Retired Navy couple rescue coy cat with special gift for those in need

Retired Navy couple rescue coy cat with special gift for those in need

Henley was in a Virginia animal shelter until one day when the coy cat chose a dual Navy couple as his own. In time he would prove his mettle as a “little therapy cat.”

Home away from home

John and his wife Freida are retired Navy veterans who have long made companion pets part of their military family.

“I was mostly based on ships out of Norfolk,” John says, “but spent my first tour in the Philippines and another four years in Misawa, Japan with my family.”

Being stationed in Japan made for many memories and meaningful friendships. John and his wife embraced their time abroad, immersing themselves in everything the country had to offer.

“Japan was a fantastic experience for the whole family,” he shares. “Our son was school-aged when we arrived, so we were able to travel, enjoy the culture, and made lifelong friends in Japan.”

While in Misawa the couple decided to add another dimension to their lives and adopted a Shiba Inu. The dog was their first pet as a family and was with them through all of their adventures until he passed away in 2012.

Saving lives through foster care

Everyone deals differently with the loss of a family pet. Some people opt to adopt right away while others need more time to grieve.

John and his wife chose to work through their loss by fostering dogs in need.

Animal shelters rely on foster homes to relieve shelter overcrowding, nurture animals who are too young or sick to manage shelter life, and to help animals learn how to live in a home environment.

The couple’s largesse would change when one particular dog exhibited behavior so unmanageable that they decided to stop fostering.

Still, John and Freida felt unmoored without a pet in their home. They decided it was time to adopt a companion pet.

So 10 years after bidding goodbye to their Shiba Inu, the Navy veterans visited an animal shelter to adopt. However, this time they were not looking for a dog, but a cat.

From canine to feline

Not having a pet simply was not an option. Yet after fostering for nearly a decade the couple nearly forgot the joy of having a pet of their own.

John confides that as the couple’s lifestyles changed it made sense to consider a pet whose care would be less demanding physically. A cat might just fit the bill.

“Ironically, we had fostered multiple dogs since our family dog died,” he shares, “and never really considered adopting a cat.”

John and Freida visited Chesapeake Humane Society to find their newest family member. Since 2016 the shelter offers $25 off adoption fees for veterans in our program who save eligible dogs and cats.

Shelter staff told the pair how our program works, and – since both are veterans – encouraged either one of them to apply.

Despite never having had a cat, it did not take long for John and Freida to find the perfect feline.

The Navy veterans were in the process of meeting one cat at Chesapeake Humane Society when a random paw reached out and tapped John’s leg. It belonged to a coy cat who had been hiding nearby.

“I’m sure you’ve heard this many times,” the Navy veteran says, “but he definitely picked us.”

Gravy is that “he,” a tabby cat estimated at at the time to be two years old. The fetching feline came out of hiding and started to purr in John’s lap before visiting with Freida to seal the deal.

So one week after being approved into our program, Gravy got a new life and a new name: Henley.

A gift

Not long after adoption John noticed that there was something refreshing about Henley.

“Our cat Henley has been like a cool breeze in our life! He was special from the moment he snagged us,” John says. “We joke that he’s like a dog. He always wants to be by your side or in your lap. He’s a bit goofy like a dog and will turn himself inside out for some attention. We have no doubt he was [and] is a gift.”

However, it took Henley a little time to become the couple’s constant companion. Like many newly adopted cats he spent most of his time in hiding, unsure of his new surroundings.

“He was an ‘under the bed dweller’ for several days,” John shares in an early post-adoption follow up.

Perhaps in those moments Henley was hiding from the helicopters buzzing overhead. John and Freida do their best to assure their coy cat that everything is just fine.

“We live near Oceana Naval Air Station so the jets and helos still send him scrambling for cover, but we think the more he reads our calm that will subside.”

“…like a little therapy cat”

In the year since adoption Henley has proven to be very choosy about his humans. While he latched onto John and his wife almost instantly at the shelter, he is more circumspect about others.

“Although Henley is a love bug with us he mostly shies away from other people. He’ll typically head for the bedroom to hide,” John explains. “We do have a close friend that he warmed up to, but this took a bit of time and effort on our friend’s part.”

However, the normally coy cat did something remarkable when the family had a special guest. John’s brother has special needs and came for an extended visit.

“My brother, who is mentally handicapped, came to stay with us for a week and Henley was like a little therapy cat to him,” John shares. “When my brother walked in the house Henley went right up and rubbed his legs! It’s as if he knew this guy was okay.”

The retired Navy veteran was awestruck by Henley’s keen sensibilities.

The coy cat had never taken to anyone so instantaneously, besides John and Freida, and was quite attached to their visitor during his entire stay.

“When my brother walked into the house Henley looked at him and just laid back down,” he recalls. 

“That was a ‘wow’ moment, but what really stunned us was how he attended to him throughout the week.” 

One cool cat

John explains that his brother experiences daily anxiety attacks where he tenses his body and twists his hands, sometimes to the point of hurting himself. During these episodes someone needs to intervene and calm him down.

However, nobody thought that someone would be Henley.

The normally coy cat rushed to John’s brother’s side upon sensing his anguish. Henley even acted as an alert cat when John and Freida were momentarily distracted on one particular occasion.

“One time we didn’t realize he was tensed up and Henley alerted us by getting up on the side table next to his chair. He was looking at us like, ‘Hey – he needs some help here!'” John shares. “It was a pretty special experience.”


  1. Denise & Ken

    Wonderful story. We’re proud to have John and Freida as our friends. Henley could not have found a better home!

  2. Alyson A.

    Thank you for your service. I love that you were open to adopting a cat, after having dogs. Henley sounds like the perfect match for your family!

  3. Laura Beckwith

    What a heartwarming article. The love and understanding of our cats is truly amazing and not very well known.

  4. Maureen Schroeder

    Great story!

  5. Maureen Schroeder

    I love this story; post more!

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