Monday, March 29, 2010

Guardian Angels for Soldiers' Pets

Dog-sitting for the deployed

BIG LAKE, Minn. -- When soldiers are sent to war,
the military provides all sorts of help for those left
behind -- mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and

But what about the four-legged family members?

That was the dilemma Staff Sargent Steve Meduna
faced in January 2009 as he prepared to go to Iraq
for the first deployment in his 15 years in the
Minnesota National Guard: What to do about his
100-pound, two year old dog, Dozer -- as in
"bulldozer." Meduna was newly divorced and his
father lived in a town home community that doesn't
allow dogs, his brother had a small yard without a
fence and his friends who had watched Dozer in the
past were all guardsmen going to Iraq, too.

Then he heard about Guardian Angels for Soldier's
, or GASP, a five year old network of volunteers
who take in dogs and cats --and even horses and,
in some cases, snakes and lizards -- left behind
when their owners deploy with the military.

"The pet is not considered or recognized as a family
member," says Linda Spurlin-Dominik, a co-founder
and the president of GASP. She started the group
after hearing of the problems faced by one soldier
from Ohio. A little research turned up reports of
dogs and cats dropped off at shelters just before
deployments or picked up by animal control --
abandoned -- right after troops leave an area.

"It's a warm feeling," she says of her work. "You've
made a difference in someone's life and made their
life just a little bit better when they get to see their
pet again."

Meduna learned of GASP just before he deployed
and happily left Dozer in the care of Mike and Jessie
Siers of Big Lake, Minn. "It was a real weight off my
back," he says.

The Siers kept Meduna up to date on Dozer with
videos and photos posted on Facebook. At
Christmas, they sent Meduna a photo of Dozer in a
Santa hat -- signed with Dozer's inked paw.
They loved having Dozer with them for 13 months,
but knew it had to end. They hated to see him go,
but, as Jessie said, "We're so happy that Steve made
it back safely."

Before going to the Siers' to pick up Dozer, Meduna
worried that his dog wouldn't remember him after
being away for so long. He needn't have worried. As
soon as Dozer caught a glimpse of his master, he
bounded to Meduna's side and jumped -- and
licked --for joy.

After getting reacquainted, Dozer retired to a corner
of the Siers' yard with a nylon chew bone that
Meduna had brought for him as Meduna and Siers
talked. At one point, Meduna turned toward his car
to get something out of it. Yards away, Dozer saw
him turn, dropped his bone and shot across the
yard to Meduna's side.

He wasn't about to let his master get away again.

By John Yang, NBC News correspondent

(Copyright 2010 by NBC. All Rights Reserved.)

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