As an immigrant Marine Corps veteran Katherine has a profound appreciation for her adopted country. But it is a quirky rescue cat who helps her see that each day of her life is a gift.
The road less traveled
As soon as she graduated from high school Katherine enlisted in the Marines and headed off to boot camp. Her military service was just one of many firsts for this young woman who embraced the opportunities made possible in her adopted country.
“As many families who immigrated to the U.S., they didn’t have a lot of money to support their children for college,” she shares. “So, as my parents are from Mexico, it was all up to me to figure out how to become an adult in the United States.”
Defying norms and expectations has been a hallmark of Katherine’s life. She always sought out challenges. Growing up often meant choosing nontraditional activities, including sports that were not popular in her native culture.
“I was always drawn into the harder stuff. I played hockey which is not common with the Latino community, always hanging out with the boys,” she explains. “So it felt right to join the military.”
For four years Katherine was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, where she served as supply chief in a small supply shop. These professionals are tasked with managing inventory, supply chains, logistics, and disposition of nearly everything that their unit requires.
Despite Katherine’s busy schedule she found time to participate in the battalion color guard as well. It would mark another first for the young Marine.
“As a female it was rare to see me with other male Marines. Eventually I became the first female color sergeant in my unit. From there I was able to do events from fleet week in Seattle and San Francisco to parades for World War II vets,” she says, adding, “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Embracing the few and the proud
Despite a busy and fulfilling schedule Katherine longed for a bigger challenge; she wanted the opportunity to deploy.
So the young veteran decided to reenlist and “take on the beast” of training to be a Marine security guard.
“Three years that were well spent,” she says. “I was stationed in Munich, Germany, Beijing, China and Abuja, Nigeria. Eventually while stationed in Beijing I was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.”
“…the best I could be”
In January 2020 Katherine separated from service with an honorable discharge. Currently she is a full-time student, though has not had any in-person classes due to coronavirus restrictions.
Despite the pandemic, the young immigrant veteran stays healthy by running. She jokes that her runs are longer, though less grueling, than during her time in the military.
Katherine has many memories from her years in service, but one stands out above the rest. She had the chance to meet veterans who served long before she was even born. And those encounters made a profound impact upon her.
“We were part of a parade that had old World War II aircrafts,” she recalls. “Along with the aircrafts we were fortunate enough to meet World War II, Korean [War], and Vietnam [War] Marine vets as well. They spoke of their stories from flying during World War II to their experience during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. It was their stories that stayed with me and inspired me to be the best I could be.”
A place to call home
Serving in the military was a rewarding experience for Katherine, professionally and personally. During her enlistment she met her current boyfriend. The pair – both Marine Corps veterans – live together and enjoy the company of his pet cat.
“He has a very beautiful cranky gray tabby named Valencia and she is filled with sass,” she says.
Still, Valencia was not Katherine’s cat. Even though she fed her and cleaned her little box, Katherine longed for that special bond with a companion cat of her own.
The young Marine always wanted to adopt a pet and loved cats, but her mother claimed to have been allergic. Katherine has since learned that was just a ruse.
“Now she has two cats and a dog.”
During the months-long process of separating from service Katherine would browse the Atlanta Humane Society website. She is a firm believer that people should adopt pets, not shop for them, and was committed to finding a shelter pet.
However it was not until the immigrant Marine Corps veteran volunteered at a shelter that she found her perfect match.
“I felt like I could save at least one life when I adopted,” she shares.
“That need to adopt became stronger when I volunteered at a humane society shelter and I would see daily these beautiful creatures needing a place to call home. And eventually I ran into a derpy black cat who puked his breakfast because he got excited, and decided I was going to take him home.”
Immigrant Marine Corps veterans meets her feline match
Katherine learned about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for veterans through an email from the Veterans Administration.
Our focus on the most overlooked, adoption-challenged animals resonated with the young veteran.
“Before Pets for Patriots I was still planning on adopting an older cat because the thought of kittens scared me. They are so small and fragile, and how do you raise these little devils!? But after reading more information on the website I decided to sign up for it.”
About six weeks after being approved into our program Katherine met her match – that “derpy black cat” she met while volunteering. And ever since that time she has been encouraging other veterans to adopt, not shop.
Katherine knows how important it is to have the unconditional love and acceptance of a companion pet.
“I have already informed a ton of my veteran friends or soon to be veterans about this program,” she says. “I know there are tons of Marines who missed their furry friend back at home, and sometimes you need that companion at your side. It is really a great thing that you all are doing here and I am so happy I found you all.”
The luckiest black cat
Angus had been a young adult black cat in the care of one of our Atlanta shelter partners. All that is known about him is that he was transferred into the shelter from another animal welfare organization.
When Katherine brought Angus home her boyfriend’s cat – Valencia – was none too happy to have him around. But despite their differences the two felines have found ways to get along.
“He is the complete opposite of the other cat in our household,” she says. “He loves pets and talks all day long, especially if there is food around, human or cat food. Literally. He stole a piece of my ham from my plate and ran off with it. He absolutely loves to play and is slowly getting comfortable with being outside, on a leash of course.”
Angus is a spirited cat who enjoys playing with his laster pointer and other cat toys. After dinner when Katherine and her boyfriend settle in to watch movies, Angus is quick to cuddle in their laps.
“There isn’t a dull moment with him around.”
And Angus is not the only one whose life was made better through adoption. The young immigrant Marine Corps veteran believes that her spirits have been buoyed by having Angus in her life.
“I have noticed that my mental well being has been better since he has been part of the family,” she shares. “And it truly shows that shelter cats aren’t broken or old, they just need space to expose their beautiful and weird personality.”
“Adore each day”
Katherine understands that adopting a pet means accepting that animal ‘as is’ – just as they accept their human guardians. But she was unprepared for a diagnosis Angus received shortly after the pair were adopted.
“At the shelter they don’t do a full on testing for all diseases or sickness so when I took him to his first vet appointment I was given the horrible news that he was positive for feline leukemia virus,” she says, “and there isn’t a cure.”
Feline leukemia virus, or FeLV, is a potentially dangerous medical condition that can lead to other serious diseases, such as cancer. Some cats are able to mount an effective immune response and eliminate the virus. Even so, these animals may be more susceptible to other diseases later in life.
“I was told he had a small percentage to fight it off, and if he didn’t he would have only two more years to live,” Katherine shares. “So that changed something in me.”
Fortunately, Angus was able to ward off the virus and is now FeLV free. But that period of uncertainty about his fate inspired Katherine to look at life in a completely different way. Even though she always challenged herself and chose an unconventional path in life, the young Marine believes that there is always room to grow.
“Adoring life even if it might be short,” she says. “Adore each day that I have because it is a blessing.”