ILLINOIS — After more than seven years in the Army, Wes King returned to college and prepared for his post-combat career, but he still couldn’t shake the anxiety of what he experienced.
King suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder having returned from duty, but found relief in an energetic 6-month-old kitten named Steven.
“We would call him our therapy cat,” explained King. “When you go to combat or go overseas you’re going to have lasting effects when you come back home, regardless of who you are… You can go over there and come back and have quite a big mental breakdown.”
King, who is now 29, was deployed three times in Iraq and four in Afghanistan for a total of 28 months as a member of the Second Ranger Battalion, stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington.
The battalion conducted air patrols at high altitudes above 9,000 feet and “mobile patrols through major population centers. They also conducted air assaults and direct action raids, according to the official website of the U.S. Army.
“It has it’s ups and downs. I loved ninety-nine-percent of it, but there’s that one-percent of it that pushed me out of it as well. But if I had the choice, I would absolutely do it over again one-hundred-percent,” stated King, a native of Seattle.
After his time in the Army, King studied at Central Washington University and roomed with a fellow combat veteran, who also happens to suffer from PTSD, which 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience.
That’s when he adopted the kitten from one of his neighbors, who could no longer take care of it.
“Both of us experienced random spouts of depression or… when we would have just a s***** day. It would be something we can’t control, but Steve, we’d like to say, he can kinda tell when we were having a bad day. And would be a little bit nicer,” King stated.
“He likes to fight a lot,” but when one of the veterans was having a bad day, the cat would “be nicer and more cuddly,” he added.
Their friends couldn’t believe that a cat could sense their despair, but King said if they spent one day with him, “they’d know he wasn’t your average cat,” he went on to say.
“He acts more like a dog than a cat. He comes when he’s called… most of the time. I take him for walks outside,” he claims.
The walks slowed a bit when King had to move from Seattle to Chicago’s Noble Square in August, forcing Steven to adjust to city life.
However, on Tuesday King got a chance to honor Steven, who helped him through his darkest days.
A series of murals are currently going up across the city to celebrate National Cat Day, which will be on Oct. 29. The series is driven by Meow Mix as an extension of its campaign called, ‘Purrfect Together’.
One huge mural of Steven and King is currently on the wall of the Bongo Room, which is located at 5022 N. Clark St. in Andersonville.
“It’s mindboggling. I really don’t have any words to describe it,” King explained just moments after the big reveal. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I first saw it all the color on it just popped so vibrantly. It just made it so warm of a piece.”
CZR PRZ, the Logan Square street artist who painted King’s mural, was very touched by the story of a struggling veteran and his cat.
“This right here is the story of an animal and a person going through the trials and tribulations of life together,” the artist stated, admiring his work for the first time in ten hours.
CZR PRZ’s personal work as an illustrator, painter and designer reflects his own upbringing as “an Americanized Latino,” he said.
It features quite a bit of imagery, animals, women, children, mythology and theology usually with heavy Christian tones.
“This was something so relevant. It isn’t anything cheesy or cutesy. It shows how it’s real out there,” he stated.
While the color scheme is opening and inviting, there’s something about the size of the duo in the 14-foot mural feels off, King went on to say, though Steven wouldn’t think so.
“He thinks he’s a 6-foot mountain lion. Him seeing as big as he is on that wall, he’d be like ‘that’s about right. That’s about how big I am,'” King stated.
The Cat Day mural project highlights many other human/cat relationships as well.
Just on Monday, Anthony Lewellen put his artistic spin on the relationship between the Welkes family and their two tabby cats on a wall outside the VCA Lakeshore Animal Hospital, 960 W. Chicago Ave.
When they were married, Lauren and Chris Welkes opted to raise money for a cat shelter rather than have a traditional registry. The newlyweds managed to raise nearly $3,000, according to a press release for the project.
Do you want to honor your own cat? You can find out more about the project here.