In 2011, Buzz Miller was disturbed to learn that some deploying military members surrendered their dogs and cats to animal shelters because they had no one to care for the pets while they were away.
That prompted him to create PACT for Animals, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that finds free foster homes for animals of deployed members of the military and for hospitalized patients of all ages.
PACT (an acronym for “People + Animals = Companions Together”) has 250 foster homes in the Greater Philadelphia area and 450 more throughout the country. Since 2011, the organization has arranged temporary homes for more than 1,000 pets.
“I’m all about the human-animal bond,” said Miller, 78, an “animal nut” who left his 35-year law career for PACT. “I can’t stand the thought of a military person going to Iraq or fighting ISIS and they have to give up their animal. I can’t let a kid fighting cancer or heart problems at CHOP lose his animal.”
Pet owners needing foster help complete an application on PACT’s website, which is then perused by vetted volunteer fosters. Owners are responsible for delivering their animals to the foster homes and also agree to pay for their pets’ food and medical treatment.
PACT doesn’t charge for its services or pay foster caretakers. Still, its volunteer staff is available 24/7 to troubleshoot problems. It requires a lot of time and energy, but Miller is all in.
“The animals keep me young because they make me smile,” he said.
Janee Davis is a grateful PACT beneficiary. After surgery in 2018, she needed four months of inpatient rehab, which would keep her away from Prince, her Maltese. Through PACT, she found volunteer Lisa Gimbut of Monroe Township, N.J., whose family lovingly fostered Prince for her.
The Gimbuts frequently sent Davis photos of Prince and even connected with her via video chat so she could see and talk to the dog. “I’d say, ‘I’m coming, I’m coming!’” said Davis.
When Davis’ father died at the end of 2019, the family again fostered Prince so Davis could be with family in England.
“They love Prince and he loves them,” Davis said. “I am so thankful for families like the Gimbuts.”
‘That’s what I need’
Families get just as much out of the exchange, say Susan and Mike Daylida of Malvern, who have hosted Kenny, Ryan Slough’s shepherd mix, three times while the U.S. Army master sergeant has been deployed or on training missions.
Slough, who lives in Newville, Pa., adopted Kenny when the pup was a baby. He’d just purchased his first house and it felt empty.
“I was by myself and I thought, ‘I want to have a buddy. I think I’m going to get a dog,’” Slough said. “When I saw Kenny, he was so happy, jumping on people like, ‘Hey, pet me!’ I said, ‘That’s what I need.’”
Kenny, now almost 7, weighs 85 pounds, and when he stands on his hind legs, he easily reaches Slough’s shoulders. He’s also anxious, afraid of thunder and lightning, and very sensitive. He hid in his crate when he arrived at the Daylida home for his first 10-week stay. The family’s dog, Shadow, waited patiently for his new playmate to adjust.
“He gradually got used to us, and he ended up being a love,” Susan Daylida said.
She recalls fondly Kenny’s reaction when Slough returned from deployment. Kenny “stopped dead in his tracks and looked at him like he couldn’t believe it was really him. Then he raced towards him, licking his face and wagging his tail,” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
‘Made for each other’
Michael King swore he’d never love a dog again, not after returning from deployment with the U.S. Air Force to find that those he had trusted with his beloved pit bull, Guinness, had surrendered her to an animal shelter.
“I had no dog to come home to,” said King, who lives in Newark, Del. “It broke me like you wouldn’t believe.”
But after a stressful combat tour in Afghanistan, he adopted Bandit, a Rottweiler mix, who stayed by his side as he dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder. Soon after, King found Ruger, a puppy who’d been used as a bait dog by a dog-fighting ring.
When King learned he was being deployed again, this time for six months, he turned to PACT.
A New Jersey couple quickly offered to host Bandit and Ruger. King packed up the pups and drove 18 hours through harrowing weather from his then-home in South Carolina to the 45-acre Franklinville farm of Gin Keefer and John Melleady. Bandit and Ruger swiftly bonded with the couple’s dog, Pibbers. Keefer sent King regular letters and photos — Bandit and Ruger playing in the snow for the first time; running alongside the “sleigh” taking visitors to the Christmas tree farm on the property; laying cozily with Pibbers, like best friends.
“I wanted to do something to give back to the men and women who are serving this country,” said Keefer.
She and her husband became so close to King and, later, his fiancée Cindy, that they hosted the couple’s 2015 wedding, right on their farm. Keefer officiated. Melleady was a member of the bridal party.
And PACT founder Miller walked Ruger, the ring bearer, down the aisle.
It’s a day Miller will never forget.
“We’re improving the lives of dogs and cats,” he said, “but they’re also improving our lives.”