Richard is an Army veteran whose family doubled in size when he and his wife were honorably adopted by two cats from the Monmouth County SPCA. Little did he realize at the time that in saving the cats, they would become a lifeline for his wife when Richard prepared his return to active duty service.
In the Army, being all he could be
Richard was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the Army. He was stationed at Fort Drum, New York as a forward observer and deployed to Afghanistan for a year. What he appreciates the most about his Army service is that it challenged him to fulfill his potential.
“The Army made me who I am today, the man my wife fell in love with,” he says. “It has increased my personal initiative to change the things I don’t like about myself or about my country.”
In the Army, Richard found inspiration from his mentor: a Special Forces soldier in his unit who – before being killed in action in Afghanistan – guided Richard as a new soldier to become the best in his unit.
Transitioning to civilian life through volunteerism
When he left the Army in 2011, Richard returned to New Jersey where he attended college, worked as a personal trainer and joined the Army Reserve. During this time, he volunteered at the Monmouth County SPCA (MCSPCA), which was supportive of returning service members who were trying to bridge the gap between military and civilian life.
“It kept me sane as I was re-acclimating to civilian life,” says Richard. “It was a win-win for me and the dogs.”
A devoted volunteer, Richard was even featured in a MCSPCA video. But while the dogs kept him running, it was two cats who stole Richard’s heart.
“I grew up with cats,” he says. “I love cats, I missed being around cats when I was on active duty.”
Luckily, Richard’s new bride felt the same way.
And then there were four
In early 2013, the couple adopted their first “kids” from the Monmouth County SPCA: Taji, then a four year-old tiger cat and Chaos, who was a three month-old kitten.
Richard’s two new pet friends provide balance to the family’s dynamics. Taji was at first a shy cat, taking a few months to come out of his shell.
“Once he warms up to you, he’s an all-around good guy,” says the Army veteran.
Chaos, on the other hand, is “the craziest kitten I have ever been around,” he observes. “When she’s not being ridiculously friendly, she’s busy getting into trouble all day.”
Most importantly, the two felines make sure home never feels empty to Richard or his wife. To prepare for his return to active duty later this year, Richard has been traveling for extended periods of time for Army training.
“I’ve been gone for half my married life,” Richard says. “Taji and Chaos keep my wife company and chase away any feelings of loneliness when I’m gone. And I always enjoy their company when I’m home.”
Richard says he chose to join Pets for Patriots because “it was a merger of two causes near and dear to my heart: veterans’ advocacy and pet advocacy.”
The Army veteran was pleasantly surprised at how easy – and enjoyable – Pets for Patriots made the entire process.
“My experience with Pets for Patriots was phenomenal,” he says, “They were very eager to assist as soon as they found out I’d be the first MCSPCA adoption.”
When Richard adopted Taji, who qualified for Pets for Patriots’ program as a mature pet, the MCSPCA offered a discounted adoption fee of $50, which covered registration, microchipping, vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, flea treatment, de-worming and other services. As a bonus, Chaos joined Richard’s family at the same time, under a separate 2-for-1 promotion the MCSPCA was then offering for cat adoptions.
To fellow veterans seeking to adopt a pet, Richard advises them to make sure “that it is an appropriate time in their lives to adopt – no upcoming moves – or at least have a family care plan in place.”
“View your pet as you would a child,” he advises, adding, “My wife is a phenomenal pet mommy.”
Do you think of your pets as your “kids,” too?