"Mac is awesome," says Grace. But no one would take him.
"For a lot of soldiers, if they deploy, it's going to be for a year, and it's hard to get a friend to watch a dog for that long," said John Gronski, deputy adjutant general for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. "Many are forced to put their pets in shelters, with the potential of the animal being put to death."
There are no statistics on how many deployed military personnel put their animals in shelters, but of the top 10 reasons owners relinquish their pets, moving is at the top of the list. An estimated five million to seven million companion animals enter shelters in the United States every year, according to the ASPCA, and about half of those are euthanized.
Melvin "Buzz" Miller cannot bear the thought of all that love going to waste. So eight months ago, he started a foster program for soldiers who need temporary homes for their pets.
"You get young people going to hellholes in Afghanistan and Iraq, risking their lives, and their dog or cat might be their one companion," Miller says. "When they have to put them in a shelter, for everything else going on in their life, this is a shot in the gut."
Miller, a wealthy real estate lawyer, former day trader, and golden-touch entrepreneur, plunks himself down in a chair at his 10-foot-long dining-room table in Gladwyne and produces a stack of glossy pamphlets, copies of e-mails, newsletters, and articles that local papers have written about him.
He made a fortune in the 1980s and '90s, drove a Jag, treated himself to weekends in Vegas, collected a few houses and a closet full of $2,000 suits.
In 2003, at 61, deciding he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life, he quit big business and threw himself into animal-rescue work, working with the ASPCA, fund-raising and advocating for animal-rights legislation. In 2007, he started PACT, People/Animals = Companions Together, an animal-rights nonprofit.
Rows of orchids, tilting their purple heads toward the sun, line the sill of the picture window overlooking his backyard. The garden is populated with animal-themed sculptures, some kitschy, some reverent. A stocked koi pond burbles beyond the patio. In a vast silver cage in the kitchen, George, his 10-year-old pet African gray parrot, blinks its yellow eyes and occasionally sings opera.
Suki, the arthritic Shiba Inu that Miller adopted from a New York shelter 16 years ago, waddles over, nestling at his ankles. Miller's menagerie - all rescues - includes two other dogs, three cats, and a Canadian warmblood horse named Teddy.
Miller, with a gray mane of his own, dresses down these days, wearing jeans, penny loafers, and his signature denim shirt, embroidered with the name of his Narberth pet store, Buzzy's Bow-wow Meow.
After learning about the need for temporary homes for soldiers' dogs and cats, he says, he put out the word to his contacts, looking for qualified foster families.
The news reached Deputy Adjutant Gen. John Gronski of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
"Pennsylvania has one of the most deployed National Guards in the country," Gronski says. "We've got 15,000 Army guardsmen. Over the last 10 years, more than 25,000 have been deployed, many of them three or four times. And we've had more soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan than any National Guard in any other state."
Early next year, he says, 3,000 soldiers from the area will be sent to Kuwait. "So it's very timely that Buzz is doing this type of thing."
Working with Miller, Gronski has arranged for fliers about the foster-care program to be included in the information packets new recruits receive.
"We figure we will get between 50 and 100 animals," Miller says. "I want to sign up 100 to 200 families, ready to go."
In July, the Cherns were running out of options. Since Andrew might be coming home as soon as next summer, they didn't want to give Mac away forever, so they started looking into husky rescue programs. "I asked if they could hold on to him for only a little while," says Grace. "They said they couldn't and told me to Google military foster pet programs."
There are several across the country, but the only one Grace could find within 100 miles was PACT.
So she called the number on the website and got Miller on the line.
He put her in touch with Cyndy and Mark Weiner, a couple in Downingtown who had volunteered to help out.
"It's the least we can do," says Cyndy, a public schoolteacher, who has another rescue dog and three rescued birds.
The Cherns dropped Mac off in August.
"It was hard," Grace says. "But it was either giving him away for a little bit of time, or giving him away permanently."
The Weiners send regular e-mails to the Cherns, including photos of Mac. "He's such a sweet, playful boy," says Cyndy. "Come here, Mac!"
The dog bumbles over and sits for a second, but then darts away.
"We're working on getting him better on 'come,' " Cyndy laughs. Mac scoots back to her.
He lays a big slurpy one on her.
In a year, bonds form. So part of the deal Miller worked out is that after a dog goes back to the owners, the foster family has visitation rights.
"In the contract," Cyndy says, "the sad thing is that if something happened, we'd have first option for adoption. Which it won't, right, Mac? Andrew and Grace will be back, and you will be so happy!"
Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.