GREAT FALLS, Mont. 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 Longâs two large dogs, Wayway and Ciri.
As the dogsâ 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 theyâve always been a squad.
âIt was trial and error adjusting to each other,â Appelwick said. âNow theyâre part of the family, like theyâve always been here.â
Canine teeth tore into shoes and furniture. There was no clear culprit, but she set up a surveillance camera.
âToby is the instigator, and Ciri the muscle,â 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.
âItâs all the benefits of dog ownership without the bill,â she told the Great Falls Tribune. âWith the advent of bank-to-bank transfers, itâs easy. I just tell Ashley what I need.â
Wayway needs medicine twice a day, and sheâs had some seizures. Longâs super detailed instructions didnât seem superfluous any more when the first seizure came.
Wayway is a beautiful dog who likes to stay near Appelwick.
âSheâs a super gentle spirit,â 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.
âService members shouldnât have to pick between responsible pet ownership and serving,â Appelwick said. âThis is a tangible way you can support someone while theyâre deployed.â
âThis is purposeful. It made a difference in Ashleyâs life. It built a community. Thatâs what weâre meant to do,â Appelwick added. âThis was an opportunity for me to say yes to something and make a difference in her life.â
Long is a single airman who was new to Great Falls when she learned she would deploy. Sheâs a medical technician for the 819th Red Horse Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The civil engineering squadron deploys often, so does Long.
Long expects the demand will grow for pet fosters among those who donât have handy friends and family.
âSince Iâve 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,â she said. âIt can be hard to find someone to watch your animals for such a long period of time, especially when itâs more than one.â
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. Itâs not that different than a dating website.
âYou get to view their bio, and you can learn a lot about someone based on how they write about themselves,â 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 Tobyâs 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 dogsâ usual separation anxiety. But she was sad, too, knowing how much she would miss them.
âTeresa takes the time to talk to me, give me updates, send me pictures and videos and we even video chat occasionally,â she said. âThat helps a lot and makes it easier.â
Long said if she had boarded the dogs, it would have cost a fortune. She didnât want them in a cage somewhere for 8 months.
âTeresa 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,â Long said. âShe selflessly gave up so much to afford me this opportunity, and I will be forever grateful to her.â
Long said being single in a state where she didnât know anyone made the dogs an even more important part of her family.
âI have had to go away before and nothing is worse than being halfway around the world and finding out your animals arenât being treated right. You are completely powerless and canât do much about it,â she said. âShe never complains, sheâs patient and above all she treats my animals so good. She is my hero.â
The women have already talked about what to do to when Long comes home and takes her dogs. Theyâre planning canine sleepovers.
âAll Toby knows is his pack,â Appelwick said.
âItâs going to be nice for a couple days of quiet. I look forward to having my carpets cleaned, but then itâs going to be weird without them,â she said. âThis was a lot. Weâll consider what to do next deployment when the time comes, but theyâve been really enjoyable.â
Isabelle had no qualms about a second round.
âI want these dogs when Ashley deploys again,â she said.
Dogs on Deployment counts 1,353 successfully deployed pets.