Lee was reluctant to adopt a feline friend. But a rescue cat named Bunny gave the Iraq war veteran renewed focus during a challenging time in her life.
Like father, like daughter
Lee spent her early years in Winston-Salem, South Carolina. Her father served in the Army, which meant that she and her younger brother spent much of their childhood on the move.
“I grew up as an Army brat. We moved around a lot,” she shares. “My dad was stationed in Germany [and] we got to live in Germany for three years.”
After graduating from high school Lee followed in her father’s footsteps to pursue a path of service. She enlisted in the National Guard, working in communications as a network switching operator.
These professionals are tasked with the operations and maintenance of vital communications systems, including telephones and combat radios.
“It’s a lot of dynamic voice and data networking,” she explains.
Lee was set to be discharged following her six-year tour of duty. However, she was not ready to part with the military just yet. So in March 2000 – after transitioning out of the Guard – Lee enlisted in the Army.
“…trying to make it from day to day”
The young veteran was already accustomed to moving where the military needed her most. Stateside she was stationed out of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
In time Lee would serve out of Camp Casey north of Seoul, South Korea, as well as Camp Red Cloud, situated between Seoul and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
“I did the back and forth to Korea shuffle,” she says wryly, “and then Kuwait and Iraq.”
Lee was one of the first American troops deployed into combat theater during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was her first time in a war zone and a test of her mettle.
“The whole time I was mostly doing my job and trying to make it from day to day,” she recalls. “One day at a time.”
Lee’s job as a communications specialist was mission critical. Life in a combat zone is unpredictable, dangerous, and demanding – and depends upon secure, reliable communications.
In 2005 Lee was finally ready to make the transition to civilian life. While she still misses her friends, she was happy to leave the bureaucracy of the military behind her.
Life after service
Lee worked in law enforcement for several years before deciding to return to school. She used her GI Bill benefits to attend college, where she studied biology.
These days Lee works as a university research specialist in high end microscopy.
But the Iraq war veteran would soon learn that bureaucracy is not unique to military life. Still, it prepared her for similar administrative complexities of working for a large institution.
“That’s what makes me good at my job now.”
A reluctant adopter
Lee has always been an animal lover.
Still, the Army veteran was hesitant to adopt another pet. She and her wife, Joyce, already had Latimer, a Chihuahua mix who was accustomed to being their only child. They discussed the prospect of adding a cat to their home.
However, the couple was unsure if Latimer would be open to a feline friend, and Lee had other reservations as well.
“I always liked cats, but we just were like, ‘I don’t know about a litter box in our house,’” Lee shares.
Joyce, however, was not as reluctant. She offered to take care of the litter box as an enticement for Lee to consider adopting a companion cat.
Looking for love online
Like many adopters, Lee and Joyce started their search online.
It was through SPCA of the Triad that Lee learned about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
Lee liked what our program had to offer. She applied and was approved in January 2021, but it would be another six weeks til she fell in love with a cat named Bunny.
From foster to family
The couple decided that a kitten was out of the question – too unpredictable – and preferred to adopt a mature cat. They were struck by the online profile of a then seven year-old Siamese cat who was named Gigi at the time.
“We read about her temperament,” Lee recalls, “and she was super adorable.”
Gigi was being cared for in a foster home. Fostering is used by animal welfare organizations to relieve shelter overcrowding, to give very young, old, or sick pets a low-stress environment, or to help acclimate pets to normal household routines.
Fosters offer important insights to potential adopters about an animal’s behavior and temperament.
“The foster said the cat is great,” Lee recalls, “but she is very shy and won’t come out.”
Lee and Joyce were no less smitten with Gigi when they met her in person.
So about six weeks after Lee was approved into our program she and Gigi were adopted. And like so many newly re-homed pets, Gigi got a new name. From her adoption day forward she would be known as the cat named Bunny.
The cat is out of the bag
A few weeks after the adoption Lee was scheduled for hip surgery. The Iraq war veteran’s newest charge was a welcome and positive distraction during her convalescence.
“Getting Bunny kind of gave me something else to concentrate on,” Lee shares. “She kind of stayed out of the way during recovery. It’s almost like she knew something wasn’t right.”
Not everyone in the household was as enamored of this cat named Bunny. Latimer was perplexed about his new feline sibling after being the only pet in the home for so long.
Although dog and cat are not best friends, they are of similar size to one another. Perhaps that helps to keep the peace. Still, Latimer continues his adorable habit of “Zoom bombing” Lee during remote meetings, and lately Bunny has gotten into the act as well.
Bunny is no longer the shy cat that her former foster described. She is comfortable and confident in her new surroundings.
“Once she realized she could come out and run around, she hasn’t stopped.”
“…love me, pet me, feed me”
Now, one year after adoption, the cat named Bunny has come out of her shell and is thriving in her new home. Lee and Joyce have fallen in love with the adult cat’s affectionate personality.
“She is just so calm,” Lee says. “She is just like ‘love me, pet me, feed me, give me treats.’”
In fact, Bunny is so attached to her adopted family that sometimes Lee and Joyce have trouble managing her boundaries.
“I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and she will try to sleep on top of me,” Lee shares. “She will snuggle right on top of the down comforter and I am sweating, please stop.”
Still, every relationship in life involves some degree of compromise. The Iraq war veteran accepts Bunny’s need for extreme closeness because she loves her, and the friendly feline brings a certain tranquility into her home.
“She is just really, really one of the most calm animals I’ve ever had.”
“…doing the Lord’s work”
Lee is grateful to Pets for Patriots for bringing Bunny into her life even though she was not sure she was ready for a cat at the time.
The Army veteran appreciates the ease of applying to our program and the various support we provide to every single adopter. She adds that our partners SPCA of the Triad were easy to work with as well.
Adopting a pet – versus buying one – is important to Lee. She especially appreciates our focus on the most overlooked, undervalued shelter animals who face fewer prospects for adoption.
“You’re putting older animals and special needs animals in homes with veterans who need companionship.”
Lee feels strongly enough to advocate pet adoption to other veterans. She encourages them to learn about our organization and our many successes uplifting the lives of veterans and shelter animals.
“I keep telling my vet friends, if you want a pet, check out Pets for Patriots,” she says. “[They] are doing the Lord’s work.”