Erik has always loved cats. So when the Iraq war veteran turned to our program to adopt he gained a support network as well that helped him battle his loneliness.
The Fighting First
In 2000 Erik enlisted in the Army as a transportation officer. He was promoted to captain by the time he medically separated in 2007, but not before deploying to the Middle East in support of the Iraq war.
“I served with the Big Red One – 1st Infantry Division – during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.”
“During OIF II, I was the 2nd Brigade’s transportation officer and was the main point of contact during the airlift to bring in 24 M1A1 tanks from Germany in April [and] May 2004,” Erik recalls, “at that time the largest airlift of M1s into a theater of operations.”
The M1A1 is an earlier version of the storied Abrams main battle tank. The Abrams was introduced in the early 1980s and is used by both the Army and Marines.
Erik continues to serve even though his military career is many years behind him. He helps fellow veterans in his work as a veteran service representative with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
However, while Erik’s life is more tranquil now it is more lonely as well. The Army veteran is divorced and lives in Pullyup, Washington. Every other weekend he has visitation of his children, a 17 year-old boy and two girls, ages 12 and five, respectively.
But Erik was missing everyday companionship to ward off his loneliness. While he was part of a vital support network for other veterans, he did not have the same for himself.
In need of a four-legged friend
Cats had long been a bit part of Erik’s life. Yet it had been some time since he shared his home with the feline kind.
“I grew up with cats and had one adopt me as her favorite human. She loved pets from me and would sleep with me. Unfortunately, she passed away the summer after my high school graduation,” he shares.
Years later Erik would marry and the family had a cat, whom his now ex-wife decided to surrender 2016. The cat did not adapt well to the family’s change from a house to apartment living.
These dual losses made Erik wary of adopting another pet because “the sense of loss is terrible.”
However, something changed the Iraq war veteran’s mind. His girlfriend in Colorado had a cat. Over the course of several visits Erik realized that he missed feline companionship.
“I also saw some information that a cat might help me with stress and other medical issues,” he says, adding that his doctor was supportive of the decision.
Got your six
Erik started his search online, like many people who are considering companion pet adoption. He found Pets for Patriots and learned how our program works to pair military veterans with wonderful, yet overlooked shelter animals.
“I was looking for programs that would help with the adoption process,” he recalls. “While the benefits offered were awesome – Liv would have cost me $75 instead of the $16 I paid through this program – it was the support that was offered.”
Each of the more than 420 adoption partners in our nationwide network are required to extend an adoption special to our veterans; many choose to discount fees. And Pets for Patriots follows up with every single adopter for a minimum of one year.
Our partner nearest Erik’s home is the Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County. Since 2012, the shelter offers veterans adopting through our partnership an adoption fee of just $16.
Every dollar saved at the point of adoption means more money our veterans have to spend on life with their new best friends. However, the cost savings were not the only nor the most important benefit to Erik.
“I also was drawn to the program because it was focused on veterans, a mission I focus on daily with my work,” he shares. “Like I said, it was more the support network that attracted me than the monetary benefits, however those benefits made the cost of adoption much more reasonable.”
Erik was able to purchase the necessary food and supplies to welcome home a new cat, thanks to the benefits we offer. But even that paled in comparison to the renewed sense of purpose Erik felt when he adopted a cat named Junior.
Eight pounds of promise
An eight pound tabby cat came into the Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County just days before Christmas 2020.
Like so many shelter animals, little was known about Junior’s prior life. She had just been spayed and had dental work, so anyone who adopted her would need to devote extra care for the first several weeks. That alone might have dissuaded some adopters; many people want a ready-to-go pet.
But it was Junior’s personality that won over Erik. It was almost as though she was telling him that she was ready to be part of his support network if only he would take care of her as well.
Junior was curious about Erik almost immediately upon their meeting at the shelter and allowed him to pet her. That was all it took for the Army veteran to finalize their adoption.
With her new life, Junior got a new name: Liv. It could not be a more fitting moniker since it was exactly what she helped Erik to do.
It did not take long for the fetching eight pound feline to make herself at home.
“Liv has adopted me as her human, aka peasant,” Erik jokes. “She has become quit vocal in the last couple of weeks and loves it when I show her attention. She is also aware when things are ‘off’ and will settle down next to me.”
Erik believes that some of Liv’s habits are examples of her adopting him, such as when she holds his hand down to kiss it. She wakes him up every day and has adjusted nicely to his children’s visitation.
“While all this is positive, we are still adjusting to each other and I am sure we will continue to learn new things about each other. Thank you for the opportunity to adopt Liv and I hope to continue to provide her with a positive, forever home.”
Support network for veterans and pets
Erik’s work puts him in a unique position to help other veterans realize the innate therapeutic power of companion pets. He began to share how Pets for Patriots offered the chance to adopt a great pet and gain a robust support network in the process.
“I would recommend Pets for Patriots to all eligible veterans,” he says. “In fact, this was brought up during a team huddle at work. Not only do we process disability claims for veterans, many of us are veterans, too, so I was able to talk about your program at work.”
The Iraq war veteran believes that the follow up support we offer is particularly helpful to new adopters. Financial benefits that lower lifetime costs of pet guardianship can help more budget-conscious veterans adopt a companion pet.
“I would recommend it because of the support offered, especially if the veteran is a first time pet guardian. The financial benefits – agreements for reduced adoption fees, reduced vet[erinarian] fees, gift cards – are helpful too, especially if the veteran has a limited budget as some of the one-time purchases can be expensive.”
But it is the human connection our program offers that Erik believes makes all the difference.
“With that said, I still prioritize the support offered as a reason to adopt through Pets for Patriots.”
Liv and let live
There is comfort in the predictability of a routine, but it can feel joyless as well. Erik realized this after he brought Liv home. The tabby cat’s presence made him see that his days had become just a bit too predictable.
“Liv has shifted my focus from only doing the daily grind to enjoying life every day,” he shares. “I work from home so I get to see all her antics, especially when she is self entertaining.”
Companion pets thrive on routine and structure as well. But it is the marriage of our own routines and theirs that makes each day feel new. Adopters must adapt, compromise, and embrace change – all part of the bonding process.
The Army veteran’s schedule now includes plenty of feline time.
“I have a set routine now besides get up, caffeinate, work, homework, game, sleep,” Erik says. “It is get up, feed the cat, caffeinate, work, feed cat, work, feed cat, homework, play, feed cat, play, sleep – with guard cat on duty. She provides a little more structure to my life.”
Liv has become an integral part of Erik’s support network. She has developed a keen sense of his moods and responds accordingly. While these are attributes that most people relate to dogs, companion cats are capable of reading their guardian’s feelings as well.
“She is also sensitive to my well being, even though she loves to play,” Erik shares. “She knows when I’m not right – migraine, blood sugar off – and need to lay down. She will join me. Overall, she has improved my life and I can see by the look in her eyes that I have had a positive effect for her.”