An airman with a soft spot for rescue animals was searching for a new four-legged family member with special needs. One day she met a blind kitten who would teach her unforgettable life lessons.
Inspired to serve
Anna was born in Poland and raised in Germany. In time she moved to the United States and became an American citizen. She was inspired to join the military by her now former husband, who at the time was an Army soldier.
“I was married to an Army guy at the time and really liked what he was doing,” she says, “and I was like ‘I’m going to join the Army,’ and everyone was like, ‘no, join the Air Force. They treat you better.’”
In January 2006, Anna enlisted with the United States Air Force. She completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) – known now as Joint Base San Antonio – and technical school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi. For most of her career she has been stationed at Andrews AFB and Ft. Mead. She serves currently as a personnel non-commissioned officer-in-charge (NCOIC), with the rank of technical sergeant (E-6).
Anna is most motivated when she is able to get through to the “tough nuts” – troops that she has to train, but who tend to be difficult.
One such “hard nut to crack” recently graduated from Airman Leadership School. He invited Anna to “tag” him, a symbolic gesture of punching someone on the arm where their new uniform patch is affixed to make sure it stays on.
“It was a big honor because it meant I got through to him,” she says.
Although she has never deployed, Anna insists she would be proud to do so.
“I unfortunately have not been given that opportunity,” she explains. “If it comes around I will gladly go.”
The airman with a rescuer’s heart
Anna is still active-duty, but is already imagining her post-military life. Her passion for animals in need looms large in her future plans.
“I want to open up a dog rescue. I would like to buy a big piece of land for whatever comes along,” she says, “whether dogs, horses, chickens, or goats.”
Despite already having several cats at home Anna is a regular visitor at Anne Arundel County Animal Control. In 2016, the municipal shelter joined forces with Pets for Patriots and offers fee-waived adoptions and a free microchip for veterans who adopt through our partnership.
Anna is a big fan of the municipal shelter.
“The staff is very friendly, and the volunteers are there because they want to and they really care about the animals. I’ve never had a bad experience and they always guide me in the right direction.”
The airman has been visiting the shelter – and adopting – over the course of 10 years. She is a passionate advocate for adopting companion dogs and cats.
“There are so many animals being killed in shelters because people don’t adopt enough. I want to reduce the animals that get killed for no reason,” Anna explains. “I cry over roadkill, so I want to help animals who get destroyed because they can’t find a home.”
Rooting for the “undercat”
Anna has always wanted to adopt a special needs pet.
The airman heard about one kitten at the shelter who was missing an eye and worried about his adoption prospects. Yet by the time she got down to the shelter the cat had been adopted.
Luckily the shelter staff picked up on Anna’s interest in special needs animals. They asked if she would be interested in a blind kitten who was in foster care at the time. If Anna was hooked looking at his picture, she was doubly so when they met.
“He just stole my heart there and then,” she recalls. “He didn’t act like he was blind. This cat just acted like, ‘so, I’m blind…moving on.’ It’s such a cool attitude to have and he’s never lost that attitude.”
Anna has five other companion cats at home. She believed that her household would be ideal for a sightless cat since the other animals would show him the ropes.
“It’s a house full of love and he will be welcome there.”
Giving hope and a home to downtrodden animals is a big part of Anna’s life, which explains why she was attracted to a blind kitten.
“I always like the underdog, the older ones, the ones with three legs, or sick, because I know they don’t get a lot of chances,” she explains. Her new blind kitten? “He’s my undercat.”
Big lessons from a little blind kitten
Once home, Anna’s newest bundle of joy needed a fitting name.
At first the airman considered Pirate, but decided it was “too tacky.” Instead she took inspiration from a movie character – one who does things his own way – Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
“He has a big burden to carry being blind, and he doesn’t let it stop him,” Anna says. “There is a lesson to be learned: when you think life gets you down because of petty problems, I look at this cat and he acts like nothing is wrong.”
In his own way, Anna’s spirited blind kitten makes her more appreciative of things in her own life that she may have otherwise overlooked.
“He makes me grateful for the little things.”
From rescuer to rescued
Anna loves the fact that Pets for Patriots focuses on both the shelter animals and the veterans. Both, she insists, have stories to tell.
“Many times, both have been through hardship and together we can heal,” she says. “We might be damaged, but we’re damaged together, and together we can make it.”
Since adopting Captain Jack, Anna has watched him grow from a confident blind kitten to an equally confident blind cat. While his inability to see occasionally gives him pause, he always finds a way.
“I have carpet on the walls so they can climb, and he climbs up and meows like, ‘help me.’ But then he tries, and learns he’s capable and not different,” Anna says. “We gave him a home and he fits right in.”
If the shelter had not told Anna about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans she might have still adopted Captain Jack, but not received all the benefits we offer. She wishes we could advertise more on radio and highway billboards.
“I’ve been going to animal control for about 10 years and it was nice that they brought it to my attention,” she says. “I was very grateful.”
Still, Anna is nothing but positive about her experiences and wants other veterans to follow her path.
“I feel blessed to be part of this program and feel grateful people take such interest,” she says. “Like the interviews and that people provide gift cards, and discounted veterinary services for animals with special needs. I feel like it’s a win-win for both animals and veterans.”
As for saving a little blind kitten just months after he came into the world, Anna describes it as “the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“I have no regrets. I thought I was rescuing him. He was rescuing me.”