Educated pet buyers make better 'scents'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexis Siekert
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The holiday season is here, and it's often a time when people put serious thought into their gift ideas.

While thinking of the latest fads and crazes, many people turn from buying electronic media and wearable items to fuzzy and fluffy puppies and kittens.

Pets are great additions to the family when properly planned for, explained Capt. Alicia Gehling, Spangdahlem Veterinary Clinic officer in charge. A little St. Bernard puppy may make a cute gift, but buyers may not expect them to grow to 120 pounds or anticipate a $2,000 shipping cost to send them back to the states.

"We always want an educated buyer when looking for a pet," Gehling said. "We try to encourage everyone to think past the puppy or kitten stage and make plans for what you are going to do with your pet when you leave Germany for your next assignment or go on vacation. We hope that when you sign up for a pet, you sign up for life."

Cost is the biggest hindrance with people moving with their pet, the veterinarian said. While the process itself is very simple to get pets ready to ship, the 'sticker shock' of the flight may be too great for some families and they may chose not to keep the animal.

Relinquished ownership is so common in Germany that local shelters rarely allow American families to adopt from them as they fully expect the families moving to a new location to return the animal, she explained.

"Due to the reputation we have with the shelters, it is exclusively up to owners to 'rehome' their pets here," Gehling said. "Unfortunately, we have pets on their third or fourth family which takes a huge toll on the animal causing behavior problems often ending in the pet being put down."

Moving isn't the only issue with Americans owning pets while stationed in Germany, however. With the active number of deployments from Spangdahlem, ensuring animal care while their owners are gone can be a problem. Those entrusted with care must provide proper legal authority over the animal in order to have its health requirements met, Gehling said.

"Anyone deploying needs to get that power of attorney for the pet and, almost as importantly, have the person who will be caring for the animal sign some kind of legal document obligating them to provide care," she said. "We sometimes run into problems with people taking poor care of the animal or not at all."

In extreme but rare situations, animals have been neglected or abandoned.

Part of the efforts to deter this kind of behavior has been to require all owners to microchip their pet, regardless if they live on or off base, and register with the base veterinarian clinic.

"We also have an animal ownership contract," Gehling said. "When you sign it, you are agreeing to be a decent human being, treat your pet humanely and be a responsible pet owner. Since they have signed this, if they fail to properly care for their animal, their command can use that contract to legally hold them accountable."

Animal abuse and neglect is also punishable under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

"We have our military values; carry those through into your animal ownership," Gehling said. "If I could recommend anything, it would be for people to really think about the obligations of a pet before bringing one home."

Regardless of which animal - be it a Chihuahua or Chow-Chow - buyers may decide on this holiday season, thinking about the long-term effects of care before buying a pet often makes the best "cents."

"A lot of these common issues could be avoided," Gehling said. "I don't like having financial responsibility conversations, but I will because pets aren't always cheap."

For more information, contact the vet clinic at 452-9388.

To board your pet while you're away, contact the Spangdahlem Pet Spa at 452-9362.