Eleven years ago, my son Jesse was stationed in Afghanistan, and he rescued an injured kitten that he had seen around the base. It appeared the cat was being abused. He named the kitten Koshka (Russian for ‘cat’), nursed him back to health and took him into protective custody in his quarters to avoid further abuse.
Soldiers are not supposed to adopt camp animals but a sympathetic Commanding Officer turned a blind eye.
I had been sending my son supplies like cat food and kitty litter when I got the frantic call from him about getting Koshka out of Afghanistan and to the US. He said his CO told him it would take an ‘Act of Congress’ to accomplish this, but he was passionate about getting Koshka back here before his tour was over and he would have to abandon Koshka there.
So I turned to my Congressman for help and he set us up with some contacts for animal rescues in war zones. Through these organizations and with the help and support of a cat-loving friend, we managed to raise the funds and arrange to have Koshka make the journey to the US.
What I did not know at the time was the reason behind my son’s fixation of getting Koshka out of the country. Two incidents precipitated this. The first was when my son, suffering severe depression after some of the men in his unit were killed in an ambush, decided he would commit suicide that night. Koshka must have sensed his distress as he jumped up on the desk, swatted at the weapon my son was intending to use and then began meowing and purring and head butting my son. This provided enough distraction as my son thought about who would take care of Koshka if he was gone, and he decided not to go through with his impulse.
The second incident concerned a sweep that was conducted by contractors commissioned by the military to exterminate strays and camp animals that were considered a nuisance and danger to soldiers. My son, fearing that the cat he was not supposed to be sheltering in the first place would be taken away from him and destroyed, sought refuge for Koshka at a neighboring British military compound and the soldiers there were only too happy to take custody of the cat for a fellow soldier from ‘across the pond’ until the sweep was over. At this point Jesse knew he could not leave Koshka behind.
And so, Koshka survived another close call to make a long journey, first on a plane to Kabul in the care of an interpreter, and then from the shelter facilitating his rescue to Pakistan where he received his shots and certification (immigration) papers to allow him in the US. There was a bit of a hiccup there when the US forces stormed Osama Bin Laden’s compound and an infuriated Pakistani government shut down all flights to or from the US but that only lasted a few days and I got a call at 4 am Pacific Time that if I could wire the funds for plane fare for a cat that morning, he would be on a plane to New York later that day.
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That trip took about 18 hours in the hold of a cargo plane and he arrived in New York the following day. I received a phone call from the woman who was set up to receive rescued animals from this shelter; she said that she usually had to take the animals home to decompress for a couple of days after such a frightening journey but that Koshka seemed to be taking it all in stride so she figured she could put him on a plane immediately and he would arrive in Portland, Oregon that night.
We, and the friends who had provided help and support in the rescue, went to the airport that night and Koshka arrived at about 10:30 pm. As we waited in the office of the cargo terminal, we could hear a cat howling in the distance and when we asked if that was our cat, the desk agent confirmed this, as Koshka was the only animal on that flight. He was disheveled and his carrier bedding soiled, but a woman in the terminal who was shipping some puppies came to the rescue with some spare bedding so we cleaned him up and headed home.
When we arrived in our house and secured the front door, we let Koshka out of the carrier into his new home. After even a short trip from a shelter to a strange place, most cats would have bolted and disappeared under a bed or cabinet to hide for days until hunger drove them out but not Koshka. He got out of the carrier, stretched and then investigated the whole house room by room, finally returning at a leisurely stroll back to the living room where he jumped onto my husband’s lap, curled up and promptly went to sleep.
Eleven years later, and he is still with us, living the American Dream. After many years in the military, our son received a medical discharge and by then, Koshka had lived with us for so long that Jesse decided it was better that he stay with us rather than relocate to his home. Koshka is self-assured, resourceful and sometimes feisty but I am grateful to him for saving my son and am willing to accept the occasional butter sculpture, a clawed computer bag, or when he jumps on the counter and helps himself to a slice of roast beef from a platter carelessly left out during dinner. He is a hero and a survivor and we feel blessed to have him in our family.
Koshka’s story was covered in the news many years ago when our son received an award for his rescue but few people have heard the full detailed story behind his incredible journey.
Story submitted by Helene Knott from Oregon City, Oregon.
Koshka’s story was originally shared on The Animal Rescue Site. Share your very own rescue story here!
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