Saving Beloved Companions From Surrender, One Home at a Time

PACT for Animals matches the pets of deployed military service members and long-term hospital patients with loving foster families

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Titan. Photos provided by Nicole Rossi-Standley

Sarah* always wanted a big dog. She also wanted a career in the Air Force. When Titan, a Great Dane puppy, came to live with her, she was working stateside as a psychologist in the Air Force and didn’t plan on going overseas. Then, her life changed.

She was assigned work in Asia as a therapist. “While it was a boon to my career,” she says. “I was worried sick about being apart from Titan for a year.” At the time, she had no idea that one year would turn into four.

Frantically, she tried to bring Titan with her. She checked with the airlines. Most are not equipped to transport large dogs. Even the planes that allowed crated dogs didn’t have the cargo space to transport a Great Dane. Titan was just over three feet tall and weighed 183 pounds.

Her cousin, who lived in California stepped up. “She loves dogs and wanted to do this for me,” she explains. But they hit a snag. “About a year-and-a-half into my assignment, she couldn’t care for him [anymore]. Fortunately, she found PACT for Animals.”

Titan was matched with Nicole Rossi-Standley, age 32, and Marc Standley, age 37. Nicole grew up with Golden Retrievers and loves big dogs. Marc never had pets. “My sister found PACT for Animals on Instagram,” she says. “They were looking for a foster family in California where we live. Titan is a handsome guy. He’s also low energy, which is perfect for us. He could sit next to Marc while he played his video games.

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Titan with Nicole.

“The description of him was so detailed and we weren’t ready to commit to getting a puppy. We decided to try fostering.” Gilbert’s cousin drove Titan to the Standley’s home. He was six years old, “and really smart,” Rossi-Standley says.

“One night, Marc and I were lying in bed and Titan came in, opened the bathroom door with his paw and turned on the faucet so he could drink from the sink. He prefers running water to his water dish. It’s kind of funny. I just wish he’d turn off the water when he’s finished.”

“We both love him,” says Rossi-Standley. “When I come home, he’s happy to see me, but he adores Marc. I walk in the door and he greets me. And he looks to see where Marc is. He became part of our family.”

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Marc Standley with Titan

The Standley’s fostered Titan for almost two years.

“He received care packages from overseas and he’d sniff them,” Rossi-Standley says. “I believe he remembered her scent. We also sent her photos of him, and Instant Messages, so she could feel at ease.”

“It’s one less thing they have to worry about,” says Buzz Miller, founder of PACT for Animals.

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Buzz Miller. Photo provided.

He always had a soft spot for animals. Since 2010, he’s been volunteering at local animal shelters in the Philadelphia suburbs near his home. It was there he saw deployed soldiers coming in to relinquish their pets. “I often heard about military personnel giving up their dogs and cats when they were deployed,” he says. “I remember seeing these brave men and women sitting on the floors of the shelters crying their eyes out because they had to leave and had no alternative place for their pets.”

That’s when he founded PACT for Animals, a nonprofit that matches foster homes to the cats and dogs of deployed soldiers, out of his eastern Pennsylvania home. The 78-year-old Miller started small, had help from his wife, Judi, and hired a small staff. They vetted foster homes, often recommended from his network of animal shelters, veterinarians, and dog trainers. Animal shelters alerted soldiers about PACT.

Today, PACT has 500 foster homes in 46 states. Dogs make up 75 percent of fosters and cats 25 percent. This year, PACT expects to place 260 pets into foster homes.

“Our military risks their lives,” says Miller. “Now, they can serve knowing their pets are in good hands.” PACT doesn’t charge for its services. Soldiers pay veterinary bills. Foster families pay for food and the occasional toy or treat and they’re required to send updates and photos via emails, texts, letters, or Skype.

As soon as her tour of duty was over and her plane landed on the east coast, where she’s now stationed, Sarah drove all the way to Nicole and Marc’s house in California. Titan recognized her immediately. He leaned in close to her and stayed by her side.

“It was a bit sad letting Titan go,” says Rossi-Standley. “But he was so happy being with her.”

In 2013, PACT added a hospital program for critically ill patients with long hospital stays. It works the same way as the military service. “Unless it hits us at home, we don’t think about how much time a person spends in a hospital,” Amy Ricigliano, Executive Director of PACT for Animals, explains.

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Marc and Nicole with Titan

All volunteers are carefully vetted by PACT. “If we get an application from someone who wants to foster for our military or hospital program or from someone needing to place their pet in a temporary foster home, we have a list of trusted volunteers who’ll check out the pets, the owners, the fosters, and the foster homes,” Ricigliano says.

All pets in the program are spayed or neutered, and PACT does not accept aggressive dogs or cats. “And they really know how to match fosters and pets,” Rossi-Standley says. “The application is so thorough. They let fosters know if a pet needs to be the only animal in the house or if that pet gets along with cats or dogs. There are no surprises.”

“And we let her know that Titan always has a home here if needed.”

*Not her real name; she asked not to be identified.

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I’m a journalist covering pets, wildlife, health, mental illness, and social justice.

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