Serving Those Who Served

When Cpl. Matt Foster left Afghanistan after his tour of duty in 2013, he didn’t know whether he would ever see his K-9 partner again. For nine months, Foster and Sgt. Mick, a black Labrador retriever, lived and worked together keeping the military compound at Camp Leatherneck and the surrounding area in Helmand Province safe from explosive attack.

Foster’s interest in becoming a military dog handler in the Marine Corps came from a high school friend who served and ultimately lost his life in Afghanistan. “I’d always loved dogs and this seemed like a good fit for me,” he said. “Only a certain number of dogs are assigned to a unit, so I was fortunate to be selected.”

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, Foster did not give up in his quest to adopt Mick. The 7-year-old Lab had been discharged for medical reasons and Foster said he lost count of the number of adoption forms he sent attempting to be reunited with his dog.

“It is very difficult for a Marine infantry K-9 handler to keep his dog when he returns from active duty overseas,” Foster recalled. “Once back in California, the dogs go on a truck to North Carolina to be redeployed, and generally we never see them again.”

Ultimately, Foster’s quest to reconnect with Mick was successful, and they are together again living in Colorado. “After what you go through with your dog in the service and then adopt them afterward, you wouldn’t want to say goodbye to your partner because you couldn’t afford to take care of him,” said Foster

Once military and police dogs retire, with no guaranteed pension for their medical care, the burden and cost of care often fall solely on their caregivers. Now an advocate for military dog adoption, Foster has joined The Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve and the RIMADYL K-9 Courage program to help other retired military dogs and handlers.

The RIMADYL K-9 Courage Program is a charitable healthcare donation program that, together with The Sage Foundation and National Police Dog Foundation, provides financial and in-kind product donations of $150,000 annually to support the veterinary needs for up to 500 retired police and military K-9s.

Since the Revolutionary War, the U.S. military has been using working dogs as messengers, sentries, scouts and mine detectors.

An estimated 1,775 military dogs are actively working to protect military personnel. Each dog saves as many as 150-200 servicemen and women by detecting explosives and hidden weapons caches.

In an average year, 300-400 dogs retire, but it’s not required that a military dog serving overseas be returned to the United States at retirement. Legislation is pending in Congress to mandate their return for U.S. adoption.

Today, law enforcement dogs are used at the local, county, state and federal levels, and are considered full-fledged police officers. Unlike their human counterparts, however, these officers do not receive a pension.

TNR is the solution

Here in Flagler we have places where community cats are alive and thriving. Many of these cats are still alive because of the hard work of many dedicated volunteers and community organizations practicing trap-neuter-return (or TNR) policies to end the killing of these animals. Community cats have been living with humans for over 10,000 years, play an important part in our local ecosystems and TNR is the most humane, compassionate and effective approach to managing their populations.

Cats have been a part of our natural environment beginning between 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and they followed humans to Europe and the Americas. They did not come into our homes or viewed as household pets till 60 years ago with the growing availability of canned pet foods, cat litter and spay and neuter techniques.

Community cats are the same animals as the pet cats that live in our homes, but are typically wary of humans, are content to live outdoors and are not socialized to people. They are virtually unadoptable if brought to a shelter, are content to live their lives in the outdoors and studies have shown they are just as healthy as our pet cats that live in our homes.

Removing cats from local ecosystems can be a major risk and their part in the natural environment is much more complicate than predator vs. prey. A significant consequence of cat eradication happened on Macquarie Island in the Pacific Ocean where the rabbit populations spiked wildly once cats were removed. Local vegetation was devastated by a rabbit feeding frenzy, other species were threatened by the loss of food and habitat with cats to keep the rabbits in check.

Many have tried to make the argument that eliminating cats will save wildlife, but cats are mainly scavengers that feed on garbage and scraps. They prefer rodents and other burrowing animals if they do hunt. Scientists have also shone in mathematical models that when cats, rats and birds coexist, they find a balance. Rat populations soar and wipe out the birds completely when cats are removed.

Many other scientific studies have shown TNR to be the most humane and effective approach to managing community cats. It ends the strains of mating behavior and pregnancy and the cats gain weight and become healthier. Long-term studies have shown that sterilizing community cats reduces colony size over time. One study found a 66 percent decrease in one colony’s population over 11 years and another 10-year study showed colony size decreases of up to 32 percent.

Flagler Humane Society is doing its part to help control the community cat population as well. It was recently awarded a grant from Florida Animal Friend for free spay or neuter surgery of unowned, community cats in all areas of Flagler County. The cats are required to receive a rabies vaccine for $6 and their left ear will be notched to identify them as sterilized. Palm Coast Animal control, Flagler Animal Services and many other community groups can assist you with trapping cats if you have them on your property.

TNR is the most humane and effective solution to solving the community cat dilemma. It keeps the cats alive, helps keep the natural environment in balance and helps to actually reduce the overall cat population. These cats have been a part of human history for so long that it is now up to us to make sure they are cared for, maintained and most importantly kept alive.

Ways to welcome a shelter pet

Animal shelters are full of lovable dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages deserving of a good home and ready to become your next four-legged family member. In fact, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, nearly 2 million dogs are adopted into new families each year.

However, choosing the right dog is just the beginning. The first weeks after bringing home an adopted pet are critical. It’s a time to get to know one another and build a lifelong connection. Here are some steps to help ease the transition:

Create a pet-friendly environment. Keep items that are unsafe, such as chemicals and certain house plants, out of reach. Cords and objects that invite chewing also should be tucked away. If certain areas will be off limits, use baby gates to block them.

Expect accidents. While house training a puppy is to be expected, you may find that an older dog needs help in this area as well. The stress of transitioning into a new household can lead to accidents, so keep this in mind and be sure to provide your new pet with lots of potty breaks, patience and instruction.

Start with smart nutrition. Providing your new dog with a high-quality diet from the beginning can contribute to a lifetime of whole body health. Chose a complete, balanced food with real meat as the No. 1 ingredient. Many pet foods can have many preservatives or additives including color that can cause allergies or skin issues.

Introduce a schedule. Providing dogs with a consistent routine right off the bat can help ease their stress during the transition. Set a schedule for walks, feeding time and training so he can settle into a routine that feels a bit more familiar.

Approach training with patience. Without knowing how your pet was trained, it can be difficult to predict how he will respond in his new environment. For example, he may be used to receiving treats for good behavior, while you prefer to reward with praise. Plan to be flexible, and soon you’ll come to a shared understanding.

Volunteering to help animals helps you as well

Volunteering at an animal shelter doesn’t just help homeless animals. It can also bring with it an immense amount of benefits to you personally. From making new friends, learning new skills, managing stress and feeling better, you can gain all of these while making a difference.

What’s the best part about volunteering at a shelter? Helping voiceless, homeless animals to find a new family. “Our mission at Flagler Humane Society is to take in and care for homeless animals and find them homes where they can live out their lives as part of a family,” said executive director, Amy Carotenuto. Imagine the sense of accomplishment and well-being that comes from raising awareness about a cause you care about and helping those that can’t help themselves.

Volunteering gives you a chance to meet a host of like-minded people that are all working toward a common goal. You’ll receive an opportunity to really get to know people when you see them on a regular basis and be with others that share your interests. Best of all, you don’t have to hide that you are a crazy animal lover.

Want a chance to learn new skills or sharpen your existing ones? You can begin to understand animal behavior because it is not something that is at all set in stone. Every animal has its own personality and set of traits and you can learn how to best approach these issues so that the animals you work with can become adoptable.

Trade and handy-man skills are also very valuable at an animal shelter. Light bulbs and air filters always need changing, buildings need repairs and there is usually something that needs fixed. All shelters do a high volume of laundry on a daily basis so making sure everything is washed and folded as well as maintaining the machines are all immensely important.

Learning patience, staying calm in stressful situations and health benefits of being around animals are all extras you receive from volunteering. Training, bonding and helping an animal become adoptable are all lessons that can be difficult for us humans as well as the animals so you get a chance to step back from people and stay calm and focused.

Animals give us many benefits just from their presence. Your heart rate goes down by almost 20 percent just by touching a cat, but best of all it’s a great way to clear your head. We deal with so many stresses throughout our day. Animals live in the moment and think how great it would be to take a step back and live in that moment with them.

Finally, you’ll be surrounded by unconditional love and affection every time you set foot in the door. No matter how crazy your life might be at the time, you can come to an animal shelter and always see someone who is happy to see you and just wants to be petted or go on a walk. Interested in volunteering at Flagler Humane Society? Go to or call 386-445-1814.

Flagler County is a great place for pet owners

Flagler County is becoming more and more dog friendly and we have one of the few beaches around where leashed dogs are allowed. Many local hotels and restaurants are becoming more and more welcoming of allowing dogs in their establishments making this a great place to live as a dog owner.boat dog

Not many beaches in Florida allow you to bring you dog, but Flagler Beach does allow pets north of N. 10th Street and south of S. 10th Street. The only rules are your dog must be on a leash no longer than five feet and that visitors pick up after their pet.

One of the best local spots to hang out with your pooch is Wadsworth Park in Flagler Beach with its 60,000-square-foot fenced dog park. You dog can run about unleashed and you can unwind in the shade or on the park benches. There are even separate sections for larger dogs over 20 pounds and small dogs.

Two restaurants that allow owners to bring their four-legged pals are Hightides at Snack Jack and the Beach House Beanery. Snack Jack’s is right on the beach and has an outdoor patio that’s perfect for pet owners. You’ll be greeted with a bowl of water and your dog just needs to stay outdoors and off the tables. Beach House Beanery constructed a new patio area just so customers can bring their dogs along with them.

The Si Como No Inn is an Old-Florida style hotel that was renovated in 2000 with pet owners in mind. Because of the abundance of dog friendly activities and places where they are welcome, the inn saw a need for travelers that didn’t want to leave their furry family members at home.

We are even lucky enough to have great places for horse owners to take advantage of as well. Princess Place Preserve is a popular spot for horse lovers with its equestrian campground and numerous riding trails and the Florida Ag Museum offers guided trail rides and riding lessons. All these great fantastic places to spend time with our pets make us all lucky to be living in Flagler County.

Florida a top dog loving state

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We ranked number fifth in a new listing of “The top 10 states that love dogs the most” according to a new study by Big Heart Health Brands. Florida was beat out by Tennessee, Washington, New York and California took the top spot.

The survey of 3,000 U.S. dog parents not only raked states where dogs were loved the most, but also provided many other insights on how we feel about our dogs. Some of the most significant were that 86 percent of dog parents tell their dog “I love you” at least once a month and 68 percent allow their dog to sleep with them at least once a month.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, the study went onto find 39 percent of unmarried women, 23 percent of unmarried men and 20 percent of all U.S. residents would rather spend Valentine’s Day with their dog rather than with a romantic partner. The top five most popular ways dog parents are celebrating Valentine’s Day with their pets are by specially telling their dog “I love you”, buying or making a special gift for their dog, posting photos and love notes on social media and including their dogs in a Valentine’s Day activity. But 73 percent already buy their dogs a gift at least once a month already.

Researchers discovered many ways dogs help make our lives better. Dogs help 18 percent of single men land more dates as well as 7 percent of single women. Other discoveries were that 86 percent of responders said their dog helps provide comfort, 71 percent said their dog reminds them to seek out more joy in life and a dog helps 65 percent become more loving as a person.

Do you look forward to getting home to be greeted by your dog? You are not alone; so do 64 percent of other dog parents. If you own a dog, you probably know all these facts already and don’t need anyone to remind you of them. But if you don’t have a dog to spend Valentine’s Day with, consider adopting one. There are so many reason why you should and how it can benefit your life.

Estate Planning for your pets

Jeffery Ritterdownload
Jan. 13, 2015

It’s estimated that 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats are owned in the United States according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  So as our population ages it’s pretty important to ask, “What happens to someone’s pet after their owner passes away?” Estate planning for your pet can be rather simple, but important process for a pet owner that is never too late to start on.

Pet estate plans have been around for a while and you’ve probably heard the story of Leona Helmsley that left millions for her dog named Trouble’s care. But because these plans were so new, she was ill-advised and none of the instructions she left in her will were followed.

Today that is not the case. Joan Rivers left behind a solid estate plan for her animals. She had two dogs that lived with her in Los Angeles and another two rescue dogs that stayed in her New York apartment. “She loved dogs dearly, and they meant so much to her … dogs have become accepted as essential family members that providing for them well in life, and after death, is considered quite normal,” Tracie Hotchner, River’s goddaughter, told the Daily Mail.

Attorney and financial planner Dan Clapper writing for says setting up trust for animals might not be as difficult as your think. “Such trusts allow you to make very specific arrangements about the type of care you want your pets to receive and how the money you use to fund the trust will be managed and used over the pets’ lifetimes,” Clapper said. “Traditional pet trust let you go into as much detail as you want about how exactly your pets should be treated.”

There are however some issues to address before you begin a pet estate plan. Calculating the cost of care and identifying the pets covered should come first. The ASPCA recommends taking pictures, microchipping or even using DNA testing to ensure your pets are the ones being care for.

Determining how much to put into the trust can be difficult, but estate planning attorney Tracy Craig gave a clear formula. “To determine the amount, first estimate the annual costs of food, pet insurance, veterinary care, routine medications and supplements, as well as any other recurring costs, and then multiply that by the entire life expectancy of the pet,” Craig wrote in

Establishing a primary caregiver and standard of care is also important. Like any trust, there will be a trustee in charge of the money, but defining who will actually care for your animals is something that must be included. “Include the name of the preferred veterinarian and the minimum number of vet visits per year, as well as any requirements for boarding, grooming, pet walking services, toys, treats – even doggie daycare,” writes Craig.

Finally, stating what will happen to the remaining funds is something that must be laid out. “The reason; Many states allow interested parties to reduce the amount of funds held for the pet’s care if a court deems the trust to be overfunded,” writes Craig.

“So to starve off challenges, consider naming a charitable organization (preferably an animal welfare, rights or rescue organization) that you think will be more likely to respect the terms of the trust, and won’t seek to decrease its funding or accelerate the remainder benefits.”

FHS reunites veteran with his dog after four years

A miracle happened two weeks ago at Flagler Humane Society. A Flagler Beach veteran that returned home from Afghanistan was reunited with his dog Bones that he had not seen for over a year.20141129_141258 (1)

It was a normal, quiet Saturday afternoon here at the shelter. A man was at the front desk asking to see Bones. “When I brought her out it was like something from a movie,” said Katie Share, Flagler Animals Services officer. “It was like everything was in slow motion as she went to jump on him.”

Bones’ story started out as one of heartbreak. John Russo was being deployed to Afghanistan and had to leave her behind with his girlfriend. He received Bones as a Christmas present in 2008. Russo and his girlfriend split up while he was away and unfortunately Bones was the one that suffered the most.

The girlfriend first took Bones to a local veterinarian to have her euthanized. The doctor would not perform the procedure because she was healthy and well behaved. She was then surrendered to Flagler Humane Society.

When she first arrived she was very depressed and had a large cyst on her face that needed to be removed. We were lucky enough to have a doctor agree to take care of it and she had an e-collar or cone on for several weeks after so she wouldn’t touch her stitches. She spent her time her in one of the administration offices and not a kennel so she could be monitored during her recovery.

“Bones was one of the most well behaved dogs we ever had at the shelter,” said MaryAnn Michaels, Animal Services dispatcher. “We never heard her bark, she was completely housebroken, would sit and shake on command and could even catch a Frisbee. We could all tell she had been loved and well cared.”

Russo had been back for about a year and had decided it was time for a new dog. “I had a feeling that day and I went on the website and there she was,” Russo said about Bones. He immediately came to Flagler Humane Society and said he wasn’t leaving with her.

“It was very heartwarming. When they brought her out to see him he just knelt to the floor and we were all tearing up,” said Katrina Geigley of FHS. “We’ve never seen this dog be so ecstatic to see someone. She ran and gave him this huge bear hug and was whining and jumping all around. If my job has ever been worth it, it was in that moment.”

Bones is now home with her owner and both are very happy. “It’s been insane, Russo said. “I come home every day from work and she somehow manages to get in my laundry basket and steal my shirts and every time I come home it’s like the first time she saw me again.”