Pets And Your Military Life
March 16, 2016 by Mark Dye
Having a family pet can be incredibly rewarding, and even good for your health—studies have shown that petting a dog, for example, can reduce stress and anxiety. Military families, however, have some unique challenges when it comes to pet ownership, such as frequent moves and deployments. But with some prep work and a bit of research, you can ensure your pet has a happy and forever home.
Lets’ be honest: pets aren’t exactly cheap. You have the initial cost for adoption or purchase ($100 from a shelter to more than $1,000 for a purebred from a breeder), then charges for spaying/neutering (around $200), food (depends on the size of the dog, but probably at least $50 a month), vet bills (including annual shots, which can be $200 or more), emergencies (varies), and even toys (which are pretty inexpensive, usually). Then there are the potential costs, such as repairing damaged flooring or furniture, getting stained carpet cleaned, or replacing the random shoes that disappear. All of those can add up pretty quickly.
Make sure your budget isn’t already stretched to the limit—if it is, then it might not be the best time to expand your family.
You probably already know if you’re a cat or a dog person (or even ferret!), but you also need to take into account the breed, especially with dogs. If you love to exercise and want a jogging partner, then you’ll need an athletic dog like a Labrador Retriever or Border Collie. But if you’re more of a “get home and sit on the couch” type of person, something a bit more sedate and low-energy would be a better choice, such as a Great Dane (as long as it can have its own couch). If you love cats, but not cat hair, then a low-shed breed such as a Siamese or Bombay are good options.
Basically, do some research beforehand to ensure you’re getting a good match for your lifestyle.
Before adding a four-legged family member, make sure it will get along with all of your two-legged ones, particularly very young children. Some dog breeds do better with children than others, while cats can be hit or miss depending on their personalities and upbringing. Also consider that a new pet takes time to care for, so if you have a new baby, it’s best to hold off on a pet until you can show that pet adequate attention.
Moving and deployments
Odds are you’ll have a few PCSs throughout your career, and taking your pet along might be difficult depending on where you're headed. For example, moving overseas can be difficult and costly, with quarantine requirements, and some areas in the U.S. have breed limitations (e.g., pit bulls, wolf hybrids).
Thankfully, there is help in this area. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a program called Operation Military Pets that helps military families offset the cost of pet relocation, as it reduces the number of animals in shelters.
Deployments can also be tough on animals, but there are ways to handle them. Family and friends are certainly a good choice, and tend to be free. But if that’s not an option, there is a foster program for military pets ran by Pact for Animals. It’s a great way for your dog to stay in a loving home and be cared for while you are away, giving you one less thing to worry about when overseas.
No matter what type of pet you choose, remember that it’s a commitment. Far too often people get a pet because it’s cute, only to realize they are in over their heads and causing the animal to be given to a shelter (or worse). But as long as your heart is in it and you’re adequately prepared financially, you’ll have a loyal—and cuddly—family member for years to come.