GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) â As Air Force medic Ashley Long deployed to an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia, she found in Great Falls a woman she calls her hero.
That woman is Teresa Appelwick, a Wendt Agency staffer and mom who signed up to foster Long’s two large dogs, Wayway and Ciri.
As the dogs’ welcome-home runs around her living room gave way to snuggles, Appelwick settled into an easy chair with her Chihuahua mix, Tobias, or Toby, as they call him. The dogs seem like they’ve always been a squad.
“It was trial and error adjusting to each other,” Appelwick said. “Now they’re part of the family, like they’ve always been here.”
Canine teeth tore into shoes and furniture. There was no clear culprit, but she set up a surveillance camera.
“Toby is the instigator, and Ciri the muscle,” she learned.
Appelwick is one of the first Montanans to board a dog through Dogs on Deployment , a nonprofit based in California. Appelwick heard about the program while in the Air Force, but her life only recently reached a point she thought she could take on another project. Her fifth-grader Isabelle and sixth-grader Hunter were up to the challenge of helping tend the pets.
“It’s all the benefits of dog ownership without the bill,” she told the Great Falls Tribune. “With the advent of bank-to-bank transfers, it’s easy. I just tell Ashley what I need.”
Wayway needs medicine twice a day, and she’s had some seizures. Long’s super detailed instructions didn’t seem superfluous any more when the first seizure came.
Wayway is a beautiful dog who likes to stay near Appelwick.
“She’s a super gentle spirit,” Appelwick said.
Ciri is a 90-pound German shepherd with remarkable patience for the 13-pound Toby chewing on her ear. Appelwick sleeps easy with Ciri protecting the house.
Ciri and Wayway needed to stay together, which made finding someone to foster them challenging.
“Service members shouldn’t have to pick between responsible pet ownership and serving,” Appelwick said. “This is a tangible way you can support someone while they’re deployed.”
“This is purposeful. It made a difference in Ashley’s life. It built a community. That’s what we’re meant to do,” Appelwick added. “This was an opportunity for me to say yes to something and make a difference in her life.”
Long is a single airman who was new to Great Falls when she learned she would deploy. She’s a medical technician for the 819th Red Horse Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The civil engineering squadron deploys often, so so does Long.
Long expects the demand will grow for pet fosters among those who don’t have handy friends and family.
“Since I’ve been out here, I have spread the word about DoD, and a lot of people are interested in looking into it for their next deployment,” she said. “It can be hard to find someone to watch your animals for such a long period of time, especially when it’s more than one.”
She said Dogs on Deployment does a thorough screening, which brings peace of mind, even if it can be nerve-wracking to leave pets with a stranger. The organization has bios of owners and pets and potential pet fosters. It’s not that different than a dating website.
“You get to view their bio, and you can learn a lot about someone based on how they write about themselves,” Long said.
Long and Appelwick did a test run while Long was at a training to see how the dogs got along with Toby and Toby’s human family.
When it came time to say goodbye to Ciri and Wayway, Long had mixed feelings. On the one hand, she was at peace knowing Appelwick was the right person for the job, that her dogs knew and were comfortable with her despite the dogs’ usual separation anxiety. But she was sad, too, knowing how much she would miss them.
“Teresa takes the time to talk to me, give me updates, send me pictures and videos and we even video chat occasionally,” she said. “That helps a lot and makes it easier.”
Long said if she had boarded the dogs, it would have cost a fortune. She didn’t want them in a cage somewhere for 8 months.
“Teresa means the world to me. She made my life easier in a stressful situation and gave me the peace of mind that my babies would be well taken care of and loved while I am away,” Long said. “She selflessly gave up so much to afford me this opportunity, and I will be forever grateful to her.”
Long said being single in a state where she didn’t know anyone made the dogs an even more important part of her family.
“I have had to go away before and nothing is worse than being halfway around the world and finding out your animals aren’t being treated right. You are completely powerless and can’t do much about it,” she said. “She never complains, she’s patient and above all she treats my animals so good. She is my hero.”
The women have already talked about what to do to when Long comes home and takes her dogs. They’re planning canine sleepovers.
“All Toby knows is his pack,” Appelwick said.
“It’s going to be nice for a couple days of quiet. I look forward to having my carpets cleaned, but then it’s going to be weird without them,” she said. “This was a lot. We’ll consider what to do next deployment when the time comes, but they’ve been really enjoyable.”
Isabelle had no qualms about a second round.
“I want these dogs when Ashley deploys again,” she said.
Dogs on Deployment counts 1,353 successfully deployed pets.