5 Things Military Families Should Consider Before Getting a Pet

Black Labrador retriever lying its head on human's lap
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Almost 85 million households, or 67% of the population, own a pet, and military families are no different than the general population. In addition to the usual companionship and security reasons, military families may find that an animal provides company for an alone-at-home adult or extra love for kids with a frequently absent parent.

For all the joy of pet ownership, there are challenges and costs as well. Vaccinations, licenses (for some pets), food, toys and pet sitting are costs for all pet owners. But just like so many other aspects of life, military families have extra considerations when bringing an animal into the family. Be sure you’ve problem-solved these unique issues before you make Fido or Fluffy a member of your household.

1. Permanent Change of Station Moves

Having a pet makes every step of a PCS move just a little bit more difficult. What will you do with your lizards while the packers are at your house? What temporary lodging accepts pets? Will your pet cope with a long car ride, or will you consider sending it by air? If you fly your animals, who will be with them at one end or the other while you drive? If you drive, how will you find pet-friendly lodging along the way?

2. Renting with a Pet (or Multiple Pets)

Not all landlords welcome pets into their property. That may not be a problem if you stay in the same place for decades, but that’s not typically how military life works. Being a pet owner limits your options for rentals, which is especially difficult in tight rental markets like we’re facing right now. You may have to sacrifice other wants such as location, schools or size in order to find a rental property that accepts pets.

The difficulty in finding housing may increase if you have multiple pets, unusual pets, large pets or specific breeds of dogs. In addition to personal preferences, landlords may be dealing with homeowners associations or insurance policies that have restrictions about the types, quantities and breeds of pets.

In addition, a landlord may want you to provide a refundable or nonrefundable pet deposit, and also may charge additional rent each month that you have a pet in the property. These costs can add up.

Before you get a pet, figure out what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to find pet-friendly accommodations every time you move, and how you’ll pay any additional costs to rent a house that accepts pets. Carefully consider the challenges presented by certain breeds of animals and how you’ll overcome those challenges each time you move.

3. Living on Base

Many military installations have a limit on the number and type of pets you can have if you live in military housing. Our family always has had a two-pet rule for this specific reason; I’ve yet to see a limit that is lower than two pets. In addition, some bases limit the breeds of dogs that you can have on base.

Even if you don’t think that you’ll ever want to live on base, you can’t predict the future. You may discover that you want or are required to live on base at certain locations, particularly overseas. Which brings us to …

4. Going Overseas

PCSing with pets is one thing. PCSing overseas with pets is an entirely different level of difficulty. We’ve moved overseas with pets four times, and the level of planning, preparation and precision involved is typically the hardest part.

First, there is the cost and logistical challenges of moving your pets overseas. This has two main parts: the cost of physically getting your pet to the new location, and then the cost of making sure that your pet is accepted at the new location, with the appropriate vaccinations, testing, registration and possibly quarantine.

Not every location offers government-sponsored transportation that accepts pets, and sending pets through commercial airlines has become increasingly more difficult. Temperature concerns, direct flight requirements and crate requirements present challenges when you’re on the military’s timeline.

In addition to the physical movement issues, most overseas locations have rules about what types of pets may come and what steps you need to take to bring them into the country. This typically includes pre-shipment vet visits, paperwork that needs to be signed by specifically authorized veterinarians, requirements for the size and type of crate that is required, specific pick-up requirements and, often, mandated quarantine at your expense.

Once you get to the new country, you are dealing with the same issue that you’d have within the United States -- finding a place that will accept your pets -- except that you’re working in a foreign culture, possibly in a foreign language, and you already may have restrictions on the locations where you’re allowed to live.

You may find that you end up boarding your pets, sometimes for extended periods, at one end or the other. We had cats that boarded for a total of two months during one move -- one month of quarantine and an additional month while we waited to get into our new housing. These costs add up quickly.

5. Training, Deployment and Travel

For single service members, pet ownership has an extra level of difficulty because you will need reliable help to give your pet the necessary time while you are away for training or a deployment. Leaving your beloved animal with someone for months at a time is a huge responsibility, and you may struggle to find the right person. Even for those in relationships, there can be similar challenges. Many left-at-home partners like to travel while their service member is gone, perhaps going home to see family or pursuing a trip that they’ve been planning. Paying for pet care makes travel much harder.

None of these are reasons to pass on pet ownership, but you definitely want to think through these challenges. Many are simply a matter of extra expenses. Sometimes, though, you may find that you’re living somewhere that you don’t want to be, or that the family has to travel separately to accommodate the need to transport the pets, or other sacrifices need to be made. Being prepared for these possibilities makes the whole process a lot more rewarding and fun.

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