Silvia Washington is the proud owner of four, going on five dogs.
The Spanaway resident recently rescued a yellow lab and is integrating the pup into the pack. Washington, a former Army spouse as well as the mother of a JBLM McChord Field Airman, understands deployments. She has given a lot of thought to what she would want for her dogs if she had to leave for a year.
That preoccupation led her to Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit organization that provides an online resource for service members to find volunteers willing to board their animals while deployed. Through the nonprofit, Washington linked up with Jessamyn Jempson, a captain assigned to JBLM's 3rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion.
When Jempson deployed to Afghanistan last summer, Washington volunteered to board her 3-year-old canine while she was gone.
"There's a lot of pets from our base that don't have a place to go when these guys and gals get deployed," Washington said. "They're doing something for our country; it's for us to give back. I don't want her to be over there worrying about her animal when she has to worry about explosives."
Jempson was stationed in Germany in 2009 when she saw an advertisement for a litter of German shorthair pointer and Rhodesian ridgeback crossbred puppies. When she brought Emma home, Jempson didn't realize her unit was eligible to deploy. When she was surprised with orders, she was forced to fly Emma home to the U.S. where her mother took care of her.
Three years later at JBLM, Jempson received orders for her second deployment and again began to search out options for long-term pet care.
"A young puppy proved to be very difficult to manage and I knew that this time around I would need to find alternative means of caring for Emma," Jempson said.
Eight months before deploying, Jempson sent out the word looking for volunteers through Dogs on Deployment. Washington responded.
If anyone is qualified to take on an 80-pound dog for a year, it's Washington, who trains her four other dogs. One, named Liberty, is a 2012 Dock Dog Big Air Novice World Champion.
Emma got famliar with Washington's dogs on play dates. She even stayed over at Washington's house when Jempson was gone on TDY during the months leading to her August departure. When Jempson deployed, Emma began her yearlong stay at Washington's residence.
"I knew straight away that this was a woman who knew her canines," Jempson said. "I cannot begin to tell you what a relief it has been to know that Emma is safe and well cared for while I am gone. It has allowed me to focus on my mission in Afghanistan."
A temporary home
Soon after becoming Emma's caretaker, Washington took the dog pack to a JBLM range on East Gate Road to allow them to run. Emma took off and didn't return for 30 minutes. She finally trotted back, much to Washington's relief. The incident motivated Washington to work with Emma in recall training, basic commands and even teaching her how to swim.
"Emma fit right in," Washington said. "She's absolutely awesome. I think Jess is going to get a different dog." Washington created an Emma Facebook page to post updates, videos and photos of Emma and her temporary siblings, through which Jempson has stayed in touch. From Afghanistan, she sends care packages of dog treats for Emma to share with her foster family.
Last week Washington received a package with a green dog tag that read: "With love from Mom. U.S. Army. Afghanistan 2012." Jempson also sent one of her T-shirts. Washington opened the package with Emma last weekend and the dog held it in her mouth.
Through photos, videos and Skype conversations, Jempson has seen how well Emma has fit in with other dogs. Washington has convinced her Emma needs a four-legged companion and is encouraging her to adopt a second dog. But Jempson has another idea.
"Instead of adopting another dog, I think I will volunteer with Dogs on Deployment and pay the favor forward by caring for another service member's dog," she said. "I firmly believe in responsible pet ownership and I believe when you bring an animal into your home, you make them a promise of health, safety and affection until the end. Emma may be a dog to some, but to me she is my dog and therefore part of my family."