Navy sailor and shelter cat set sail for a better life

D'Ann and Lily at VBSPCA

A Navy sailor found the key to a better quality of life in the paws of a shelter cat desperate for a more fulfilling existence as well.

D’Ann joined the Navy two years ago as part of an ambitious, but “nebulous plan.” Her goals in enlisting were many:

“…to improve my quality of life financially, physically and educationally.” With a touch of humor, she adds: “It was the best decision I’ve ever made, and one that will probably send me to an early, stress-induced grave.”

The Navy sailor is married, but lives what many in the military community call a geo bachelor existence: separated from her husband due to the demands of their careers. She works twelve-hour shifts, four days straight, before heading home, where she cooks and tries to find the time to relax.

A Naval star is born

Prior to her Navy career, D’Ann concedes that her life had been “pretty discouraging and not very full of positive reinforcement.” With this mindset, she recalls the first time she was called in front of a career counseling board to discuss her future. Alone on one side of a long conference table, she sat in front of her Chief, Senior Chief and Master Chief and prepared for a grilling. What happened next was a shock, and one that helped to change the course of her career and life.

“I was completely unprepared to listen to three separate people all peg me as someone with both leadership skills and the intelligence to succeed,” she says. “I say very straight in my chair, tried very hard not to cry and thanked them for their observations. Since then I’ve gone about my business, doing the best that I can to live up to their expectations.”

In spite of the unexpected confidence booster at work, D’Ann’s existence was a lonely one. She only recently moved to Virginia and, without close personal friends or roommates, realized that extended loneliness could lead to self-destructive habits. The sailor knew that something needed to change. Lily (D'Ann) with toy

“I didn’t want to spend the next few years alone in a state that to me seemed both frightening and empty.”

The sailor meets the cat with “big yellow eyes”

D’Ann’s solution: adopting a shelter animal, ideally an older cat. Although she admits she had neither the time nor patience for a “hyperactive” kitten, another more soulful reason drew her to an older animal.

“I know what it’s like to sit in a place for months and months at a time wondering if there was any hope at all of my situation improving.”

Committed to adoption, D’Ann researched local shelters, during which time the counselors at the Virginia Beach SPCA told her about Pets for Patriots. The charity motivates the adoption of at-risk pets by providing a range of financial support, so that military personnel and veterans can more easily afford a new pet friend. As part of their partnership with Pets for Patriots, the VBSPCA offers an adoption fee discount and low-cost care at its on-site veterinary clinic.

Early in the summer of 2012, D’Ann met Lily at the shelter. Then a six year-old, domestic short hair-mix cat, Lily didn’t vie for D’Ann’s attention, but spoke to her with “those big yellow eyes.” D’Ann got the message. D'Ann and Lily at VBSPCA

“I don’t know if you are serious about this,” D’Ann imagined Lily saying to her, “but I’d really like to get the hell out of this place.”

In September, Lily went home with the sailor. At first the cat had a little trouble adjusting; for the first two weeks she barely ate, and rubbed her face on every piece of furniture in the house.

Lily quickly came to the conclusion that “a hunger strike wasn’t the way to go,” and started eating again. She became more affectionate with her new mom, even allowing D’Ann to share a pillow with her. And that was the beginning of the love Lily has been spreading around.

A life-saving bond for pet and person

Her initial anxiety a distant memory, Lily is now completely comfortable in her new home. She filled a vast and lonely void for her Navy sailor who, in turn, provided the serene environment that this ex-shelter cat needed to flourish.

“Now I can find her everywhere in my apartment, from behind the books on my TV stand, to burrowed in my comforter between the mattress and the sheets,” says D’Ann, but she credits the initially finicky feline with navigating her life to a better course. D'Ann and Lily 2

“Lily has put me through the emotional wringer, drastically improved my quality of life, and been there for me when everyone else had been incommunicado,” D’Ann says. “She always purrs when I stroke her ears, and she always rubs against me when I’m sitting down with a book. She’ll never let me get away with not petting her in some particular way.”

Having experienced the transformative love of a pet in need, D’Ann believes others should consider pet adoption if they want to live better lives.

“If you want to improve your own quality of life and make a difference in the life of a pet, one that’s probably pretty down on its luck, you should definitely adopt through Pets For Patriots,” she advises, adding, “If you’d rather try and improve your situation alone, only to realize your problems are handling you rather than the other way around…then that’s all on you.”

Ultimately, the Navy sailor makes the most elegant case for pet adoption:

“I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t want to help make the difference in a pet’s life and do something that will ultimately be to your benefit as well.”

How has your adopted pet turned your life around?


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