Buzz Miller’s organization provides help for pet owners serving in the military, as well as ones dealing with a health crisis. Photo: Alex Lowy Photography LLCMany service members have had to surrender their beloved pets to shelters. Buzz Miller created a foster-care alternative.
—This essay is part of an occasional series provided by our partner organization Encore.org, which is building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world. Read more stories and share yours at Encore.org/story.
I had been a volunteer in the pet and companion-animal world for more than 30 years. About 12 years ago, I followed this passion of mine and left a successful law practice that I had founded to work almost 24/7 on advancing the human-animal bond, with its myriad benefits.
What inspired me to embark on this “encore” project was learning that countless military men and women, faced with long-term deployments, were surrendering their beloved pets to shelters because they did not have any other choice. It broke my heart to see the people who protect our nation relinquish the animals they considered family members. I knew I had to do something.
In 2010, I formed an organization called People + Animals = Companions Together(PACT), which provides free foster care for animals in private homes, with the goal of the owners taking the animals back once they are able.
In 2012, we began our hospital program, after receiving a call from social workers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. We initially helped a young heart patient whose family could not find pet care.
Some of the military people we help have post-traumatic stress disorder – such as Anthony Weatherly, a veteran who was living with his pit bull in an ice-cold garage during a horrible snowstorm. We found a safe place for the dog, allowing Mr. Weatherly to enter a veterans hospital for treatment. Their reunion was one for the ages.
Our goal is to have zero companion animals unwillingly submitted to animal shelters because of a military deployment or health crisis. Without PACT’s help, these pets would probably be euthanized or adopted out, never to be seen again by their original owners, who dearly love them. Instead, owners have peace of mind, knowing that their pets are receiving wonderful care, with foster families providing regular updates.
Older adults who love animals are our most dependable long-term foster families; they welcome older pets that might not be as much of a handful as a new puppy. These families find fulfillment in helping a deployed soldier or a hospitalized patient.
Both foster families and pet owners are ecstatic when a pet is able to return home. Often, they stay friends long after the foster term.
Military personnel from more than 30 states have placed pets in our care, and we’re serving patients at hospitals here in Pennsylvania, while expanding nationally. We have more than 160 foster homes within 75 miles of our headquarters in the Philadelphia area, and we’re currently receiving applications from foster homes across the United States.
One surprise for me: I am now convinced that I am able to make a more positive change in the world through my charitable and nonprofit work than through the work of my former law practice. That is deeply satisfying.