Passion, Dedication and Commitment for Dogs on Deployment Continues in 8-Year Run

For the remarkable eighth consecutive year, Dogs on Deployment proudly accepted a generous donation of $19,000 from the Passion, Dedication, and Commitment Golf Tournament. This enduring event takes place, rain or shine, annually at the scenic Sleepy Hole Golf Course in Suffolk, VA. Over the years, this tournament has successfully amassed nearly $95,000 in funds, all dedicated to providing support to service members and their beloved companion pets. The heartfelt initiative is orchestrated by the compassionate couple, Katie and Rich Humphrey, natives of Virginia. Their profound reverence for two universally cherished aspects – the military and dogs – serves as the driving force behind this meaningful endeavor.

In keeping with tradition, Katie Humphreys opens the ceremony by leading the group of 144 loyal golfers in the pledge of allegiance sworn to Old Glory waving red, white and blue against a bright green field and an overcast sky. Many of those in the audience are veterans themselves, and they hail from all over the US. Katie and Rich have done an amazing job amassing support for Dogs on Deployment from Texas, Tennessee, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, South and North Carolinas, as well as all over Virginia state.

A surprise celebrity guest joins Dogs on Deployment at the PDC Golf Tournament and brings some weather-related news.

With “liberty and justice for all” echoing in the air, Katie introduces the gathering to a primarily familiar audience, while also extending a warm welcome to new faces, such as Frances Peyton, a meteorologist from 13 News Now (WVEC). An air of nervous anticipation permeates the scene as Frances vigilantly monitors the radar, acutely aware of an encroaching red-storm cell that threatens to drench an event that Katie and Rich laboriously plan each year, a process that ignites as early as January.

Katie passionately describes the experience of hosting the PDC Golf Tournament as an annual family reunion for herself and Rich. With vivid detail, she paints a picture of the extensive groundwork involved, encompassing not only the orchestration of a grand golf tournament, securing prizes, and orchestrating accommodations, but also curating the familial aspects that make the event special. 

Katie and Rich have undeniably spearheaded a grassroots movement, where the majority of sponsors generously contribute at the $100 level, resulting in a remarkable collective impact. Among the standout sponsors that have played a pivotal role in ensuring the ongoing success of the PDC include: Smithfield Station, Greyboy Pet Prints, First Team Toyota, Sears Garage Solutions, Towne Bank, and Solo Inc. Their substantial contributions have truly made the PDC a resounding success year after year.

“As the time approaches the first Friday of August, you get excited,” Katie shares. “You’re watching the weather, trying to make sure everything is just right.” Her gaze shifts to Peyton, who nervously intertwines her fingers, harboring apprehensions about the looming possibility of torrential rain once the event concludes, and the audience laughs in camaraderie.

“Finally, the day arrives and you share hugs – and if it’s with me, it’ll be a lot of hugs,” Katie has a warm heart that draws you into her words. “You reminisce about past memories, and you laugh in celebration to make new ones for the future.” Her voice becomes more somber, “But I want you to imagine that you go to that reunion, and you realize that one of your family members is not there and might never be there again.”

The support from the supporters of the PDC Golf Tournament to Dogs on Deployment comes from the heart.

Katie hits at the core of the work Dogs on Deployment does. For some service members who have 4-legged family members, this nightmare situation can unfortunately turn to reality all too quickly when an unexpected deployment or military move forces a service member to have to consider relinquishing their pet to a shelter, knowing they will never be reunited again.

Katie reminds us that there’s hope for these service members, “Thanks to the work of Dogs on Deployment, that doesn’t have to be the case.” Through the expansive network established by Dogs on Deployment, foster families step in to offer dedicated care for these cherished pets. This means that upon their return from deployment or during challenging times, service members can joyfully reunite with their entire family, human and four-legged alike. Concluding her statement with a round of applause, Katie brings a group of uniformed men and women and their faithful companion dogs onto the stage. These heartwarming reunions stand as the very essence of Dogs on Deployment and the purpose that the PDC Golf Tournament proudly supports.

Gunnersman First Class Michael Bernard has proudly served in the US Navy for a distinguished period of 17 years. Alongside his dedicated service, he embraces the role of a devoted father to both his human children and a cherished pit bull/lab/mutt named Fish. Throughout his commendable journey, Bernard has been fortunate to have his wife capably holding the fort at home during his deployments. Her steadfast presence ensures the well-being and safety of Fish, along with the entire family, despite facing multiple deployments.

While Bernard himself might not require the services of Dogs on Deployment, he profoundly comprehends, from his vantage point as a military leader, the significance of amassing valuable resources to aid the service members under his charge. He firmly believes that by alleviating a singular stressor from the lives of his sailors before they embark on deployments, a palpable enhancement in individual well-being resonates throughout the entire unit, thereby bolstering overall morale. Bernard says as we walk to the first hole, “If leaders can remove one stressor from their sailor’s lives before a deployment, then ultimately, by improving one person’s well-being, you’ve improved morale in the entire unit.”

Bernard has had the privilege of directly observing Dogs on Deployment serving as a vital safety net for his fellow sailors. Individuals like Chief Bridgit Stratton, whose journey saw her deployed for the greater part of 2022. With new orders relocating her to Virginia, she embarked on this transition accompanied by her beloved German Shepherd/husky mix named Bear. In a new town where familiarity was scarce, Chief Stratton found herself in a quandary. Thankfully, her fellow sailors stepped in to offer guidance, suggesting she explore the resources provided by Dogs on Deployment. “I was able to find Karin and Mike Pettinger, and they took great care of my pupster while I was gone.”

Volunteers like Karin and Mike make Dogs on Deployment’s mission possible.

Karin and Mike, from Virginia Beach, VA, stand side-by-side Stratton and Bear, with their current deployed dog, Nina. Nina is a retired bomb dog, who was adopted by her former military handler who is currently deployed. “We’ve been at this for awhile,” says Karin with pride of her veteran DoD Boarder status. The couple have boarded 16 of the total 2,830 military pets that have found temporary care offered by Dogs on Deployment’s network of people who have opened their homes to the pets of America’s Heroes during service or hardship.

“We started to foster through Dogs on Deployment because of our own experience adopting a dog that had been relinquished by a servicemember,” Karin says sadly of her late-dog Emmett. “We loved him, but we never forgot that he had another owner that loved him first.” Karin and Mike, like many other DoD Boarders, joined the network because they believe no service member should ever have to surrender their pet due to service to our country.

Karin encourages anyone that can home an extra pet – be it dog, cat, ferret, parrot or snake – to sign up to be a DoD Boarder. “It’s like this great scam. You get to love on the dog, but you don’t have the long term commitment.” She admits that it isn’t always easy, and not all dogs are well-behaved, but you do it for the greater purpose. “When that reunion happens, and the dog is jumping with excitement, and people are crying, and that service member is home,” Karin’s words bring emotion to the core of what Dogs on Deployment offers, peace of mind to America’s Heroes. “The gratitude you get from that service member is worth every challenge.”

Karin and Mike have been supporting the PDC since Katie and Rich first selected Dogs on Deployment as their charity of choice in 2016, when former Hampton Roads Coordinator, Myra Smith who passed the baton to Christine Burgoyne, made the partnership possible. “It’s really incredible what they’ve built in this community,” Karin remarks of Katie and Rich. And it’s true, the pride is visible as all 144 golfers wear a Dogs on Deployment logo on one sleeve and a PDC logo on the other.

Once the golf tournament begins, the festivities build those memories Katie spoke of to be reminiscences at next year’s game. As the rain starts to pour down, not a single golfer is deterred from completing all 18 holes. Because for them, they are playing not only for the sport of it, for the camaraderie of it, but for the service members like Chief Stratton who asserts Dogs on Deployment is amazing. “I would have had to give Bear up just because of my situation. But I didn’t because of Dogs on Deployment, Karin and Mike.”

By the end of the day, Rich gathers everyone in for the final speech, reminding us that it is human connection that drives the success of this event. As he presents a $19,000 check to Dogs on Deployment President & Co-Founder, Alisa Sieber-Johnson, the audience applauds. It is an exchange of trust and support from the 144 golfers, Katie and Rich and all the supporters of the PDC Golf Tournament. With this support, Dogs on Deployment is able to fund the Rich Setzer Memorial Grant which gives financial assistance to military and veteran pet owners for help with emergency veterinary care, spay and neuter and exuberant pet-transportation costs associated with military moves. 

The PDC Golf Tournament concluded with cheers from a tenacious group of supporters for another successful event for Katie and Rich. It was the perfect ending to a rainy day at Sleepy Hole Golf Course.