NAPLES, Italy — When Kate Maslen arrived to Italy with Hank the Tank, her beloved 9-year-old bull mastiff, she was happy her pooch would be able to live out his golden years in an Italian villa.
A couple of months after Hank’s passing, Maslen didn’t expect to see his "twin” in an online posting from an animal shelter. After eventually following up to go take a look at the dog, Maslen found herself in an animal shelter not far from the headquarters of Allied Joint Force Command Naples. It wouldn’t be her last trip to the Rifugio San Francesco animal shelter in Castelvolturno, Caserta.
Maslen, who works with Military Family Services Europe and married to a Canadian servicemember from JFC Naples, realized right away that she, and others, could make a difference in the lives of the 315 four-legged habitants of the shelter.
"We can be doing something,” Maslen recalled thinking at the time.
That thought is now a reality as a calendar project, dubbed "Soldiers for Strays”, makes its debut this week at the Christmas Bazaar happening at JFC Naples. After the bazaar, it’s also available for purchase at the Canadian Support Element.
Each month of the calendar features photos of a military or family member from one of the NATO countries with a dog seeking a home. All proceeds from the calendar, which costs 10 euro, go directly to the Rifugio San Francesco, which is a licensed non-profit organization that doesn’t receive government funding.
Maslen said the goal of the calendar is not just to raise funds, but to also help the featured animals find forever homes and to encourage volunteerism.
"So many people complain about the animal situation here,” said Maslen as she walked around the kennel noting the joy in the dog’s face as someone paused to interact with them or let them out of their cage. "This is an easy way to give back and do something.”
Volunteers say the kennel’s costs run about 11,500 euro annually, which includes food, medical bills, and general maintenance.
Besides adoption, there are other ways interested folks can assist, such as dog walking, grooming, sponsoring an animal or donating blankets ahead of the cooler weather.
"As NATO members, we are contributing to the world’s peace and stability. At the same time, locally, we hope to make a positive difference in the community we live in,” said Col. JP Levasseur. "Supporting the Rifugio San Francesco through the ‘Soldiers for Strays’ Calendar Project was not only fun, but also a great need as winter is also approaching. But, it is not over, our small Canadian community will also continue to support them through a volunteer day and we will welcome everyone that may wish to join us to improve the life of these dogs – man’s best friend after all!”
Anyone interested in adoption or volunteering their time can contact Maslen at email@example.com or shelter volunteer, Maria Guazzo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story and photos by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton