Is it okay for a single person in the military to have a cat in America?

The question arose because I've just written about Sergeant Rode who fell in love with a ginger tabby cat in the Middle East who was injured and struggling to survive. She brought him back to America with the help of generous donations and a friendly organisation (PAWS OF WAR). But what will happen next because Sergeant Rode is in the military and it occurred to me that it might not be ideal to be a single person in the military and be a cat caretaker at the same time? And I am thinking about the cat, of course.

Sgt. Rode and Bubba the cat she rescued from the Middle East and shipped to America. Photo: PAWS OF WAR.

We know that cats like stability and routines. Even if a single military soldier or officer is stationed in America, they may be transferred to a different location or unexpectedly they may be deployed to a war zone even though that was not on the cards. I don't know how deployments are worked out but it seems to me that they could happen to anyone in the military perhaps even at short notice.

And under these uncertain circumstances it would seem that their domestic cat might become unhappy. And good caretakers do not want their cat to be unhappy. Good cat caretakers don't want to be stressed with the thought of making their cat unhappy because of reasons beyond their control. And when they bond with their cat being separated if stressful for both.

There are some good stories about this on the Reddit.com website which shed light on these difficulties and conflicting emotions. Some people say that you can be in the military as a single person and have a cat companion because if you are away from your home in the barracks for a while you can place your cat with a foster parent or with family and so on. That's all very well but you can't do it for a long time in my opinion. So I don't think it's particularly good idea unless the relocation is for a short time such as a max. of 2 weeks.

The average military deployment is between six and 12 months, as I understand it, for American military personnel. You can't really kiss goodbye to your cat for this sort of time. It undermines the whole purpose of having a cat in the first place. It's a question of providing the best caretaking for a cat and if a person can't do that they should let somebody else try. No?

One commenter on Reddit.com said that he or she was in the military, single and "got a cat". There was little chance of deployment for the person but notwithstanding that it did not go well. They ended up being sent to Korea for a year. She asked family to take care of her cat. When she returned he/she was stationed in a small town where it was impossible for her to find a rental which allow pets. It was very difficult and stressful to find suitable accommodation. And she had to move every 2-3 years. She found driving across country with their cat to be stressful and of course a cat would have found it stressful, at least potentially, too.

She felt terrible leaving her cat behind with friends and also felt that her cat would be miserable being boarded. Also she did not like leaning on friends to check in on her cat to feed her when she went away training for a couple of weeks. She realised that cats need people around and it will be too hard on a cat that had bonded if you are going to be away all the time. As a result, she eventually gave her cat to her father  "so it could have a stable life". I agree with everything this person says. But the situation is not black-and-white.

Others suggest that if you adopt two cats you will be okay but this is not a particularly good answer, sometimes. It is quite difficult to ensure that your cats get along, and anyway you can't just leave 2 cats alone for many weeks with a neighbour popping in to make sure that they are fed. It is simply not going to work and it is not good cat caretaking. It's a question of standards and if a person knows that they are unable to provide care to a sufficient standard they should pass up the opportunity to look after a cat and let someone else, better suited, try.

Another commenter said: "I knew of soldiers that had a pet while on active; it never ended well for the pets. It would seem that their life would be tossed to the wind and most just started to have behavioural problems."

Conversely, there are people that say it is workable. Another commenter said: "I am AD Army with three cats. I would say that it's pretty easy to have cats minus [sic] just having to arrange for someone to watch them while you're in the field or whatever as long as you're committed to making sure that you have a plan for your kitty in the event of your unexpected deployment (think family care plan), I think cats are great military pets. There are more challenges finding housing...."

Others say that "a cat will be perfect". You make up your own mind. I think it's about standards of cat caretaking. You can make alternative arrangements and have a support system which allows your cat to be cared for when you are away. But this is not ideal, far from it. There's no shame in rejecting the idea of having a cat companion if you think you cannot be an excellent guardian to your cat.

It is hard to not be drawn to the conclusion that sometimes some military personnel might adopt a cat, despite their circumstances being far from ideal, because they need to adopt a cat to benefit themselves and they have temporarily brushed under the carpet the needs of the cat. That said, a cat living with a military person whose life is not particularly stable is probably in a better position than a rescue cat in a shelter. On that assessment you have to go along with those who support the idea of military personnel having cat companions.

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