure the Indiana Foster Coordination Liaison, Carol, was about to give up on asking me to foster but I told her to call me at the end of April 2013 when my life would be getting into a more regular schedule. And call she did, on April 30.
Carol had an Army Captain who had two Beagles. Hmm, two Beagles sound easy enough, I thought. Carol put me in touch with the Captain so we could correspond and try to determine if her dogs could fit in well with us. The Captain and I e-mailed for a week or two learning about each other. We discovered we shared similar first names with a “Jo” prefix. She was just a bit older than our children. Her mom and I are nurses. She described her dogs with such tender affection and allowed that they were her children.
It was her passion for her babies that inspired her colleagues to give her a unique nickname, they called her Jo-Momma. When I learned that all my apprehension melted away, it was a SIGN. I had the same nickname of Jo-Momma given to me by the children of my friends as well as my niece and nephews. What are the odds of two Jo-Mommas finding each other? One Jo-Momma must GO serve while giving the other Jo-Momma the opportunity TO serve. It was a MATCH!
As it turned out, my husband, Bob, and I had a road trip over Memorial Day weekend 2013. As I unfolded the map (yes, we are THAT old) I noticed that we could make a two or three hour detour and cruise through Captain Jo’s town. It would be a chance to meet the dogs and the Captain and to see (and smell) her home. Was her furniture in tatters from compulsive chewers? Was her carpeting stained? Did the place have the aroma of a kennel? I called Jo the evening before our proposed surprise visit and she eagerly accepted our rude imposition.
In the early afternoon we arrived at Jo’s home. We were standing on the front porch when a lovely young woman opened the door. The activity behind her was revving up as some unrecognizable, high-speed blurred bodies shot by. However, one object was standing perfectly still as we entered the foyer. What in the world was that creature? “You said she had two Beagles. That’s not a Beagle, it’s a pony,” my husband HISSED in my ear. Jo immediately read Bob’s panic and quickly assured us that the Mastiff/Great Dane mix belonged to a friend and was just visiting. Whoosh and the blur of Beagle bodies made another pass through the house. Jo led us into her cozy living room next to her neatly appointed dining room. Her home was immaculate and all the furniture was intact with no tell tale stains.
No sooner than we were seated, the Beagles swooped into the living room and screeched to a full stop right in front of us. With their high speed performance completed, it was time to turn on the charm and oh, are Beagles charming. Within a few minutes we were all in! But would Captain Jo approve of us? Did she want this middle-aged couple in charge of her Boyz? These dogs would be a handful and could she trust us to care for them? They’re escape artists, noisy, frisky, did I mention noisy? I really wanted to offer our home to Captain Jo’s dogs. More importantly, I wanted to give her the security of knowing we would faithfully care for her pups. She had a tremendous responsibility with a sworn duty to serve the country. After our visit, we waited for her approval and once we received it we waited for the big day when the Boyz would come to stay with us.
Carol Highhouse serves as our National Volunteer Program Director and our IL/IN Foster Coordination Liaison. She is always going above and beyond, accepts additional responsibilities, provides excellent customer service to our clients and FHs as the IL and IN FCL, overall responsible for the organization’s Volunteer Program, follow ups on any cases where there may be an issue, maintains open communications with the National office, follows and adheres to the organization’s official policies and processes, and always submits the Volunteer Service Hours and Monthly Activity Reports in a timely manner. She became a volunteer with Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet on July 14, 2011 as the IN Foster Coordination Liaison.
When asked why she does it, Carol responded with:
“Nearly four years ago, I found out about Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet through an internet search when I was looking for an opportunity to foster dogs. I’ve always loved pets and the combination of supporting the military AND helping pets was too good to pass up. Since I retired, I have time to give back in ways I couldn’t while I was working. Through Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet I have met so many wonderful volunteers, foster families and soldiers. I was able to foster Jasper, a loving and energetic Dalmatian, as well as coordinate numerous foster arrangements throughout Indiana and Illinois. I am currently serving on the National Support Team as the National Volunteer Director, too. Volunteering to help our military service members and their pets is a great “feel good” opportunity. I love to see the reunion photos. It always brings tears to my eyes.”
Thank you Carol for your time, dedication and passion towards our mission. You are a gem to work with and we are very appreciative for your hard work.
Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet like many “All Volunteer” 501c3 nonprofit organizations are only able to operate and accomplish its mission due to the generosity, time, and energy provided by those who wish to make a difference in our society. All of our volunteers are deeply appreciated and are critical in the daily operations of our organization. They are dedicated 150% to supporting our military service member, veterans and their pets.
As a small token of the hard work and dedication these volunteers provide, we simply want to say “Thank you” to the following volunteers.
Our National Volunteer Director, Carol (from Indiana) and her husband John got the opportunity to visit our National Headquarters in Gatesville, TX and meet our CEO. As a virtual volunteer organization our volunteers are all over the country, so it’s a treat when they get to visit our headquarters.
Here is Carol in front of the property with Daisy.
This new role was established to provide additional assistance and guidance to our state level coordination volunteers currently in place plus oversee the efforts within the states assigned to a specific region.
In addition, the Regional Directors will act as a liaison between the State Support Teams in their respective region and the organization’s National Office plus the National Staff, providing a higher level of service to our Clients, their beloved furbabies, foster home volunteers plus our state level volunteers across the country.
The newly appointed Regional Directors for the organization are as follows:
Central Region:Heather O’Brien
Covering: IA, KS, NE, ND, and SD
Southern Region: Cherie Boudreaux
Covering: AZ, LA, NM, and TX
Southeastern Region: Shawna Michaud
Covering: AL, AR, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MS, NC, SC, and TN
Eastern Region: JoAnn Pilston Covering: DE, NJ, PA, WV
I recently had the opportunity to foster a handsome Dalmatian, named Jasper, for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet. During the time I fostered Jasper, I wrote a blog, “Jasper’s Story,” for Tails from the Front Line. The last blog was written the day after Jasper went home with his owner on August 1, 2012. I knew after he left, that I was going to miss him, but I also knew that fostering had been a wonderful opportunity to make a difference for a soldier and her pet.
Now it’s three months later and I’d like to further reflect on the “post fostering” experience in an effort to address the many people who say, “I could never foster a pet. I know I’d get too attached and could never give them back.”
Well, we’ve all heard that one before. But I’d like to suggest that, in fact, you CAN do it, IF you focus on giving, rather than receiving. Do it for a solider. Do it to keep a pet from being surrendered at a shelter. Do it to be patriotic. Do it because you can share your home and give of your time. Don’t do it to get attached to a cute furry pet. Now, I’m not saying that you won’t get attached anyway, but keep your focus on making a difference.
Are you wondering, “But what do you do when the foster term is over and the pet goes home with his mom or dad?” Well, that is a good question and one with more than just one answer.
If you managed to get “too attached” like most people do, then just give yourself some time. I’d say the first two weeks after Jasper had gone home were the toughest for me. I just expected him to be in his chair, or follow me around the house and it felt EMPTY not having him there. But as the weeks went by a new normal developed. And during the first few weeks, I often reminded myself how important Jasper was to his mom and how his presence was critical to her readjustment to life after deployment. I reminded myself that Jasper had been her dog much longer than the months he had lived with me. I was HAPPY for them! A pet being reunited with his owner is a “happy ending” not a sad one. I focused on telling myself, “Good Job! We made it to Mission Accomplished.”
During the transition period I also focused on doing things I had put off while fostering Jasper. Maybe there is a trip you want to take or a project you can’t do when you have dog responsibilities. Remind yourself of the things you’ve been putting off because you didn’t have the time. Do them! Keep busy.
If you have other pets, spend time with them. In my case, my two cats, Alley and Pumpkin, had taken to seclusion with Jasper in the house. It was important to reconnect with them, give them some well-deserved attention, and enjoy them again. That is, after I begged for their forgiveness.
Another option is to go ahead and take on another foster pet. Maybe the next time you can fine tune the type of pet you take into your home to better fit into your family. You could seek out a smaller, older, calmer pet….or maybe just the opposite, if that’s what you think you’d like. Begin another adventure, helping another soldier.
In my experience, as well as many others, the relationship with your foster pet does not have to be over, when they go home. Most of the military service members and foster families bond during the foster period. They continue to stay in touch, visit, and even dog sit or re-foster the pet, if there is a future need. So if you want to continue to be a part of the pet’s life, you probably can, just cultivate the relationship with the soldier.
I have had the opportunity to visit with Jasper and his mom several times in the last three months and it’s always fun. I also look forward to dog sitting opportunities when Jasper will come back to our house, so he can chase the squirrels, bother the cats and sleep in his chair just like he did for months. I know he will always be part of the family, and now, so will his mom.
And I suppose you have still another option, if you really feel soooo sad “post foster” that you think you can’t ever do that again. You could go out and rescue an animal. Save a life and give a permanent home to a homeless animal. There are so many pets who need a forever family and if you adopt them, you will never have to give them back! That could actually be one of the BEST endings for a fostering adventure.
I hope that by sharing my experience, I may convince, some who are hesitant, to try fostering for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet. I firmly believe that if you become a foster volunteer, after the foster term is over and the pet is reunited with their Soldier, you WILL feel good in your heart. Please, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone to volunteer! I’m very glad I did!
It seems only fair to write this epilogue from my perspective rather than Jasper’s, so I have the chance to tell you what this adventure was like for me. My association with Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet began as I started looking for volunteer opportunities when I took early retirement. I also wanted to see if my husband, John, and I could handle the lifestyle change of having a dog.
My son and son-in-law were in the military when 9-11 changed everything. They have both left the service and moved on with their lives, but I still feel strongly about supporting the military and their families. So when I discovered the website for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet, I was immediately attracted to its mission.
John was not as enthusiastic as I was about bringing a dog into our lives. He likes to be able to pick up and go without the responsibility of pets. Our cats are pretty self-sufficient; he rescued them for me, but the funny thing is, both the cats like John best. They must sense I am a DOG person! So I filled out the application to be a foster family, with John’s approval. We figured it would be a good test to see what it was like to have a dog at this stage of our lives. While waiting for a foster pet match, I became involved in the organization on the State level and now I’m even part of the National Support team. Turns out Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet was a really good match for me as a volunteer organization.
The foster experience is now over and my emotions are bittersweet. On the one hand, I am so happy that we made it to “Mission Accomplished;” there is no doubt in my mind that Holly and Jasper belong together and I wish them well on their new adventures – post deployment. On the other hand, I’m expecting our house to feel very “empty” for awhile. Jasper has permeated our home and our lives with “the mission” for 8 months. We threw ourselves into loving and caring for someone else’s dog. Animal lover that I am, I was fully aware I could get “too attached.” Mr. John, on the other hand, was always giving me the reality check. YES, we will miss him, but now that Jasper has been reunited with his mom, I can look back at this adventure and see all of it. The good and …..well, let’s just say, the more challenging parts.
Fostering Jasper has been a most memorable experience. Besides enjoying the unconditional love of a sweet natured dog, the most satisfying part of this adventure was the privilege of supporting our military in a real and tangible way. Many people seemed surprised that I would take on such a long term responsibility for a stranger. But the way I looked at it, the military and their families are always making sacrifices for me. I wanted to give back in some way to support them. If I was willing to help, only if it was “convenient” for me, then that really wasn’t much of an effort on my part. Think how hard it must have been for Jasper’s mom to just hand over his leash to a stranger. That’s pretty much what I was to her at the time. We have since had time to communicate and build a trusting relationship, and I feel somewhat like I adopted her as much as I adopted Jasper. It felt good to be patriotic, to send mail and care packages, to put up the flag with Jasper every day, and to tie a yellow ribbon on the oak tree for Holly.
But I think what surprised me most was the unbelievably fun opportunity I had to speak for Jasper in his Blog and on his Facebook page. It was almost therapeutic to bring his sweet and crazy personality to so many new friends through Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet. I realized after the first week with Jasper, that my personal Facebook page would be taken over with “Jasper” posts if I wasn’t careful. The fact that other foster pets had “community” pages seemed like a good idea. Holly could get her fill of Jasper news long distance, and I wouldn’t subject my personal friends and family to Jasper overload. Jasper’s FB page would be good publicity for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet and bring a community of foster families closer together. The comments and love from fans in all corners of the globe was like an invisible support system. Documenting our foster experience for Holly with daily photographs and stories was a new hobby for me and it brought smiles to many fans besides Jasper’s mom. I even got back into the swing of Scrapbooking because I had such an adorable subject. I can’t tell you how much I will miss interacting with all of Jasper’s loyal fans on Facebook. Thank you, all, for sending your love to Jasper.
Another thing on the plus side of this experience was that Jasper brought a great health benefit to our home. I never imagined we could walk so much! In the seven months he lived with us I conservatively estimate we walked over 600 miles together. We’re in much better shape now than we were 8 months ago. Jasper, you have a great career ahead of you as a personal trainer!
But I do have to admit, it was not always easy. Much like having a toddler in the family, the responsibility was constant, which was a big adjustment for this normally unfettered retired couple with an empty nest and two cats. Jasper’s energy and desire to run was a challenge for retired folks. His intense prey drive, in our woodsy, critter-filled neighborhood, kept us always on high alert. We never did reach détente with the family cats. Pumpkin and Alley moved to the lower level of our house and a baby gate helped protect them during the day time hours. They are ready to move back upstairs and take back their home and enjoy the porch this fall. MOL!
As we expected there will be a number of things to repair, replace and clean now that Jasper has gone home. I imagine I’ll clean up the “nose art” on all the windows pretty quickly, but I think the scratches in the hardwood and some on the screens will be reminders of Jasper for as long as we live in this house. I know that his little white Dalmatian hairs will keep showing up on things for months, but I will just smile and silently send him love whenever they do. I won’t step on dog toys in the night, or have them dropped in my lap when I sit at the computer, and I won’t have to use the lint brush on my clothes when I’m going out. But I’m going to miss the Jasper kisses, the feel of his velvet soft fur, the constant shadow following me around the house, the unexpected laughter he could create, the snuggling on the couch in the evening and most of all, the sight of him running and leaping through the yard. I’ll miss taking his picture constantly and thinking of the next adventure we could have with Jasper!
There is no doubt the positives far outweigh the negatives. We have adopted Jasper and his mom as family members and plan to stay in touch and visit each other. I may not be Jasper’s foster mom any more, but I can always be “grandma” to a granddog!
When talking to others about my fostering experience many people have told me they could never do it, because they wouldn’t be able to give the pet back. To all of them, I say, you can do it, if you always remember the mission and don’t forget the pet has another family. I talked to Jasper, every day about his mom coming home soon, and I know I said it out loud to remind myself, more than I did it for Jasper’s benefit. Focus on the service member not just the pet. We love Jasper, but we fostered him for Holly.
And the rest of the story is that John and I found out maybe we could adjust to having a dog. We both recognized how much they enrich your life and I had to admit that John was, by far, the better pack leader. I’ll try to follow his good example next time. But we do plan to take a couple trips first, and when we finally do rescue a “forever furry family member” it will be one who can leave the squirrels alone and not chase the cats! And as Jasper would say…. Bark Out Loud (BOL)!
Wow! What a morning! I could tell something was up around the house. Carol and Mr. John were getting ready for something, I just didn’t realize what. We had some visitors from the newspaper come to the house and I was still sniffing and meeting them when all of a sudden Carol took me out in the yard, holding me by my collar. The next thing I know Mr. John comes walking around the garage with a lady and when she called my name, I knew it was my mom, Holly. She finally came back! I got so excited!!!! I jumped and kissed and ran circles in the yard. It was a really happy day for me. After many jumps, kisses, smiles, laughs and posing for pictures, we all went inside. The newspaper lady talked to Carol and my mom for a few minutes and then I finally had my two moms and Mr. John all to myself. Carol says the local paper is going to write a story about me and Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet. We went out to the oak tree and took down the yellow ribbon. Carol wanted to give it to my mom as a souvenir. Then all my people finally relaxed and things settled down for awhile. They were just talking and laughing, looking at pictures and eating and talking some more. I started to get sleepy and wanted to take a nap in the sun. But I stayed close to mom’s feet. I didn’t want her to go away again. After a nice visit, everyone started gathering up all my toys and bowls, and my blankets and my bed. I mean all my stuff. I guess that means I won’t be living with Carol and Mr. John anymore. I’m going home
with my mom! Mom told Carol and Mr. John that we could all get together and visit soon. I sure hope so, because I would love to come back and see them whenever I can. I sure had fun living with Carol and Mr. John but I’m sooooooo happy my mom came back for me. I jumped right in the car and it’s off to a new adventure with my mom.
Love to all my Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet friends and love to Carol and Mr. John.
– Jasper, is was fostered in Indiana. He was reunited with his MSM, Holly on August 1, 2012.
To view the video of Jasper’s Reunion, click here.