Section 624 of the FY23 NDAA allows for ” Reimbursement of a member of the uniformed services for costs to relocate a pet that arise from a permanent change of station (PCS).” It was a long road, but here is how we accomplished it:
When my husband called me during his deployment to tell me we got PCS orders to Japan. I felt all the emotions, we thought we had one more year left in California. However, as military families know, the mission always comes first. We had just adopted our German Shepard, Prince, who was one year old at the time. He was training to be my service dog to help me with my traumatic brain injury symptoms I developed after getting hit by a car in Afghanistan.
My husband and I are both Marines. When he told me this news, I immediately went into research mode. My two main priorities were, 1. What do I need to get ready to take our dog there and 2. How were the schools in Japan.
It was during my research that I found out the huge lack of support for military families and their pets when it comes to a PCS. Especially an overseas PCS. I asked for advice in multiple military spouse forums, and I got a different answer every time. The biggest obstacle was financing, these families were paying anywhere from 3 thousand to 7 thousand dollars to bring their pets overseas with them.
My husband and I were ready to pay whatever amount because Prince as part of our family. I took him to the Camp Pendleton Veterinary facility, and they were great! They gave me a checklist of everything I needed to get done to get Prince Japan ready. Our sponsor got us a pet friendly room in the temporary lodging in Japan, so we were set.
Struggles of pet owners during PCS
Once we got to Japan, I could not stop thinking about the families going through the same process that we just did. The logistics, the stress, the unexpected obstacles. I created a survey monkey to gather data of what families from all branches of service experienced regarding pet transportation. This led me to start Leave No Paws USA a 501c3 to advocate for military families and their pets. Our organization provides financial grants to offset some these costs. We also have a foster and transportation programs. Please visit www.leavenopawsbehindusa.org for more information.
I had zoom calls from Japan, advocating for these families with different members of congress. It was challenging due to the time difference, and some people just didn’t think this was a big issue.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Now families were paying up to 10k to get their pets overseas due to flight cancellations and the demand of private pet shippers.
I started advocating harder, by this time, we have moved back from Japan to Virginia. At this point I was meeting with Senators in Capitol Hill. I had data, charts, and testimonies from military families to back me up. The response was the same across the board, “I had no idea families were going through this.”
I was then connected with Senator Cory Bookers team, who immediately said, yes, we need to do something. I received a “congratulations” text message at 9:51pm eastern time on Thursday December 15, 2022. Section 624 of the FY23 NDAA had passed the senate and on its way to the President’s desk for signature. This allows the reimbursement of a member of the uniformed services for cost to relate a pet that arise from a permanent change of station.
Advocacy work is hard. You will hear “no” a lot. Just don’t forget your why. This was my why. My dog was the glue that held us together during my husbands’ deployments. He was our little piece of normalcy in this hectic military lifestyle.