Lonely Air Force veteran finds renewed purpose with special needs senior cat

Lonely Air Force veteran finds renewed purpose with special needs senior cat

Barbara did not intend to adopt a pet when she made an unplanned visit to her local animal shelter. But a special needs senior cat made the decision for her.

Now the Air Force veteran starts every day with a renewed sense of purpose that had been long absent from her life.

This is Barbara’s story in her own words. Our thanks to Young Williams Animal Center for helping us make this heartwarming match.

“The restlessness was building”

In 1969 the Vietnam War was still going hot and heavy. I’d had a close friend who’d served in Vietnam and told me the stories he couldn’t tell anyone else. He was sad, fearful, and determined to go back.

I graduated high school that year and spent the summer in Los Angeles, a gift from my older sister, who’d moved there the prior year.

When I got back home to Brockton, Massachusetts, which is where I’d grown up, I was restless and unsure of what I wanted to do. Though I had a scholarship to a local community college I chose not to go.

The restlessness was building.

Between fall of 1969 and the first of 1970 thoughts of my friend Ronnie ran through my mind. He had gone back to Vietnam for a second tour. Also during that period I went through some disastrous choices and I finally decided I wanted to join the military.

“…I ended up loving my job”

I’d talked to my dad who’d served in the Army and had been through WW II. He recommended that if I was determined to join the military I should join the the Air Force, so in February of 1970 that’s exactly what I did.

Recruiters at that time basically told you that you would have your choice of careers once you entered. I put down every medical field that they offered.

I was excited thinking about being able to help guys like my friend Ronnie, but the military had other ideas for me. After basic training I was to go to tech school in Wichita Falls, Texas, Sheppard Air Force Base (AFB).

The field they had chosen for me was data programming, a relatively new field. Though I didn’t feel that this was what I was meant to do, I passed the tech school training and Sheppard AFB became my permanent duty assignment.

Though I didn’t care for Texas I ended up loving my job, working with a great team and feeling that in some small way I was still serving my country.

“…wondering what would happen next”

My most memorable time came on that first day of my entry into basic training.

I flew out of Boston’s Logan Airport along with a few other recruits heading to San Antonio, Texas, Lackland AFB. I truly had no idea what to expect.

We had a long layover in Atlanta, Georgia, where we were joined up with more recruits – and watched over by a steely-eyed tech sergeant who kept us in line and on a short leash. Though he wasn’t unfriendly, he also wasn’t talkative.

I think we new recruits were so unsure of ourselves that we didn’t really connect with each other, but sat in silence wondering what would happen next.

We finally caught our flight out of Atlanta, coming into San Antonio about 3am. When we departed the plane in San Antonio it was a wake up call for all of us. Suddenly the tech sergeant was booming out orders that none of us understood. We shuffled our way onto a bus that took us to the base.

It was a quick lesson in obeying orders and a general wondering of what in the world had we got ourselves into.

The surprise was that since I’d had a strict, hardworking mom, I found the discipline and hard work of basic training to be a comfort, and I fell easily into the military lifestyle.

I loved the Air Force!!!

“I’d lost my best friend”

I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, in a very rural area that in the summer when the trees are in full bloom does not even allow me a view of my neighbors. Halfway up a hill, with a long curved driveway, it can seem – and is – very isolating.

I retired in 2009, living alone except for the companionship of a very faithful dog named Lucy, which I had actually got for my mom, who lived with me til she passed away in 2003. Lucy and I spent time fishing almost daily. She loved the rides in the car and being along the water. She even once caught her own fish!

I couldn’t have asked for a better friend, and never felt lonely or afraid to be alone when Lucy was around.

Sadly, in 2016, Lucy suffered a stroke and passed away. I was heartbroken, and couldn’t even think about a replacement for her. I’d lost my best friend, my little girl, and I hurt.

“My home was no longer my refuge”

Time passed, and 2020 came with this awful COVID scare. I ended up spending more time alone, more time at home. My health wasn’t great to begin with and the next year-and-a-half brought four surgeries – that really put a dent in my ability to go anywhere.

I was in pain, sad, depressed, and even a little scared. My home no longer was my refuge. It was more like a prison.

Then came a day at the beginning of this year. I had a doctor appointment on the other side of town and because the animal shelter was out that way, I thought I would just stop by.

My intention was solely to look and give some love to the pets inside. Of course I walked through the dog section first and talked to those sweet animals as though they understood my every word.

Next I walked into the cat section and the very first cage I came to had a yellow cat that was asleep at the back of the cage. I started reading the information sheet on the cage. Eight year-old feline, FIV positive and his name was Ichabod.

I said his name out loud, just testing the sound of it, when he suddenly jumped up and came to my side of the cage, and gently strolled back and forth, letting me pet his side through the bars.

“I’m not sure why I said ‘yes'”

I almost couldn’t walk away to look at the other cats, but I visited with them too, talking to them softly. But none gave me the attention that Ichabod did.

As I was about to walk out and head home I had to pass Ichabod again. When I stopped at the cage to talk to him once more one of the workers came in and asked if I’d like to visit with him in one of the visitation rooms.

I’m not sure why I said ‘yes.’ After all, I was just looking. She put me in the room and put Ichabod on my lap. He just laid right there, lapping up all the loving. I tried to set him on the floor to see what he would do and he just dug his claws in and wouldn’t leave my lap.

Besides the FIV, he had one lopped ear. When I asked about it, the girl said he was probably brought in with a feral group and his ear was lopped so that if he was let back out in the wild – if they came up on him again – they would know he’d been neutered and through their system before. His coat was rough and raggedy.

“I want to adopt Ichabod”

When it came time to put him back in his cage I saw the Pets for Patriots designation. Didn’t have a clue what it was, but when I left the cat enclosure I sat in the lobby and looked up FIV. I read all I could about it.

Then I went to the desk and asked about the Pets for Patriots designation. The woman at the desk told me about it and also about the FIV.

I knew Ichabod’s chances of getting adopted were slim. And suddenly out of my mouth came, “I want to adopt Ichabod.”

Ichyboy the escape artist

I filled out the paperwork and they put Ickyboy in a travel box to take him home. Just as I got to my car Ickyboy found a way out of the box, and I thought for sure he was ready to become a stray again.

Luckily, there was a young couple in the car next to me. I tapped on their window and asked if they could go in and get some help getting him.

The young man jumped right out, climbed under my car, and gently put Ickyboy back in the box, but this time in my car. I thanked them profusely, and got in the car and drove off with my new friend.

Icky didn’t like being confined and shortly found his way out of the box again. I pulled over, but since I’d had fusion surgery on my cervical spine couldn’t move in a way that would let me put him back in the box.

It turned out fine though, as Icky climbed in the back seat and stretched out contentedly for the ride home. Luckily, I had a cat carrier at my house that my daughter had left with me when she and her family moved to Seattle, Washington. I went in, got the carrier, and brought it back out to the car to put Ickyboy in for a safe passage into the house.

And Ickyboy was home!!!

“…my pet decided I needed him”

I didn’t truly decide I wanted a pet, my pet decided I needed him and he was right.

Once I brought Ickyboy home it was as if I’d had him all my life. I think G-d knew we needed each other and put us on that path the very day I stopped by the animal shelter.

I found out about the Pets for Patriots program through the animal shelter and the designation symbol on his cage. I truly couldn’t have adopted right then, cause it was near the end of the month and – as usual – my money was stretched thin since I live on a fixed income.

The fact that I would be able to get a gift card to a pet store meant that I could adopt my pet and provide for him until I could insert his needs into my monthly income. Since I always carry my DD 214 with me I was ready when the opportunity came.

“I no longer feel as lonely”

Ickyboy has changed my life immensely. He gives me a reason to get up everyday. Our routine of feeding and just being together gives me a purpose.

When I first took him to the vet, Dr. Randolph and I had a long talk about his FIV.

Ickyboy seems to have some neurological issues in that he doesn’t hear or see well, and he tends to walk with his head tilted to one side. He can’t make big leaps onto or down from anything. He doesn’t play, but chooses to spend both day and night taking cat naps.

I no longer feel as lonely. I talk to him as I would another person. And I think he mostly agrees with me ’cause he’ll jump up in my lap to be petted.

“…his way of telling me he loves me”

The strangest thing about Ickyboy is that he won’t eat unless I’m standing close by him. If I go into another room, he goes with me.

The one thing I love the most is that when he jumps on my lap or comes to lay on the bed – for which I’ve made a temporary stairway – he will always come right up to my face and bump his head against mine.

Sometimes he just stands with his head against mine for a while, and I know it’s his way of telling me he loves me.

He trusts me, letting me rub his belly with it fully exposed. When he’s not laying in my lap, he’s found a comfortable spot, on a low table in front of my living room window that gives him a good view of the bird feeder outside.

He trills at the birds, and makes very soft meowing sounds if I’m walking around the house and he wants some attention. He’s a funny boy.

“My heart has been filled”

I would definitely recommend adopting through Pets for Patriots. Aside from the fact that it’s a great help financially, I also feel that it gives the animals who might not otherwise be adopted a chance to find a home.

The encouragement I have received from Ted and Beth has been wonderful. Checking in on myself and Ickyboy and letting me know that if I need anything gives me a great sense of peace of mind.

I feel a kinship with the Pets for Patriots crew, a connection to other veterans who have adopted through this program. I read their stories. I feel their feelings. I feel this is a needed cause, and if I ever came into extra money I would donate to this program and promote this to other military members.

My heart has been filled because of Pets for Patriots!


  1. Christine E

    Barbara, Im so glad you found Ichabod! So fortunate for him, too. He’s a beautiful boy. I loved reading how he gives you head butts. So endearing. I think that is one of the ways cats say “I love you.” Wishing you many happy years together.

  2. Gary Gonzalez

    Just Beautiful… A fate-bound connection of Love, Comfort & Support amongst animal and human… So happy for you & little Ickyboy- who both were there just waiting to help & save each other…

  3. Candis

    It is wonderful to read about a veteran who has adopted a cat, as most tend to adopt dogs. This is especially heartwarming, Barbara because you are right. Not everyone would adopt an FIV positive cat,
    It sounds like a wonderful match. and I think it was a match made to be — call it fate or heaven-sent. It doesn’t matter, you are together and providing what you need for each other.
    Thanks for serving our country and thank you for adopting this wonderful cat!

  4. Sandy

    Thank you for your service, Barbara! Sometimes life has a way of bringing joy and peace back
    into our lives when we least expect it! SO thrilled for you and Ickyboy!! Peace and love to you both!

  5. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, Barbara. I’m so happy that you and Icky found each other, and I know that God had a hand in it. I hope you and Icky have a long, wonderful life together.

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