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Troop-abandoned pets create problems

4/20/2005

HINESVILLE, Ga. — The 32 dogs look up with sad eyes or wag
their tails as animal control officer Linda Cordry walks the row of
chain-link cages toward a door concealing a gas chamber.

"These guys are mine," Cordry says with weary resignation.
"These are basically on Death Row."

Liberty County Animal Control and the humane shelter that shares
its small cinderblock building have been crammed to capacity with
dogs and cats since Army troops from neighboring Fort Stewart
deployed to Iraq. Both agencies say it's no coincidence.

"I would say 95 percent of these animals come from military
homes," says Beate Hall, who runs the humane shelter where dozens
of soldiers and Army spouses began dumping pets during the
holidays.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have prompted national efforts
to alert deploying soldiers to alternatives to abandoning animals
when they leave for war. But the hundreds of unwanted pets turning
up in this southeast Georgia military town indicate many aren't
getting the message.

Since the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division deployed
19,000 troops to Iraq in January, animal control officers took in
321 abandoned dogs and cats. Of those, 119 have been euthanized.

Smells of dank fur, urine and bleach linger inside the Animal
Control offices, where donated food in dented cans and torn bags
are stacked in a corner. Dogs are doubled up in several of the
4-by-10-feet cages. Two of the 14 cat cages hold mothers with
litters of nursing kittens.

Cordry says she's found an abundance of dogs in military
neighborhoods — from emaciated dogs in back yards of vacated homes
to puppies left in dumpsters.

Many of the abandoned pets are wearing collars, but with their
tags removed. Animals with collars get up to 10 days before they're
euthanized. Those without collars are spared for only three.

"We get in so many with personalities, we know they had to
belong to somebody," Cordry says. "It's hard to say, 'Today's
euthanasia day — let's load them up and go for it."'

In Hall's case, soldiers and their families have come to the
humane shelter in person to leave their dogs and cats. In some
cases, single soldiers leave their pets because they have no one to
keep them at home. Many animals are given up by spouses planning to
stay with family while their soldiers are deployed.

Those pets won't be put down, but Hall only has room to keep 45
animals at a time. Though Hall has found homes for 118 pets since
January, the shelter remains full.

"We didn't realize how bad it was going to be," says Hall,
whose husband is retired from the Army. "I didn't think this many
military families would just dispose of their animals because of
the deployment."

Animal rescue groups say they've put a serious dent in wartime
pet dumping, largely by using the Internet to find foster homes to
care for soldiers' animals until they return home.

Steve Albin, president of the nonprofit NetPets, says he's found
temporary homes for 8,000 military pets nationwide since starting
his Military Pets Foster Program after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks.

"Even though this is available, there's still the 5 percent of
the military, they say, 'Nah, we'll get another pet when we get
back,"' says Albin, a retired dog breeder in North Myrtle Beach,
S.C.

In the Fort Stewart area, a small number of pet lovers have
stepped up to foster dogs and cats that otherwise would have been
euthanized by animal control.

Terry Wolf of nearby Savannah has taken in 85 abandoned dogs
from Liberty County since January through her shelter, Southern
Comfort Animal Rescue. She's found permanent homes for about 40,
and foster homes for 25.

Wolf says she's looking for people who truly want a pet, rather
than those seeking to make a patriotic gesture.

"I had one lady, she was very interested in a dog, say to me,
'I want a soldier's dog.' And that made me question her
commitment," Wolf says. "We're not putting yellow ribbons around
their necks here. They're all dogs of war to me."