For decades, rescue cats have found a haven in Ron’s home. The Vietnam veteran marvels at how they can “give you a connection to innocence” and save you from life’s darker moments.
Last call for Vietnam War
Ron was among the last groups to be drafted for Vietnam. He was able to enlist in the Air Force instead of the Army, a decision that haunts him to this day.
“I always felt guilty about transferring to a branch where I was less likely to get shot at,” he shares, adding, “The day of my graduation from art school was my first day of basic training.”
Owing to his artistic skills Ron was directly assigned the role of illustrator, where he prepared briefings and illustrations for NORAD and the Aerospace Defense Command. The latter was activated midway through the Vietnam War – in 1968 – and responsible for defense of continental air space. In 1980 the command was disbanded.
Ron was aware that illustrators were deployed throughout all theaters of the Vietnam War, including combat zones, and volunteered to deploy anywhere in the world.
“So they sent me to Florida and Minnesota.”
Although utilized as an illustrator, Ron was trained for other roles so that he could be repurposed if the Air Force needed to reassign him. One of his most memorable experiences was earning his pilot’s license, which “felt like an accomplishment.” He made the most of his time in service and thought that the base to which he was assigned was an interesting place.
“While I was learning,” he recalls, “there could be fighter aircraft, military transports and civilian 747’s in the pattern all at the same time.”
The war long over, Ron fights new battles at home
Now retired and living in the Metro Detroit area, Ron is a full-time caregiver for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), a disabling central nervous system disease. Together they live a quiet life that is punctuated by the antics of cats they have adopted over the course of their long marriage.
Towards the end of 2015 the couple were coping with the loss of their previous cat, and were having a hard time dealing with a cat-less home.
“We missed them being around and ‘helping’ with everything,” he says. “When the last one we had passed, it was like when there is a sound you’ve gotten so used to, maybe a sound machine or the engine on a cruise ship, suddenly stops. And that silence becomes loud. Only it’s more painful.”
In time the Vietnam veteran and his wife decided it was time to adopt again, and in December visited the Michigan Humane Society in Rochester Hills. There they learned about the organization’s longstanding partnership with Pets for Patriots – in place since 2011 – and all the benefits available to Ron if he adopted an eligible cat.
“It just made sense to go through Pets for Patriots,” he says. “They helped with expenses and the people there are great. Everyone I’ve interacted with seemed like good and caring people.”
In no time the Air Force veteran adopted William, a five year-old tabby cat previously named Shadow, and an orange tabby cat named Gingersnap. She would be known as Abbie. They were a bonded pair, brother and sister.
Tragically, just two months later, William suffered acute renal failure and died.
While Ron was devastated at the sudden loss, William’s sister Abbie was suffering as well. He thought about getting her a companion, but at the same time was afraid that doing so might “make things worse.”
After a month of mourning the Vietnam veteran realized that it was time to save another life, and give Abbie the companionship she had had always known. Ron returned to the Michigan Humane Society and adopted a year-old special needs cat named Lorelai, whom he renamed Lori. The young feline had been at the shelter for more than a month, during which time she had been sick with chronic urinary tract infections. But it was serious behavioral issues that made her difficult to handle and, despite her relatively young age, she was not going to be adopted easily.
Ron was up to the challenge and brought Lori home. The shelter waived her adoption fee out of compassion for William’s untimely death.
Rescue cats find their way
It was not love at first sight for Abbie and Lori, but Ron still considers the adoption to be a success.
“They aren’t buddies yet, but Lori has taken Abbie’s mind off of missing William,” he observes, “so that’s good.”
The Vietnam veteran and lifelong pet adopter believes that that everyone should at least consider companion pet adoption. However, he cautions new adopters to learn before they make the leap.
“If it is new to you, learn about your friends’ pets. See what they have to say, and see how their pets interact with you,” he says, adding that people should visit their local shelters. “Go without any expectations. Just plan to spend a little time with different creatures and see if any ‘speak’ to you.”
For Ron, companion animals are more than just beloved family members; they are life savers.
“Pets save us,” he says. “At the worst times, they can ‘interrupt’ and ‘say something,’ looking for attention. And it can take you out of that moment, and give you a connection to innocence.”