There are many reasons people volunteer for Dogs on Deployment; it’s a passion, a calling, or they just like dogs, cats, and animals; or they like helping service members. But, there are also many reasons why people may feel hesitant. Perhaps they are worried about the impact to their daily lives. Perhaps they are afraid they won’t be able to handle something intangible about it.
Well, there’s no reason to wonder what the experience is like for a single moment longer. Carla, one of our tried and true DoD boarders is here to share her wisdom with you about the ins and outs of what the experience is really like. We “sat down” with Carla (hey, email interviews count, right?!), and decided to share her experience with you, to help you get a better idea of the whole process! She worked, most recently, boarding Gunnar, which she’ll talk about below:
Carla, why did you sign up to be a DoD Boarder?
Dogs on Deployment combines two of my greatest passions: supporting those who serve in the military and helping animals.
Do you have any military experience or relationships? What motivates you?
On the military side, my dad is a Vietnam Vet, and I grew up with a deep respect those who served. I remember going to POW/MIA events a young adult and always attending Memorial Day and Veterans' Day Services with my family. This instilled in me a desire and support our veterans in whatever way I could. As I got older, I donated to military organizations and sent care packages to our troops.
On the animal welfare side, about ten years ago, I also started volunteering with rescue organizations. I always had pets growing up (dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs and fish), so it seemed like a natural thing for me to foster animals and help to find them homes.
When I learned about Dogs on Deployment, I was thrilled! I thought – here is my chance to do exactly what I want to do! Help our military service people and also help animals! Luckily, my husband, Jon was also completely on-board when I told him about the program. Once we decided that we could do it, we signed up, immediately!
How long did it take before you were contacted by Gunnar's owner? Or, did you contact him first?
Jon and I had a Dogs on Deployment dog named Axle for our first board[ing] [experience] and it was awesome! We had a reunion with Axle in his dad, James, in June, and we knew that we wanted to have another dog, starting in September. So, as soon as Axle and James were reunited, I started looking at the website to see who needed someone to board their pet. There are always multiple factors to consider, so I wanted to start looking early to ensure we could help someone.
One thing that I am most impressed by in reading the potential boarders profiles is how honest they are about their pets. When I read Sara's description of Gunner, I thought he would be a great fit for our family, and time-wise, it was very convenient. Also, Gunner is a big dog, and I know that a lot of people might not feel comfortable, or have the space for a larger breed. Luckily, we have the space, and we love big dogs! I reached out to Sara and offered to meet up with her to see if Gunner would get along with our dog, to see if she would feel comfortable with us as a boarder, and to see what Gunner was like in terms of personality and training.
**Dogs on Deployment recommends this meet and greet as a standard first step towards ensuring a successful boarding experience, especially in homes that already have pets. Carla, as an experienced boarder, was definitely on the right path to a successful experience by not only ensuring that Gunnar and her dog would get along, but that Sara felt comfortable with the environment. (INSERT LINK ABOUT MEET AND GREET)
Tell us about your first encounter with Gunnar and his owner?
Honestly, the first meeting is a little strange; it’s like a blind date! We had exchanged emails and a few texts with pictures, but even with that, that first meeting is nerve wracking and everyone is nervous! It is a very overwhelming feeling as a boarder to think "Ok, this dog might be living with me for the next few months!" and I'm sure on the opposite, the owner is thinking "Can I really leave my most prized possession with these people?"
Sara lives in San Diego, so she drove up with Gunner and one of her friends. We took the dogs on a walk and we showed Sara the park where the dogs play, the daycare Gunner would go to once a week with our dog, and let the dogs (and us) get to know one another. We tried to give her a sense of "This is what your dog's life will be like if he stays with us."
Then, comes the awkward part – the conversation of "Yes, this is a match!" or "No, it isn't!" Luckily for us, it was a match! Gunner and our dog, Donovan, got along fine, and once Jon and I had spent some time with Gunner, we knew he was a happy-go-lucky guy and he would be fine in our family. We filled out the contract* and after that, we went to lunch and celebrated!
**Dogs on Deployment strongly recommends a contract between boarder and owner. It protects the interests of both parties regarding financial responsibilities, care and other questions.
I have to say, that one of the most beautiful aspects of DoD is that fact that it's all about trust and goodwill. I think it might be hard for a pet owner to believe that someone is willing to watch their animal, love them like their own with no "reward," but with DoD, that is exactly the case. As boarders, we know what we are doing is a genuine service, but we feel that the greater service is being done by the owner as a member of our military. Watching their pet pales in comparison!
Did you have any integration issues or problems with Gunnar? Or did he immediately "fit right in?"
There is always a bit of transition time with any new pet. Gunner had to get used to our schedule, the random noises that he wasn't used to hearing, living with another dog, but overall, he is a really sweet boy who with minor training (not being allowed up the bed, for instance) has adjusted very well.
Describe your daily routine with Gunnar? How has your life changed because of Gunnar's presence?
Our life has really not changed that much at all. Instead of walking one dog, we walk two. Instead of feeding one dog, we feed two. The jump from one dog to [two] isn't that much different. Actually, my husband and I joke that now we both have dogs to cuddle and belly-rub, so overall, it's fun for us to have more love to share!
Has it been difficult or easy, or somewhere in between being a DoD Boarder?
Some days are hard; some days are easy. Such is life! Are there days that I wish Gunner would sleep in a bit more? Yes. But, when he's curled up in ball, super-cute on the couch, or playing tug with Donovan, or just looking at you with that face…we can't help but melt!! And, even on the days that are rough – that fact is, I'm not the one on a Navy vessel protecting our country – so that idea always puts our complaints in perspective. Also, I know that Sara is completely and utterly grateful, and that without us, who knows what would have happened to Gunner? When I think about that, the not sleeping in isn't that big of a deal!
How do you keep in touch?
Sara actually just left, so I haven't had any contact with her now that she is deployed. Before she left, I would text her pictures and videos, and I created a hashtag for her to follow on Instagram called #gunnerisgreat so she can follow his adventures. With James (Axel’s dad), email was the best way to communicate, so I will more than likely email her pictures to keep her posted on Gunner. I try to send something at least once a week. James always said those emails were the highlight of his week, so I am hoping to do the same for Sara.
How will the reunion make you feel?
I'll DEFINITELY cry! I can't want for Sara to be back safe, and have her dog by her side again. Gunner is going to LOVE seeing his mom and I think he will be a total spaz! For us, the reunion is the best gift of all!
Any closing thoughts:
A lot of people tell us what we are going is wonderful, and for our boarders it is, but it is for us too! We love being able to give back and support to our vets. I always tell people that ask, if you are willing to open your heart and home, this experience will change your life in all the best ways possible. I encourage everyone to look on the DoD website and find a pet that matches their family! Our vets deserve to have their animals taken care of, because they are the ones taking care of us!
This story has been brought to you by PetSmart: We are proud to support our veterans and their pets. At PetSmart we love pets, and we believe pets make us better people. PetSmart will be the trusted partner to pet parents and pets in every moment of their lives.
At PetSmart, we believe in supporting organizations that make communities vibrant and strong," said Jennifer LaPlante, district leader for PetSmart. "We're proud to partner with Dogs on Deployment in an effort to enrich the lives of more people through the power of pets."