Starting Dogs on Deployment – the perspective you haven’t read

I never thought that starting a non-profit would be so much work… I also never thought that I could find such passion in doing so much work…

2ndLt Sieber, USMC commissioned by her husband, LT Johnson, USN

Back in May 2011, my husband and I were frantic about what we were going to do with JD, our completely beloved and spoiled Australian Shepherd, because due to our military commitments, we knew there was going to be a period that neither of us would be able to watch him. I had just commissioned in the US Marine Corps and had orders to go to The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia. TBS is a six-month infantry-based leadership school that every Marine Corps officer is required to attend. While I was there, I would have to live in military barracks, where I couldn’t keep JD. Even if I could keep him, it would have been entirely impractical since I would spend days-weeks at a time in the “field” (AKA lost in the forest someplace, covered in mud and trying to defeat the “enemy”). Me keeping JD was impossible. My husband, Shawn, was scheduled to go on his second deployment that coming fall. He may have been able to keep JD for a couple months, but he would soon need to make other arrangements for him. What were we going to do?

I call JD my “soul puppy” because of this face

I straight up decided JD had to come to Virginia with me. JD is my “soul-dog.” He is a part of me. I look at him and my heart gets butterflies. I have to fall asleep with my hand touching his fur. I needed to know he would be safe, wherever we would end up keeping him. I needed to be able to visit him every chance I got. The training I was going to go through was going to be hard; I was going to be physically and mentally pushed to my extremes. I knew with my husband gone, losing my house in exchange for a roommate and a barracks room, being on the opposite coast from all my family, I was going to need some sort of comfort. I needed to have my dog! Without my dog, how could I live?! No literally, this is how I felt…

I first started looking into professional boarding facilities. I soon realized this was impractical. Not only was the price for long term boarding up to six-months absurd, but let’s be real. MY dog in a kennel? He is not crate trained, he is not a “dog.” He is a human-being dog, a “fluffalump” as I like to call him (Urban Dictionary: Fluffalump is a fluffy creature who is very soft and huggable). He belongs in a home with free rein to sit on any couch he’d like and have table scraps for rolling over and performing “beg.” No boarding facility. It was silly I even considered it.

Next thought was hiring a professional dog sitter to keep my dog for me and allow me to visit him on the weekends. Surely this would be a great option! Anyone once they met my dog would love to keep him long term. Ahhhh, there was the problem! How on earth was a pet sitter going to agree to watch a dog for six-months without ever meeting the dog? JD was in California. Once we brought him to Virginia, he was staying there, with or without a place to stay. No matter how many emails, pictures or videos I sent, I could not get anyone to agree to a long term boarding contract for my dog! “Unbelievable!” I thought. Oh, I received one agreement, for $1000/month! That pays for a small house where I’m from! Here my husband and I are trying to save for a house…again… Not happening.

What to do? What to do? Time was running out. It was the start of May and my report date was June 1st. Then one day, to our absolute zeal, we received a call from my husband’s mother. She mentioned she had a cousin in Warrenton, VA who loved dogs. Maybe we could call them and ask if they would be willing to watch JD?

I asked Shawn if he knew this family. This was his mother’s cousin, whose husband is a retired Naval aviator much like Shawn. Seemed reasonable they’d want to help close family! Turns out Shawn hadn’t seen this family since he was very young, maybe 15 years ago. I was nervous… how often does family go out on a limb for FAMILY anymore?

JD and his pal, Bailey at the river at Manassas Battlefield Park

I called. I got an answer. M seemed too good to be true. She said she’d be happy to watch JD. She lived in a large house in a rural area. They had a one-acre backyard and owned a female black lab named Bailey, and a senior Jack Russell named Walter. “We’ll see you when you get here!” she said. And that was that.

I was stunned. This woman and her husband agreed to watch my dog, who by the way is not the easiest dog to live with (although it pains me to admit that), for six months. Not only were they taking on my dog, but they knew I would be visiting every weekend I could; staying at their house, eating their food, sitting on their couch – trying to find a bit of normal during a very unnormal time of my life. This family opened themselves up to me and my dog. I was literally so thankful it brought tears to my eyes. They were my saviors.

So Shawn, me, JD and about 100lbs of uniforms and combat boots, fit in my convertible coupe for the near 3000 mile journey from California to Virginia. Did I mention my dog HATES the car? He whines and barks every time we left the freeway, afraid we’d stop, get out of the car and abandon him. Oh, it was terrible. No matter what threats I threw at my dog to calm down, he would not listen. It made for an extremely aggravating trip….

Our family at the red rock state park in Sedona, AZ

Ok, it wasn’t ALL terrible. Our itinerary was based around gas stations, dog parks, and pet-friendly La Quintas. JD has literally visited dog parks across the country! We stopped in Sedona, AZ and went hiking and swimming in the red rock rivers, we walked around Bricktown in Oklahoma City and stayed at the historical Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, KY. Somewhere between windy plains of the mid-west and the humid heat of the south, Shawn and I got to talking, about life, about our future, about JD…

What a predicament we were in, we thought. What would we have done with JD if we didn’t find M? We can’t be the only military family to have experienced this. Just a couple months ago, a friend of Shawn’s had to get rid of his dog of 6 years due to a military commitment. This is a huge problem! We need to do something! And so we did.

While staying at a boutique hotel in Alexandria, VA (JD already dropped off at M’s and already in love with his new pal, Bailey) I opened up my lap top and downloaded the trial version of Adobe Dreamweaver. Shawn and I had already discussed our mission and scope on the drive over and agreed on the name Dogs on Deployment. “It’s catchy,” he would say, “the dogs on deployment while their owners are as well… and it’s ‘DOD!’ It’s clever!” I agreed. Dogs on Deployment it was. I bought a Dreamweaver instruction manual from the local bookshop and we spent our last couple days together building a simple HTML site and setting up a Facebook page. My father bought the domain name for us. We thought we were crazy. Everyone thought we were crazy. What were we really going to accomplish? How does one husband-and-wife team accomplish a goal nationwide? How on earth were two people, one who was deploying and one who was going into one of the most difficult military training schools, going to be able to maintain a website? They laughed. We persevered.

Me doing urban operations waiting for an ammo reload for my M240G Machine Gun

Then Shawn left. I left him at the train stop in Alexandria. I watched him walk up the stairs and catch the train to the airport. I cried. My heart sank. But I put my head up, put on my Service Alphas and drove (and got lost) to MCB Quantico and checked into the school that would change my life. I relied on Dogs on Deployment to keep me sane. Everything around me was moving so quickly and was so chaotic. There was training, there was lack of sleep, there was studying, there was PT, there was the field, and then more field, and some more field. I had to cut my long hair short because we spent so much time in the field that my hair was falling out from lack of care.

And through it all, on the weekends I drove 35 minutes through the beautiful Virginia countryside to Warrenton, pulled up to a big country style home, ate home-cooked meals, cuddled with my dog, took ALL the dogs to the river, and worked on Dogs on Deployment. DoD, DoD, DoD, DoD. Emails upon emails, postings, recruiting, asking for help, linking, networking, finding support! Not giving up! I had to work to help other people who were in my situation. Worse, to help other people that were facing giving up their pets because of the military.

In the Marine Corps we have a saying. “Semper Fidelis.” It means “Always Faithful.” We are always faithful to our troops, to our core, to our country and to ourselves. I found that working on DoD was the greatest way I felt I was achieving that saying. Here we are, ten months later, my husband’s deployment nearly complete, and we are a thriving non-profit with greater goals and success that I could ever have imagined.

I am proud of what we accomplished. I am proud of my supporters. I am proud of the military members that use our site because they love their pets, and they couldn’t imagine life without them.

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