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One Couple's Quest To Reunite Military Pet Owners With Their Pups After Deployment

Alisa and Shawn Johnson, a married military couple who spent many years serving our country, remind us why we celebrate Veterans Day in November. Their story also highlights the challenge of serving our country while being a pet owner.

Alisa and Shawn met at the University of San Diego. They both joined the military (she in the Marines, he in the Navy) after college, but quickly found themselves struggling to care for their dogs while they were both on deployment.

“That situation really made us think,” Alisa recalled in an interview with The Dodo. "What do military members do when they have to deploy, and they don’t have any family to rely on?” she wondered. “That’s really what fueled our work with Dogs on Deployment.”

Dogs on Deployment co-founders Alisa and Shawn Johnson with their dogs, JD and Jersey
YouTube screenshot: Veterans & Dogs on Deployment co-founders Alisa and Shawn Johnson with their dogs, JD and Jersey

Founded in 2011, Dogs on Deployment (DoD) has grown into a national nonprofit network that connects military pet owners with volunteer boarders willing to foster a service member's pet (or pets) during their deployment. Though many pets board for a only a few weeks, some board for several months with their foster families.

These “deployed pets” include dogs like Nani and Prince, who boarded with DoD fosters in Omaha, Nebraska, when their owner was called to active duty. Another military dog, Moose, stayed with his DoD foster family for 9 months while his dog mom finished her tour. Nina lived with her DoD boarder throughout the length of her owner's year-long deployment.

Even cats are welcomed by Dogs on Deployment, which has already fostered 2,780 deployed pets, and counting! Pepper is just one of many cats who found foster care through this novel program, which provides crucial support for military pet owners who might otherwise be forced to surrender their pet to a shelter (and never see them again) or pay a small fortune to move them overseas.

“Dogs on Deployment is the only organization out there that’s effectively fostering military pets while their service member deploys overseas or has other commitments,” says Alisa. “A hard part in military life is that if you get stationed overseas and you have pets, you are responsible for moving that pet financially and it can be thousands of dollars.”

In addition to offering complimentary boarding (as well as donor-funded grants to help offset the costs of moving and emergency pet care), DoD provides comfort to deployed pet owners who know their pet is lovingly cared for while they're away. “The big thing in giving them that peace of mind is that they can focus on the mission and not have to worry about the health of their pets,” says Shawn.

Meanwhile, volunteers are equally thrilled to participate. Many DoD boarders have described their experience as a meaningful way to give back to the military community.

“I am forever grateful that I had this opportunity,” wrote volunteer Laurie Coulter after boarding a service member’s dog for 7 months. “Not only did I meet a great dog, but [I] also met a great family. Best program yet.”

“We just had 5 fun filled weeks with a boxer/beagle mix named Nena,” another DoD boarder, Renee Snyder, agreed. “I can’t wait to find the next dog to watch. It’s such a fun and easy way to say thank you for all you do for us.”

Learn more about Dogs on Deployment by visiting their website, where you can make a donation or sign up to volunteer, and watch an interview with DoD co-founders Alisa and Shawn Johnson below. In honor of Veterans Day, please consider supporting this worthy program!

Written by Jen Swanson

Edited by Kallie Sims



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