The Soldier & The Cat

Published April 2013

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In the summer of 2010, US Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott was deployed to a post deep inside the war-torn country of Afghanistan. Shortly after his arrival, he noticed a brown tabby kitten, roaming around the post, serving as an unofficial mouse catcher.


Most of the soldiers liked the plucky feline, but as the kitten grew into a cat, Jesse began to see things that disturbed him. First, the cat now named Koshka, turned up with paint on his fur. Not long afterwards, Jesse discovered someone had shaved its back. When he found Koshka limping from a bloody injury to his toe pad, he'd had enough. He had to do something to help the kitty.

Jesse had been injured in a previous deployment, so he had been assigned to gathering and processing all battlefield intelligence for the company commander. This "desk job" meant that he had his own small office. He treated Koshka's wounds, then took him under his wing by keeping the feline sequestered in his locked office.


Jesse & Koshka in Afghanistan

Tragedy Strikes

Time passed. Koshka and Jesse had become close pals. Then tragedy struck. Jesse's unit. A suicide bomber attacked a patrol of guys from Jesse's platoon, killing two and seriously wounding several others. Reeling from the loss, Jesse felt a strange depression come over him as he realized his comrades were gone forever. Sitting alone at his desk in his office, his face in his hands, he didn't know if he could continue.

Koshka jumped on to the desk, looking at Jesse. When Jesse didn't move, Koshka mewed and purred and finally butted his head on Jesse's face until Jesse looked up at the insistent kitty. Koshka reached out with a paw, touched Jesse's lips, then climbed into his lap. In that moment, they became more than friends.


Koshka's eyes tell his story

New Orders

Months passed. Koshka was thriving under Jesse's care and protection. The soldier and the cat were a team.

One day, Jesse was informed that his unit was being reassigned back to the United States. This should have been good news. But military personnel are not allowed to bring animals home with them on the troop carrier. Jesse didn't care. He was not leaving Koshka behind. He would find another way to get Koshka home. After rejecting the plan to smuggle Koshka in his duffel bag, Jesse realized he would have to organize a civilian evacuation plan for the cat.

The first thing Jesse did was to contact friends and family back home. It was going to cost a lot to fly Koshka on a commercial airline and he needed help to raise the money. The response was immediate. Jesse's "troops" back home rallied together and scratched together the funds. Now Jesse had to make the arrangements.

Finding someone who knew how to get a cat from Afghanistan to Portland, Oregon was a real challenge. After all, this was a country at war. Many calls and emails later, Jesse was finally put in touch with the Afghan Stray Animal League. They assured him they could make the arrangements to fly Koshka to the US if he could get the cat to their “Tigger House,” the organization’s facility in Kabul.

That was a problem. Kabul was nearly half way across Afghanistan from where Jesse was stationed.


Wearing his purple harness, Koshka captures a few zzzz's atop an ammo belt

Despite all his efforts, and with only a few days left before Jesse had to leave himself, he still didn't have a way to get Koshka to Kabul. In desperation he spoke about the problem with a local Afghani interpreter.

Jesse was amazed when the interpreter volunteered to take Koshka with him when he left for Kabul to go on holiday. Both the cat and the interpreter would be at risk. If the man were discovered to be helping an American, his own life would be in danger. And he would need to pass through several Taliban checkpoints on the way.

Going Home

It was the start of a journey half-way around the world. The interpreter delivered Koshka to The Afghan Stray Animal League. The League then co-ordinated a series of flights from Islamabad to New York City, from New York City to Portland, Oregon and ultimately to Oregon City.

It cost Jesse almost $3,000 for all the airfares. But Koshka was worth every penny.

Thanks to Jesse's efforts and the help of an Afghani interpreter, Koshka now lives with Jesse's parents in Oregon City.


Koshka making himself comfortable at Jesse's parent's house

The Diamond Collar Award

When they heard about Koshka and Jesse, the Oregon Humane Society awarded them the Diamond Collar Award, saying,

“Heroes don’t always leap through fires or pick up cars with one hand, sometimes it’s a sustained act of kindness, exercised one small step at time for over a year that is the heroic act,” Harmon said. “While Sgt. Knott certainly gave Koshka a chance at life, what is apparent to all who have met the soldier, the cat equally returned the favor with hope and affection, delivered in soft purrs and a reason to stay strong during a grand test of his faith and belief in humanity.”

Happy Ending

Jesse will soon be completing his military service and he and Koshka will once more be together — a retired soldier and his cat from a Middle Eastern country at war . . .



The Oregon Humane Society honored Jesse & Koshka with their Diamond Collar Award
recognizing both animals and people for remarkable achievements.


Photos at the bottom of this page are by Chanan

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