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"The story below is a wonderful reminder to Military Medical Authorities as to why cats should never be taken off any military base. Ignorance is no excuse." - Moggies

Cats On Duty with NATO

Reprinted with express permission.

September 2004

Gus

Feline Gus, he is responsible for the old British headquarters building.


It is midnight at the NATO Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

All is as it should be. Most of the garrison is asleep and there has not been a rocket attack in weeks. The camp is dotted with reinforced concrete bunkers, stocked with food and water, in case of mortar attacks or other hostile actions.

A duty officer, with a small staff, monitors the radio nets and stands ready to sound the alarm or to take other action in case of trouble. Communications soldiers man the night shift, to maintain the network with subordinate NATO units in Afghanistan and with the Intermediate Staging Base in Uzbekistan, as well as with higher NATO headquarters in the Netherlands and in Belgium.

Italian soldiers, with night vision devices and automatic rifles, patrol the perimeter. But they are not the only ones guarding the lives of the sleeping garrison. Independently from the heavily armed and well-equipped soldiers, a special company patrols the interior of the camp... it is a company of cats.

Over 5,000 years ago, people in Egypt began leaving food out for cats, to encourage them to stay in the vicinity to hunt for mice, rats, and snakes. Mice and rats threatened their grain stocks, and poisonous snakes threatened the people themselves. In return for these handouts, the cats killed, dispersed, and generally suppressed the pests. It was a sort of contract between man and cat, and it began a long association of mutual benefit. The situation at NATO Headquarters-Kabul, thousands of years later, is essentially a continuation of the relationship established on the banks of the Nile, at the dawn of history.

It took a hard lesson to establish the Kabul Cat Company.

The average human life-expectancy in Afghanistan is 43 years. One third of all Afghan women die during pregnancy, and of those who survive to full term, more than one in ten die in childbirth. Children have a 16 percent chance of dying at birth, and of the remaining 84 percent who are lucky enough to survive being born, at least 16 percent will die before their sixth birthday.

Leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, e-coli, and a host of uncatalogued diseases ravage the population. Rabies is widespread. There are eleven different types of poisonous snakes in Afghanistan, seven of which have no known anti-venom. Naturally, sending soldiers to live and operate in such an environment must be a cause for urgent concern on the part of military medical authorities, and these medical authorities noticed that there were many cats in the camp, some of which were being adopted as mascots by the soldiers. Fearing rabies, these medical authorities captured every cat on the installation in 2003, and transported them to a wilderness many miles distant.

Within two months, the results of this mistake were apparent to all.

Flea-ridden rats, formerly unknown at the camp, occupied it in swarms. The rats brought their own rabies threat, while their dried droppings spread disease throughout the garrison. Snakes were attracted by the presence of these rodents, which made wonderful meals for them, and cobras were found lurking in the bunkers, which offered shelter from the searing Afghan sun. It was a serious military problem, and there was only one solution.

The cats had to come back.

Today, some 60-70 cats patrol the installation. There is not a rat to be found, and the cats include the bunkers in their rounds as well. Some of the cats have names, given by the soldiers who feed them. Throughout history, military units have often adopted animals as mascots and pets. For as long as there have been armies, soldiers deployed on hard missions, far from home and family, welcomed these little friends, who reminded them of their own humanity. Our NATO soldiers of today are no less human than the soldiers of days gone by.

And so, tolerated by military medical authorities, loved by soldiers, and feared by rats and snakes, the Kabul Cat Company carries on, at no cost to NATO or the nations. Soldiers complete their missions in Kabul and return home, healthy in mind and body, to their homes in Europe and North America.

It is midnight at NATO Headquarters in Kabul. All is as it should be.

Copyright 2004: Jared Kline

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