ALEXANDRIA, Va. — For Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Philip Shapiro and his dog, Linda, it’s all about the simple things in life.
“I've always been a really big dog person,” he said. “She loves it out here. Going on her walks are her favorite thing.”
Yet, going on a walk is no small feat for Linda.
“I knew she had an injured leg,” Lt. Col. Shapiro said.
The year was 2014 and he found himself deployed to Bulgaria.
“I was a C-130 pilot for about nine years,” he said. “I went out as part of a joint exercise with the Bulgarian Air Force and the first day we showed up, there was Linda.”
Linda was a stray and not in good shape. She had been shot in the leg.
Lt. Col. Shapiro fed her, got her to a vet and decided to bring her back to the U.S. with him. In the back of his mind, though, he knew any future deployment might present an issue.
“I was a single guy at the time and had a new responsibility with Linda, and I had an idea that I was going to need help potentially with taking care of Linda," he explained.
That’s when he got to know the nonprofit Dogs on Deployment.
“It really is a very tangible way to reduce the stress of our service members,” said Dogs on Deployment founder and CEO Alisa Johnson. “I was active duty. I know the stress of that life.”
In the 10 years since Dogs on Deployment began, the group has helped more than 2,400 pets all across the country find temporary foster homes, while their military owners are deployed.
“One of the great things about Dogs on Deployment is it really provides opportunity for anybody to get involved and directly impact a service member's life and for a positive,” Johnson said.
Once a volunteer, who is referred to as a dog or pet boarder, is evaluated, there are a few steps that take place.
“They meet the pet owner and then a placement is made,” Johnson said. “So, we really rely on our supporters to help us get that word out organically.”
Lt. Col. Shapiro hasn’t had to use their service so far, but he sees the immense value in the organization’s work.
“I thought it was a really great idea,” he said.
Because of that, he entered Linda in an online contest to be the organization’s mascot for the year.
“I campaigned hard for Linda,” he said.
She won, but it hasn’t gone to her head.
“People always remark at how calm she is,” Lt. Col. Shapiro said, “but she’s just a pretty low-key dog.”
It’s a serenity earned after a tough life.
In addition to helping foster pets belonging to deployed members of the military, Dogs on Deployment also offers financial grants and works to help others whom they call “hero” pet owners, such as first responders.
They are also working with shelters around the country on the issue of pet relinquishment, which can happen when a member of the military is assigned a posting overseas that doesn’t allow them to bring their pet. To learn more about the work they do, click here.