Army Staff Sgt. Aeyne Anne M. Dizicksa’s cats are her family, so their welfare was her top priority when she faced deployment:
“I knew that if I had them to return to, everything else was irrelevant — just another passing episode in my life.”
She was given only a few days’ notice before her activation in January 2005. Luckily she discovered Operation Noble Foster, which has provided more than 3,000 deployed servicemembers with individual foster homes for their cats until they return. . .
After learning of Dizicksa’s dilemma, Susan Hagrelius of Cary, Ill., provided a happy home for Sweet Magnolia, one of Dizicksa’s cats.
Linda Mercer, the founder of Operation Noble Foster, said she created the program to avoid a repeat of the situation that existed 15 years ago when many servicemembers deployed for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm had no choice but to place their cats in shelters, many of which were overcrowded.
“The response was amazing,” said Mercer. “It still is.”
Using a database that military personnel can search online, the group coordinates foster care with volunteers who are willing to serve as temporary caregivers for the cats until their owners return.
The foster care program is a win-win situation for servicemembers and foster volunteers. “(Servicemembers) get to keep their family together and the foster families really feel like they are helping, explained Mercer. They say, ‘I want to foster again, it was a great experience.'”
“The best part is knowing that I’m able to take care of somebody’s pet while they are serving our country,” Hagrelius said.
While she’s been activated, Dizicksa said, her pets have served as a symbol of what her normal life was and will be again and the good things she can return to.
Before becoming a foster care provider for the program, Hagrelius and Mercer volunteered with the Cat Fancier’s Association Purebred Rescue Committee, an organization that promotes purebred cats and rescues cats from unsafe living conditions by placing them up for adoption.
Since Operation Noble Foster was introduced almost five years ago, more than 5,000 people have volunteered to foster cats. Mercer said she expects that number to increase as the public discovers the need for this resource and servicemembers realize that it exists to support them while they are away serving our country.
“I want every single military person to know it’s there … that’s our goal,” Mercer said. “We need to get the word out.”
– American Forces Press Service