Loss bonds grieving Army veteran and senior shelter cat

Jonathan can easily pinpoint the most difficult moment of his life: watching his 12 year-old cat Ziggy pass away in his arms. Despite his loss, the Army veteran was unwilling to let grief consume him. He made a decision to honor Ziggy’s life by opening his heart to a senior shelter cat – a tortoiseshell beauty named Tessa.

Army strong

Jonathan joined the Army Reserves in February of 2005 in order to become an x-ray technologist. After undergoing Basic Training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, he completed his Advanced Individual Training (AIT) while serving at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and Fort Stewart, Georgia. Jonathan and Tessa on floor_square

“I finished my last leg of service here in Tampa Bay before I was honorably discharged in late 2007,” he says, “due to a leg injury that started back in AIT.” 

The Army veteran has a more positive memory of his time in service than the career-ending injury he sustained.

“My favorite memorable experience from my time in service was receiving the General Abrams in Basic Training,” he recalls. “To achieve this award, I had to be selected by my platoon to represent them in a board with three other soldiers from the company who represented their platoons. Because I was selected for the award, I received an Army Achievement Medal and read a speech during the graduation. I kept it a secret from my family in order to surprise them when they arrived for the ceremony.”

Jonathan is still a licensed x-ray technologist and currently works for a healthcare company that handles the business side of hospitals’ revenue cycles. When not at work, he has little trouble filling his time with three seemingly diverse activities.

“My favorite things to do are make meals in my slow cooker, watch hockey and read comics,” he says.

To have loved and lost

Jonathan wanted to pay tribute to Ziggy following his beloved companion’s death. He thought that enhancing the lives of less fortunate cats would be a fitting way to honor Ziggy’s life. 

“I donated some of his things to the shelter,” he says. “I felt a sense of pride being able to share a part of him with others, knowing that the toys, supplies, food, etc., would go to good use.” Tessa (Jonathan) with toy_square

Despite taking this selfless act of giving, Jonathan began to wonder if there was something else he could do to celebrate Ziggy and the life they shared together. It was in that moment that the Army veteran decided to adopt another companion pet.

“What better way to honor Ziggy’s life than to provide a home for another cat?”

As a result of raising Ziggy, Jonathan knew that an older cat would require less training than a kitten – and would give an animal who had few prospects for adoption a second chance at life. Sadly, older dogs and cats are among the least desired by most adopters, even as they make wonderful companions.

“I knew she was the one”

For all these reasons, Jonathan was transfixed on the profile of a particular eight year-old cat he saw on the Humane Society of Tampa Bay’s website.

“It stated she was brought to the shelter after her previous owners could no longer care for her,” he recalls. “She is an older cat, which may not be desirable for some adopters.”  

Although they had never met, the connection Jonathan felt with Tessa, simply upon reading her story and seeing her picture, was immediate. Like Jonathan, Tessa was no stranger to loss. She was alone in an unfamiliar place and separated from the only family she likely had ever known.

“From the first time I saw Tessa’s profile online, I felt a connection. Before I adopted her, I went to the shelter to visit some of the cats there. Tessa was the first one I saw, and although I met others, I knew she was the one,” Jonathan remembers.

The Army veteran soon learned that the Humane Society of Tampa Bay is a participating adoption and veterinary partner of Pets for Patriots, a nationally operating charity that provides various financial incentives for military veterans to adopt the most overlooked companion pets – including adults like Tessa. In addition to the benefits that Pets for Patriots provides, the shelter waives pet adoption fees for the charity’s member veterans and extends an ongoing 10% discount at its full-service Animal Health Center.

“I chose Pets for Patriots after seeing a link posted on the Humane Society of Tampa’s website,” Jonathan says, “and reading about the organization’s mission.”

The Army veteran’s initial good deed of donating many of Ziggy’s belongings led to an even greater act of saving the life of an older cat whose adoption prospects were bleak.

“I was hooked on that positive feeling,” he says, “so I took it a step further and adopted Tessa.”

Sharing the love

Tessa is her own cat with her own unique personality, but in many meaningful ways she is following in the paw prints of her predecessor.

“When I brought her home…she picked a toy from the group that I placed out for her. It was the last toy I had bought for Ziggy,” Jonathan says, adding, “She loves it! That first night, she hopped up on the bed and laid next to me the entire night, just like Ziggy would. It was meant to be.” Tessa (Jonathan) holding hands_square

Jonathan is quick to point out that while Tessa has filled a place in his heart that felt empty after Ziggy’s death, the memory of his beloved friend is very much alive.

“I miss Ziggy every day,” Jonathan admits. “He was with me since he was a kitten and until he passed in my arms. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.”

By adopting Tessa, Jonathan has undoubtedly changed the older cat’s life for the better, but he is quick to share that she has had just as powerful an impact on his life as well.

“Tessa helps me continue to share that love,” he says. “Because of her, I wake up in the morning with a positive attitude. She needs me and I need her. I know Ziggy wouldn’t want me to be alone.”

How do you honor the memory of beloved pets who have died?


  1. Cheryl

    I am interested in volunteering for PFP – who can I speak with?

  2. BAM

    Wow! Jonathan’s story about Ziggy & Tessa were tender, but Suzi Kaminski’s story overshadowed the Blog with her heart wrenching story of Camilla’s trek/adoption. I couldn’t hold back the alligator tears! Pet adoptions are a wonderful thing as are the people and their tender hearts. Keep the tissues handy as the Blogs continue.

  3. TLC..(annie)

    I just read this story as I follow Tampa Humane a lot,we began keeping updates on Bart,who is our special Warrior Cat,but I had to come here to see Tessa and Ziggy’s story,and the kind hearted guy who is Jonathon.It made me cry,it did,it was a beautiful meeting of your new family as one leaves,as it has happened to me too.Plus how you said that Tessa layed down like Ziggy did,that happened to me too,it is a strange,nice,then really nice,but so like OMG!..it is like Ziggy in another Puss..sorta LOL ..forgive me for sounding like a lunatic,but the instant bond like you had on first meeting is the way mine did too.Im happy for you so much,time makes memories still hurt a bit for me,but without my older cat i rescued it was almost not going to stop being raw.I would love for you and Tessa to visit us at TLC,my crazy cat lady and dudes site Jonathon,thanks for telling your story,its all the way to me in Australia now,With Best Wishes Annie

    • TLC..(annie)

      I’m slow tonight,our FBook page is TLC. Facebook.com/The Loved Cats. and my site is http://www.lovedcats.com. But I hang at FB TLC more:)

  4. Suzy Kaminski

    What a moving story of loss and hope. Happiness is sure to follow these 2 companions for many years to come. I am so pleased that Jonathan gave his heart a second look and another chance to share his love unconditionally; for that is the gift that Ziggy gave to Jonathan, to love unconditionally. Because of this gift, given and received, a man, who is a true Patriot, felt compelled to first share with other cats at the shelter which improved their quality of life, and then adopt Tessa, which improved the quality of both of their lives. Adopting a mature pet is so wonderful I have done this with a dog. This girl showed her grace and gratefulness everyday of the 14 years she was our companion. Carmella, the canine mentioned, was picked up in one of the poorer neighborhoods in town. She was a stray with a thick wide red collar and 2 links of heavy chain attached to the ring. She was hit by a car and was rolled underneath it.. She was taken to our Veterinarian’s office by either the Police or Shelter, and our Vet was told that she was there to be euthanized. The dog’s hind leg was broken at the hip and twisted around backwards. Her side and belly were ripped open as if it was done by a can opener. When the Dr. put the injection to euthanize this brave soul, close to the dog’s paw, she licked his hand. Her ultimate fate was then sealed for the better. The Dr. stated to me, “This dog should have been biting my hand because she was in so much pain, instead she thanked me.” So he instead, put the dog under anesthesia, and then had to amputate her hind leg and put together the large open wound. The next day upon seeing her, the Vet was saddened. This girl had chewed off her own tail in an attempt to get rid of her pain, in fact, this was Phantom Pain, that many amputees suffer with including some of our own Patriots. Her leg was already amputated, the phantom pain would have to be controlled. So, back to surgery to put the tail in a 2″ bob, and at that time, the Dr. spayed her. The Dr. estimated the dogs age at 9 months. Then the Dr. called me everyday for a week telling me to adopt this girl and give her a loving home. I was resistant to the idea because we had just lost our beautiful dog, Abby. The Dr. said “You needed Abby, but this dog needs YOU.” So I brought her home, and she was named Carmella. She had never been inside before, this was quite evident, but with patience and time, all was made perfect. Carmella got me through some tough surgeries, she was a trooper herself. She lived as she died, strong in heart, and grateful. I was happy that we gave Carmella the home that she and all other dogs deserve.

    What a great story with Jonathan, Ziggy and Tessa, another “tail” of heart, understanding, and undeniable love. An animal with a history can fit right into your very own life, what a wonderful feeling to be able to save a loving life. Bless Jonathan and Tessa and all the other pets that have graced our lives.

  5. Candis Stern

    I particularly loved this story — though all of the stories I read from Pets for Patriots are wonderful. This stood out because I have met so many people — mostly men — who refuse to adopt after losing a pet with whom they were very bonded. But Jonathon made it beyond that barrier; he realized he could honor his former companion by taking in a cat, because it was older, that most likely would not have found a home. He saved the cat, honored Ziggy and gave him the perfect gift of a beautiful companion feline! Bravo Jonathon!

  6. Susan

    Another great story on adopting an at-risk shelter pet. Love it!! Congratulations Jonathan. I hope she brings you many years of companionship and love.

  7. Tonya

    This story brought me to tears. What an incredible human being Jonathan is. I’m so proud of him for honoring Ziggy’s legacy exactly the way that I’m sure Ziggy would want him to. Adopting senior animals can be challenging as you know that they are in the midst of their lives and for you to not get to enjoy each moment of their lives can make you feel a bit guilty and less fulfilled. But after having done it myself, I can tell you, all of those feelings disappear as you discover the good that you did for that animal, and how that animal repays you with unconditional love daily, as if to say “hey, thank you for thinking of me and choosing ME above others”. It’s the best feeling in the world. I too, like Jonathan, had my 15 year old cat die in my arms. It’s the hardest thing in the world, but life is circumstance and in that can be such happiness, owning pets gives me a joy that I’ve never known before, I can’t imagine my life without them. Thank you Jonathan for your service, and your selfless heart. And thank you Pets for Patriots for what you do in changing the lives of both human and animal. You are the most amazing charity and I am so thankful for all that you do.

    A Big Fan,

    Tonya (and Patrick and Poe, 2 rescue ginger cats whom I love)

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