For most of his life John had dogs. But this Navy veteran found his inner cat guy after his wife convinced him to adopt a feline in need.
Service at sea
In 1989 John enlisted in the Navy. His military occupational specialty, or MOS, was radioman 3rd class.
Sailors in this technically demanding role are responsible for the transmission and receipt of all radio signals onboard ships, aircraft, and onshore Naval facilities.
The radioman MOS was merged with another MOS in 1999 to the current Information Systems Technician rating. The move reflects the evolving sophistication and complexity that this job entails.
When he was not underway John was based on the East coast.
“I was stationed in Virginia Beach and served aboard the USS Nassau during Operation Desert Shield,” John shares. “I also did a six month Med[iterranean] cruise on the USS Wasp.”
John’s Naval career allowed him to see the world. Some of his sea duty was in support of combat operations, but other assignments offered a welcome respite and a window into life in other countries.
“One of my most memorable experiences was in 1991 during our port of call in Israel. It was amazing to see all of the historical landmarks, interact with the citizens, and enjoy their culture and cuisine.”
The Navy veteran completed his tour of duty in 1989 and separated from service with an honorable discharge.
Evolution of a cat guy
John remembers the moment that he became a cat guy.
More than 10 years ago the Navy veteran’s wife, Dawn, told him about a rescue cat who needed a home. John had always preferred dogs and was reluctant to consider a cat.
“I told her over the phone that I wasn’t really a cat person, but Dawn insisted, ‘Just meet her,'” he recalls. “Sure enough, Jasmine melted my heart and we adopted her.”
Tragically, Jasmine’s adoption did not last. A little more than four months later she died in Dawn’s arms after a trip to the emergency veterinarian.
A news story aired a short time later about the rescue from which she was adopted. It revealed that Jasmine was an animal hoarding victim.
However, Jasmine’s too-short life was not in vain.
“Jazzy Jazz, as we called her, paved the way for other cats,” John says.
In the years that followed the couple adopted no less than four felines. All joined John and Dawn when they left the Metro Detroit area and moved east.
But the pair would soon learn there was still room in their hearts and home for another four-legged soul in need.
And then there were five
John and Dawn have since resettled in Knoxville, Tennessee.
One day in 2019 the couple was delivering pet supplies collected by John’s coworkers to nearby Blount County Animal Center. Since 2014 the shelter has partnered with us to help more than 130 of their most overlooked dogs and cats find loving military homes.
Although John had become something of a cat guy, he had no intention of adding to his feline family. A senior cat at the shelter had other plans.
“We weren’t looking for a fifth cat, but saw Allie – then 8 years old – and fell in love with her.”
The Navy veteran applied to our program and was approved promptly. On that very same day he brought Allie home from Blount County Animal Shelter with a fee-waived adoption. We followed up with a generous gift card to help John purchase ‘welcome home’ food and supplies.
Until this fateful visit John was unfamiliar with our nationwide companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
“My wife and I hadn’t heard of Pets For Patriots before visiting the Blount County Animal Shelter,” John shares. “The program was explained to us by one of the shelter associates. We’ve since told many veterans about the program!”
John soon learned that Allie has a mind of her own. The older cat’s refusal to respond to her name led to a new moniker. While she is no more responsive to her new name than her former one, John felt it was more fitting.
“After having her for a while we determined that she could hear just fine, but for some reason she wouldn’t look in our direction or even come for cat treats when we shook the can,” John shares. “Since she didn’t seem attached to her name we changed it to Softee. Her fur is as soft as a rabbit’s.”
Like most cats, Softee is fiercely independent. She seems to prefer Dawn and continues to ignore the couple when called.
John takes these matters in stride. A sense of humor helps, too.
“She still doesn’t come for treats, but she’s trained us to come to her!”
Little is known about Softee’s past and each day John learns new things about this latest addition to his feline family. For example, Softee does not like to socialize with the other cats. She prefers the company of people – and John, the cat guy, is not always her first choice.
“But she loves sitting on Dawn’s lap most evenings,” he says. “On the rare occasion she isn’t home, my lap will do for a little while.”
“You feel like you’re really somebody”
There is a misperception that veterans with psychological or physical wounds necessarily require a service animal.
However, few people know that it can take up to two years to acquire a dog for service. These animals are typically bred for purpose, and undergo extensive evaluation and training before being paired with their handlers.
The reality is that most veterans neither need nor will qualify for a service animal, but could benefit from adopting the right companion pet.
“The Pets for Patriots program may not be as well known to everyone – it wasn’t to my wife and I. However, adopting a pet through Pets for Patriots can be just as beneficial for vets who may not need a certified support animal,” John shares.
“Pets love us unconditionally and seem to know when we need them most without even saying a word. And the animals that qualify for the program are older – not puppies and kittens. It’s a win-win!!”
So often it is one special pet who leaves an indelible imprint in our lives. For John, that pet is Jazz, his first and short-lived cat. Softee adds another dimension to this cat guy’s newfound fondness for the feline kind.
“Adopting Softee has only increased my appreciation for cats and what they bring to your life. I’ve told Dawn many times since we had Jazz that we’ll always have at least one cat,” he says. “She’s dubbed me ‘catmandude!'”
The Navy veteran occasionally reflects on his evolution from dog lover to self-professed cat guy. He only knew dogs as pets prior to meeting his wife and shares that the couple sometimes thinks about adopting another dog.
“But I’ve decided that caring for cats is easier in so many ways,” he says. “They tend to be more self-sufficient than dogs, and decide when and if they want your affection. You feel like you’re really somebody when a cat decides to allow you to love them.”