Leave No Paws Behind USA

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Dear Members of Congress,

My name is Liz Hensel and I am starting this change.org petition to make you aware of an issue that military families face during permanent change of duty stations (PCS) outside of the United States (OCONUS).

When my husband, who is on active duty, received orders from California to Japan; we found out the costs military families pay out-of-pocket to transport their pets with them overseas. Thankfully, we were fortunate enough to receive our OCONUS orders seven months in advance. However, this is not the case for most military families. Some families are as fortunate as us while others receive only 30 to 90 days' notice. This is not enough time to save up for the thousands of dollars some families are forced to pay to bring their pets with them.

               Once I had personally encountered this hardship, I created a survey to gauge and read the personal accounts many families faced. Soon after, we launched the Leave No Paws Behind USA initiative. Talking to these families we found out many pay anywhere from $400 to $10,000 to transport their pets overseas. There seems to be no regulation on why some people pay little and some pay more.

               For example, I talked with a family who paid $700 to transport their 40lb dog to Japan, yet another family was quoted $4000 for a 15lb cat. I have spoken with Air Mobility Command, who allocates pet spaces for the Patriot Express. The Patriot Express is usually free, however it's almost like a lottery process. It's unfair for that service member who only had 30 days to prepare for this move, vs. that service member who was notified months in advance and was able to reserve a pet space. Even having a reservation on the Patriot Express doesn't guarantee the pet will fly. In one case, a military family had a space booked for their cat, the day they were due to fly out they were informed last minute their pet couldn't come. The active duty service member had no choice but to get on the plane due to the orders; however, the spouse had to drive four hours away to drop off the cat with her parents and she joined her husband a week later in Japan.

Our Leave No Paws Behind USA Facebook page, has pictures and stories of what these military families are faced with bringing their pets to OCONUS locations. Service members in these OCONUS locations are considered forward deployed and are constantly leaving on deployments and training detachments. It is in these locations where the family pet really becomes a source of a constant support to spouses and children left behind while the service member is away.

Our team includes myself, Liz Hensel, Jessica Jones, Stephanie Roman, and        Evan Jost.

Together we have come up with some suggestions on how to help these military families:

Talk to the airlines to waive pet fees. Military members on OCONUS orders have their extra luggage waived already.
Issue a $3000 stipend to the families to cover the transportation cost
Include pet transportation fees in the Defense budget

We understand that the base opposing argument is that, it is a choice to have a pet. However, it is also a choice to have children. To some who cannot conceive, their pets become their children.  To many, a dog or a cat, is their first child, having spent as many as 15 years together. These pets are part of the military family and should be included in the budget when a military family moves overseas.

Thank you for your time,

Liz Hensel, USMC Veteran/Spouse