FORT BENNING, Ga. - Soldiers face limited options and tough choices when it comes to their furry friends. If friends or relatives can't take them in, many must leave their pets at animal shelters in hopes they will be adopted.

But how do you get rid of someone you consider part of your family'

This dilemma sparked a Harris County man to enter a grant contest to win money to help Soldiers' pets.

Arthur Barker, director of cardiopulmonary services at Columbus Regional Hughston Hospital, is hoping his plan to help pets of deployed service members will put a dent in the number of abandoned pets left at local humane societies.

Barker is participating in the Pepsi Refresh Project, which awards money for project ideas based upon the number of votes they receive.

Barker, a self-described animal lover, said he envisions a foster care program for cats and dogs of Soldiers who are preparing to deploy.

The idea came after hearing his son share stories of fellow Soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., facing the dilemma of finding new homes for pets they'd long considered family.

"These Soldiers had to give up their pets to animal shelters, hoping someone would adopt them, and I thought 'there has to be a better way,'" he said.

"Every pet we can keep from being abandoned saves another local pet from being euthanized ... we want to give these pets a home and some love until their owner comes back."

Barker is vying for a $250,000 grant to help pay for 10 acres of land and construction of a foster shelter in Harris County.

The program would be free for deploying Soldiers, he said, however animals would be required to be fixed and microchipped by the owner. Barker said he also wants to foster as many of the pets out to homes as possible to keep them socialized.

Barker has approached many local organizations for support, including Paws Humane, the Russell County-Phenix City animal shelter and Safe Haven.

"It's an especially needed program," said Bob Robbins, executive director of PAWS Humane in Columbus. "I've told him if there's anyway we can help him we'd be glad to do it."

Robbins said PAWS Humane takes in nearly 2,000 animals a year - with about 60 percent coming from the city's animal care and control office.

"It's very emotional for people when they come to turn their pets in because they are headed overseas," Robbins said. "We tell them we'll do what we can to get the animal adopted but what Arthur's doing would keep that (painful process) from having to be done because they would know at some point they'd be able to get their dog back."

"They support this and want to see it happen. They've all told stories of watching grown men cry when they have to bring their pets in," said Barker, adding that Soldiers don't often get closure and are left to wonder if their pet was ever adopted.

Barker said even if he doesn't win the grant, it won't deter him from trying to make the foster program a reality. He's hoping "someone with a generous heart" will donate land for the project, which he estimates could cost as much as $500,000.

To vote for Barker's idea, visit www.refresheverything.com/bubbab.

The deadline for voting is May 31.

Page last updated Thu May 20th, 2010 at 16:58