Navy veteran adrift in depression finds meaning with special needs cats

Navy veteran adrift in depression finds meaning with special needs cats

Alexandra shared previously her long battle with depression. But thanks to Pets for Patriots the Navy veteran stays afloat with the help of two special needs cats adopted through our program.

“…not all sailors go to sea”

In 2019 after five years in the Navy Alexandra separated from service. She spent the majority of her enlistment in Naples, Italy before separating out of Portsmouth, Virginia.

The young veteran is candid about her motivations to enlist in the first place.

“I joined the Navy initially to gain some direction in my life,” she shares, “as I felt lost and confused.”

However, Alexandra would later learn that this unsettled feeling was part of a stubborn depression that she has battled for much of her life. Depression among female veterans often goes unnoticed, even though it is the most common mental health diagnosis.

Navy veteran adrift in depression finds meaning with special needs cats

Living with depression does not mean a person is always depressed. Alexandra enjoyed many aspects of her military career, including an ongoing joke about her naval service.

“Even while I was enlisted,” she says, “many people assumed that because I was in the Navy I was stationed out to sea at some point. This never happened, and so it was more of an embarrassing, but humorous topic of discussion to let people know that not all sailors go to sea!”

There’s no place like home

In time the Navy veteran returned to her home state of Oregon to pursue a career as a surgical assistant. But Alexandra made two lifesaving decisions while she was still living on the East coast.

The first such decision came in December, 2019. Alexandra adopted a young cat named Bellboy who had been diagnosed with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). This chronic condition qualified him as special needs and requires lifelong vigilance.

Alexandra met Bellboy through our long partnership with Norfolk SPCA, which waives adoption fees for veterans in our program.

Together we have made dozens of adoptions possible to veterans living in the greater Hampton Roads area.

Bellboy was promptly renamed, like many shelter pets once they are adopted.

“At the point when I adopted my first cat, Atlas, I felt in need of a companion and a desire to protect and nourish a creature I could give my love to,” Alexandra explains.

Hence the name I had given him: Atlas. He held me up when I felt my world was failing and supported me just by his presence in my house.”

Two is better than one

Atlas – true to his new moniker – helped uplift Alexandra from her depression. His needs as a FIV+ cat were not overbearing, but did require the Navy veteran’s attention and care.

Focusing on the needs of others can help break the spiraling nature of depression.

Yet just one month later Alexandra would find herself back at Norfolk SPCA. She could not stop thinking about another cat who had been in medical quarantine at the shelter. Penguin was a then six year-old Tuxedo cat, and was FIV+, too.

“I couldn’t get Penguin out of my head and a month later I returned to adopt him as well,” she recalls. “I don’t know how long he had been in the shelter as he was an older cat, but it was clear he was in need of a loving home and I do not regret my decision to adopt him either.”

Keeping depression at bay

Like many veterans, Alexandra first learned about Pets for Patriots online. She appreciated the many benefits we offer veterans who adopt eligible dogs and cats through our program.

“It’s amazing to have so many options for adoption assistance and ongoing pet support,” she says. “I would absolutely recommend adopting through Pets for Patriots. They are so helpful throughout the adoption process and have continued to help me with questions I have. It’s a truly beautiful program.”

However the real magic is what happens between people and their pets. For Alexandra, this meant relief from the depression that has plagued her for much of her life. She found that caring for two cats with special needs gave her a renewed sense of purpose.

“Even in my toughest moments, I remind myself that I have to care for them and, in turn, they inadvertently care for me.

I couldn’t imagine my life without them, and I am so grateful we found each other.”

Caring for a loved one – whether human or animal – is a life-affirming experience. While at times it can be frustrating, it is a potent reminder that every life matters and every life has value.

Alexandra came to this realization that the best antidote to her depression was to give of herself. And the beneficiaries of her kindness are two special needs cats who give back to her what she needs most.

“As ironic as it may sound, Atlas and Penguin have been the pinnacle of serenity in my home. They pull me from such dark and dismal shores to admire the simplicity in life, and help to remind me why my life has meaning.”

1 Comment

  1. David H. McAnn

    I too am a Veteran and am very serious about adopting a cat.

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