When a soldier leaves for deployment, he often leaves behind things he loves, including family members, cherished personal items and beloved pets. Helping a solider fighting overseas by caring for his furry family members is a massive responsibility, but one that can make a difference to him and his pets. By feeding, exercising, grooming, training and taking care basic health care for his four-legged family members, you can lift a huge weight off him and allow him to concentrate on his job so he can get safely home and back to his family, whether that's two-legged, four-legged or both.
Obtain important information about each dog before the soldier deploys. Request full copies of each dog's health and vaccination record, registration papers, titles, certifications and identification information, such as tattoo numbers, microchip ID numbers or licenses. Make a file for each dog to store important paperwork and information and include a picture of each dog, just in case he or she should ever get lost. Ask for information about the dogs' vet care, and whether or not they're on flea, tick and heartworm preventative. If so, find out when the preventative should be given, and add the dates to your calendar.
Get to know each dog before the soldier deploys. Learn their names, nicknames and favorite games. Become familiar with the commands and behaviors each dog knows, as well as the rules each dog normally follows while at home. Enquire about dietary restrictions and the brand of food the soldier would prefer his dogs eating. Ask about favorite treats, grooming routines and exercise.
Obtain a sturdy collar for each dog, preferably one that they won't be able to slip, such as a martingale collar or limited slip collar. Many dogs become very confused when their handler leaves and they may try to go find him. Help keep the soldier's dogs safe with you by ensuring each dog always has a well-fitting, secure collar with an up-to-date ID tag attached. The ID tag should be inscribed with your phone number and email address, at a bare minimum. Feel free to include your name or the dog's name. Ask the soldier to put a collar on each dog before he leaves so they can become comfortable with them and so the collars smell like the soldier and home.
Prepare your home for the foster dogs' arrival. Have bowls, toys, crates or other safe spaces, leashes, beds, baby gates, food and treats on hand. If the soldier's dogs are young, be prepared to puppy-proof your home by ensuring no wires, plants or toxic substances are within easy reach and that there's nothing that can be destroyed at your hip height and lower.
Introduce the soldier's dogs to your personal pets slowly and give them time to adjust to your household and routine. Remember, the new dogs are in a strange place, with strange people. It may take them some time to settle in and become comfortable. If changing brands of food, make the switch slowly to allow the dogs' bellies time to adjust without upset.
Stick as close to the dogs' normal routine as possible while establishing your house rules and expectations. Feed, groom, exercise and socialize the dogs as requested by the deployed soldier and, above all, give them love and affection. Reassure them that everything is OK with gentle petting and soothing words.
Consider participating in an obedience, trick or agility class to get the dogs out of the house a bit and to get them some physical and mental exercise. Additionally, dogs with obedience training are far more pleasant to live with, both for you while fostering and for the soldier once he returns home.
Keep in touch with the soldier by sending letters, pictures of his dogs and cute notes about any habits you've discovered or tricks the dogs have learned.