OREGON CITY, OREGON – When Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott saved the life of a stray cat whose name is Koshka in Afghanistan, the cat eventually returned the favor.
The courageous kitty now lives in Oregon City with Knott’s parents, but his inspiring story made it all the way to New York City, where the ASPCA selected him as ‘Cat of the Year.’
Knott, who was 38 at the time, first came across Koshka the cat while he was stationed in a tiny village of Hutal around July of 2010.
As they were setting up camp, a cute stray kitten simply wandered through. Knott soon began to notice things that something seemed amiss with it.
Once, the cat had what looked like a bit of paint in his fur, as if someone had spray-painted it. Then the cat returned with part of his fur shaved off in a kind of “reverse Mohawk” and some nicks in his skin.
The last straw came when Knott was just enjoying a barbecue and heard a familiar mewing sound. The feral feline emerged from behind a concrete barrier, with a trail of blood behind him. One of its toe pads had been just about torn off.
Knott made a decision then and there to do everything he could to keep the cat safe.
“In an environment like that,” he stated, “if you’re limp or lame, you’re not going to make it.”
Knott knew he was breaking military regulation for keeping an animal on the base itself, but he couldn’t bear to see the cat put in harm’s way any longer.
He snuck the kitten, whom he named Koshka (which is Russian for “cat”), into his tiny office and fed him canned pink salmon, which was donated from Knott’s kindly commander.
Koshka allowed Knott to care for him, and the two of them continued to bond. Then on Dec. 8, 2010, a devastating event caused Knott’s entire world to crumble.
A patrol consisting of several of his platoon members was hit by a suicide bomber. Knott was initially supposed to be on that patrol but plans changed at the last minute.
Around that same time, his marriage back home was on the rocks.
Anguished and heartbroken, Knott developed a plan to kill himself and prepared to follow through.
Koshka, however, seemed to have other ideas. During Knott’s very darkest hour, the cat began meowing and head-butting him and pawed Knott’s forehead.
“He would just not leave me alone,” Knott stated.
Then the cat immediately jumped in the soldier’s lap and produced a low, vibrating sound that Knott had never heard from him before.
Koshka’s purring miraculously pulled the soldier off his emotional ledge and back into reality. He realized he had himself a job to do, as well as a reason to stay alive and that was to get that cat out of Afghanistan.
For some months, Knott puzzled over how he would get help the animal escape. He enlisted his mother, Helene Knott, for some advice
They found a Kabul-based rescue group which was called Afghan Stray Animal League that could assist them, provided they could somehow transport Koshka to Kabul, a day’s drive from Hutal.
As his time in Afghanistan dwindled, one of Knott’s local interpreters suddenly announced that he was planning to visit his family which was located in Kabul. He offered to take Koshka with him.
Knott was truly shocked. In a country where pet ownership is viewed as decadent, the cat would have been a dead giveaway that the interpreter was somehow helping an American.
“If this interpreter had been stopped at checkpoints manned by the Taliban,” Knott explained, “he would have probably been shot.”
Koshka made it to Kabul, where they were met by an animal-welfare organization called Nowzad Dogs. That group transported Koshka to the ASAL.
The next problem was paying for the cat’s overseas flight from a war zone.
A quilter by trade, Helene Knott quickly stitched together a good solution: she designed a popular line of cat patterns and raised about $3,000.
With the support of her friend, whose name is Stacie Hall, they maintained contact with the Afghan animal rescue group and managed to coordinate the flight.
Knott’s parents arrived at Portland International Airport and picked up the cat.
When Koshka arrived she was “howling, but surprisingly in pretty good shape,” Helene Knott said.
Early in 2014, the two received the Oregon Humane Society’s Diamond Collar Award.
The ASPCA honored the kittenish Koshka during its 2013 Humane Awards at a Nov. 21 luncheon in New York City.
The story of the bond shared by Koshka and Knott stood out among literally hundreds of nominations for the awards, which honor human and animal heroes who have helped others in need.
“Staff Sgt. Knott’s story truly touched our hearts, and clearly exemplifies the importance of the human-animal bond,” said the ASPCA’s Lindsay Sklar, senior director for special events.
“It is obvious that Staff Sgt. Knott saved Koshka’s life, but Koshka also saved Staff Sgt. Knott’s life in return.”
And when Jesse Knott returned home, he was happily reunited with Koshka, although, according to the last update we here at The Best Cat Page found, Koshka lives with Jesse’s parents!
Watch Jesse telling his story himself here: