Howard has rescued animals his entire life. After losing his previous pet to cancer the elderly veteran would save a 12 year-old cat whose life was upended by a hurricane.
A good life
Howard worked in New York City for a major insurance company where he rose to the role of senior sales manager over the course of a 30-year career. The GI Bill paid for his education, including an advanced degree in insurance.
In 1999 Howard retired and, with his wife Yelena of 55 years, moved to a quiet home in upstate New York. The couple have two married children, two grandchildren in college, and three young grandsons who live in Boston.
Life in retirement has been good to the elderly veteran. There is no doubt that Howard has earned his peace, but life was not always so tranquil.
“Why did I survive?”
Howard served in the Air Force during the Cold War, a time when the country was trying to suppress the rise of communism. He went to military police (MP) training in Lackland, Texas, before attending a year-long military training school where he learned how to defuse a nuclear weapon.
Over the course of Howard’s Air Force career he would be stationed at now shuttered air bases in the Solomon Islands and northern Michigan, among others. However, his most vivid memories were formed during one of the most infamous debacles of the Cold War.
“I was in the Bay of Pigs for the Kennedy showdown with the Russians,” he says, “and survived.”
The Bay of Pigs invasion was one of the most epic failures of our nation’s foreign policy. It neither destabilized the Castro regime as planned nor replaced it with a government more friendly to the United States.
Still, it was not the military action or foreign policy implications that haunt Howard, but the tragedy of lives lost. He sometimes ponders why so many of his fellow service members perished and yet he lived.
Many veterans are haunted by survivor’s guilt years after their tours of duty have ended.
“I often wonder why did I survive. With each assignment my working partners were killed. Why did I survive?” he asks with no answer. “And this was called ‘peacetime.'”
Surviving the Bay of Pigs invasion is but one of many milestones in Howard’s life. He served and was discharged honorably, completed college and graduate school, married, retired, and has loving children and grandchildren.
Old cats rule
Howard and Yelena are no stranger to saving lives.
“My wife and I are longtime pet lovers,” he says. “We have had five dogs and two cats – all rescues.”
But in July 2022 the couple would lose their 10 year-old cat Dodo to cancer. Months passed before they were ready to save another four-legged soul. And when they were ready they decided to adopt another male cat, preferably a senior.
Howard reached out to us to learn how our companion pet adoption program works. After that conversation the elderly veteran applied and was promptly approved in November. He appreciates our team helping him with his application.
“They were most helpful and the process was simple,” he says.
Now the Air Force veteran’s search for an older cat would begin in earnest.
As it happens, earlier that same year Rock n’ Rescue joined our free shelter partner network. The upstate New York rescue waives adoption fees for veterans we serve who adopt program-eligible cats and dogs.
Miracle of miracles
In September 2022 Hurricane Ian devastated Florida. The Category 4 storm made landfall just south of Tampa Bay and devastated wide swaths of the state.
Countless people – and pets – were rendered homeless. Some animals were simply lost and presumed dead. Others were saved by animal rescue organizations that prepare for the inevitable onslaught of newly homeless pets brought upon by natural disasters.
Lewis was one such animal.
The orange tabby cat was 12 years old at the time and lost his previous owner in the Tampa floods. As a senior, Lewis’ adoption prospects were slim. In other words, he needed a little miracle.
The tabby cat would be among countless other dogs and cats who would be transported – once again – to areas of the country where they had better prospects of adoption.
And so it was that Lewis the old orange tabby was sent to Rock n’ Rescue in upstate New York.
For the love of old pets
Older animals are among the least likely to be adopted, despite having many benefits over their younger counterparts.
Would-be adopters are hesitant to rescue an animal who may have just a few months or years to live. Similarly, others worry about veterinary costs associated with an aging pet, including those who are already showing signs of their age. Some wonder if a senior pet can adapt to new people, environments, and routines.
For all of these reasons Lewis would probably still be in the shelter were it not for Howard and Yelena. The elderly Air Force veteran and his wife were determined to save an older, male cat.
Little did the Howard know at the time that he would be our first adoption through our partnership with Rock n’ Rescue. The shelter director personally delivered Lewis to his new home and gave the couple a new cat carrier as well.
Home sweet home
It did not take long for Lewis to acclimate to his new family and surroundings. He settled in quickly after exploring the condominium that he now calls home. In addition, he wasted no time training Howard and Yelena on the meanings of his vocalizations.
“Lewis has a great voice,” Howard shares.
For instance, the old cat will meow to say hello or to let his family know that it is time to clean his litter box. A steady meow means that he wants to be fed.
By all accounts Lewis is content in his new home and his new human guardians are equally delighted with him. Once again they have the joy of rescuing an animal in need. In so doing they are angels on earth to a senior cat whose chances of being adopted were nil to none.
Above all, Howard is a lifesaver. The elderly veteran has rescued animals his entire life and would not have it any other way. And he has some sage advice for other veterans who are thinking about adopting a dog or cat through Pets for Patriots.
“Sign up,” he says. “You’ll be a winner.”