Pet Tales: A kitten saves a soldier's life




After suffering a brain injury in Iraq, Army Sgt. Josh Marino “was in a really, really bad place. I did not want to deal with it anymore.”

Exhausted from his struggle with the “invisible wounds”  of post-traumatic stress disorder, he planned to end his life one night in 2008 at Fort Riley in north central Kansas.

“I took out one of my knives ... I wrote a letter on my computer” and went outside to smoke one last cigarette.

Then he heard a soft “meow,” and a small black-and-white kitten emerged from the bushes.

“I broke down crying.... He saved my life ... I stopped thinking about all my problems and started thinking about his problems and what I could do to help him.”

Mr. Marino recounts his story in a 6½-minute-film, “Josh and Scout,”  featured on mutualrescue.org, the website of a non-profit organization whose mission is “revealing the impact people and animals have on one another.”  

Mr. Marino, 37, is a native of Turtle Creek who now lives in Brookline with his wife, Becky, and their daughter, Penelope, who was born Feb. 24. They have three cats and three ferrets. 

After eight years of service, he was medically discharged from the Army in July 2009. He moved back to Pittsburgh, got married in September  2010, and earned a master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling. He now works in the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a program operated by the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It was an honor to serve,” Mr. Marino said. “I am still serving. I am just serving in a different uniform.

“I love my job. I work with people with disabilities every day.”

His counseling includes telling veterans about the kitten who saved him. He directs them to Humane Animal Rescue shelters in Homewood and the North Side to look for animals who need a home.

“Animals help. In my opinion, real men like cats,” he said.

And now back to how he discovered he liked cats.

Every day for three or four months, the young sergeant fed tuna fish to Scout and his littermates. All the kittens ate, but only Scout jumped into his lap to be petted and cuddled. Then, one January day in 2009, the kittens vanished. “It devastated me.” 

On Memorial Day weekend in 2009, he and Becky went to an adoption event at the Fort Riley Stray Animal Shelter. As he walked past one of the cages, “a little black-and-white paw reached out and smacked my arm.’”

It was the same kitten — He and his littermates had been taken to the shelter by animal control officers. Mr. Marino officially adopted him.

“Even before he was my cat, he saved my life,” Mr. Marino said in a telephone interview. “That little kitten helped me to realize I was not just a sack of damaged goods. He gave me the confidence to overcome all adversity.”

Scout lived happily in Pittsburgh with Josh, Becky and her three cats. Then one day, he was lethargic. A trip to the veterinarian brought the worst possible diagnosis: feline leukemia. Josh and Becky were told it was congenital and not contagious.

“He got a transfusion and we got two more weeks with him. He passed away in my arms and it hurt so much. I don’t go a single day without thinking about him,” Mr. Marino said.

PTSD “has to be dealt with. It cannot really be cured,” he said.

Yet he shares his message of hope and recovery at his job and in the Mutual Rescue film. At mutualrescue.org, there are other short films. One posted last year, “Eric & Peety,” has been viewed 88 million times.

The films are made with the help of a grant from PetSmart Charities. Mutual Rescue is a national initiative created by Humane Society Silicon Valley. Part of the California shelter’s mission is “changing the conversation from people OR animals to people AND animals,” said Carol Novello, its president.

“Of $373 billion in charitable donations made in the U.S. in 2015, less than 1 percent went to animal-related causes.”

Mutual Rescue encourages people to donate to their local shelters. Mr. Marino is getting $10,000 from the Mutual Rescue project and is giving it to Humane Animal Rescue. On Mutual Rescue’s website, anyone can submit a story about an animal and a person rescuing each other. The deadline is June 30.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.





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