By Janecze Wright
Fort Hood (Now designated Fort Cavazos) Public Affairs
FORT HOOD (Now designated Fort Cavazos), Texas — Deployments and other unexpected life events can make it difficult to ensure pets are properly cared for.
The PACT for Animals program helps Soldiers and military families ensure their pets receive the same level of care in their absence and offers a way to address pet care that Soldiers or families may not be able to provide.
Betsy Kilkenny, executive director of PACT for Animals, explained that the program, founded in 2011 and directly influenced by the military, provides free, long-term, in-home foster care for the pets of active-duty service members on deployment, training or travel, as well as the pets of veterans that require extended hospitalized care or recovery time.
The fostering period is offered from six weeks to two years. The program is the only national nonprofit that manages the entire pet foster care process from the initial call for support, until the pet is reunited with its owner, months or years later.
Kilkenny expressed that PACT for Animals serves a critical, but often hidden, need for Soldiers and military families that are often left with the horrific action of having to abandon their pets.
“Being forced to surrender a companion animal, which for some of our service members and veterans may be their only family member, is a decision that will not only negatively affect them and possibly their whole family but will certainly distract them from their mission when they are on deployment or training,” she conveyed. “This is where PACT can and does help our military service members and families for free, every day.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Doralycia Blackman, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, knows firsthand how impactful the program can be. She recently lost her first beloved fur baby while under the care of someone else. The loss made it difficult to leave her current pet alone, but the program helped to put her at ease.
“Being able to find a good and loving foster home for my fur baby has truly been a blessing. I am absolutely thankful for PACT and being able to find a good home for Choco and myself,” Blackman expressed. “I have since told everyone I know about PACT. I myself wish I would’ve have known about this before my first fur baby passed but I am thankful I know now.”
To ensure pets are placed in a loving home, the program screens and approves applicants. Potential foster parents are also required to participate in virtual home visits to confirm their ability to provide a safe and caring environment.
Sandra Volkert and her wife have opened their home to several pets over the past five years and have fostered Choco since December 2022. They plan to continue to care for him until Blackman returns later this year.
“My wife and I both come from military families. The thought that anyone could lose their fur babies because they are serving our country, is heartbreaking,” Volkert expressed. “I hope that this article helps to encourage others to open their homes, and hearts, to a service member and their beloved pet.”
Chris Albus, project director for Fort Hood (Now designated Fort Cavazos) Family Housing, noted that there are many abandoned pets on post and the kennels are full. He said that the program provides an option for Army families who may not know where to turn.
“This program provides for a humane way to address pet care when a Soldier can’t provide,” he conveyed. “Fort Hood (Now designated Fort Cavazos) Family Housing is doing its part to help our families and pets to avoid abandonment, or worse outcomes.”
Albus added that FHFH is allowing residents to request a two-pet exception to policy to provide foster homes to approved animals.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Hope Johnson, UH-60 pilot, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, fostered Blue, a black lab, for a month until a long-term foster family was found, when his family moved overseas and couldn’t take him with them. She explained that fosters impact the military force in a way that is often overlooked. “This is one of those things that units aren’t worried about going out the door for a deployment and can be a large expense to the Soldier and their family,” Johnson said. “(Fostering) will have a direct effect on Soldiers lives in a way most people don’t think about. By providing peace of mind to the Soldier and their family, the foster has directly contributed to mission success.”
Kilkenny reiterated that the service helps keep service members focused on their mission “so they can do their job and come home to smiling faces and wagging tales,” she said.
FHFH and the PACT for Animals organization believe Fort Hood (Now designated Fort Cavazos) could become a model for other military installations.
“If we can make this work, this will be a good example for other military installations across the DoD,” Albus declared.
Kilkenny said the goal is to establish a satellite office on post that could service residents in need.
“This program has the potential to grow exponentially,” she expressed. “But it will take many more fosters, greater funding from individuals, businesses, foundations, and corporations, and it will take more people to recognize the value of this service and be willing to help one another.”
Visit PACTforAnimals.org for more information.