Far-flung cat captivated audiences, changed lives

— photo from Colleen Loughlin

Soldier Boy rubs against a door jamb.

ALBANY COUNTY — For an animal with nine lives, Soldier Boy, a cat who traveled all the way from Afghanistan to the Capital Region, got more than most out of his. 

In 2016, The Enterprise reported on the cat — then named Buster — when he was awaiting adoption in Guilderland, having been brought over to the United States by an American soldier from Afghanistan, where he had lived as a stray. 

After his great migration, Soldier was adopted in Long Island by Heather Bohler, who moved to Greenville where Soldier ran away in 2014, spending another two years homeless. By the time he was discovered in Freehold and reunited with Bohler, she had moved in with her father who had a cat allergy, and his story left off awaiting a new owner at Happy Cat Rescue in Guilderland Center. 

Enter Colleen Loughlin. 

Loughlin, a New York City transplant who now lives in Cherry Valley, had heard about Soldier from a friend who read the widely-shared Enterprise article and thought Loughlin would be interested in adopting him. 

Taken by the story of the cat’s journey, Loughlin, who had six other cats at the time, brought him home, changing his name on the advice of her mom, who took inspiration from his origins. 

She reached out to The Enterprise last week to update the paper on the continuation of the cat’s journey, and the enormous role he’s played in her life since the adoption. However, by the time the story was ready for print, Soldier Boy had died, at 15 years old, following a short battle with kidney disease.

Although Louglin joked that she would never say this around her other cats, Soldier had been her favorite, and the two had a strong bond that has gotten Loughlin through immeasurably difficult circumstances. 

She’ll be celebrating nine years of sobriety this month, after struggling with an addiction to cocaine, Xanax, and alcohol. She managed these addictions alongside severe depression and anxiety, and a successful career as a property-development executive downstate.  

Thanks to Soldier, whom she’d had designated as an emotional support animal, Loughlin said she’s been able to maintain her sobriety and come off of one of her prescribed medications, with a chance at getting off the other relatively soon. She also lost 80 pounds, she said.

“He’s my lifeline,” Loughlin told The Enterprise, before Soldier had passed. “He sleeps with me every night. We have a little routine. If I turn over to the other side, he gets up and he climbs into my arms the other way. He stretches his body straight out and he purrs right against where my heart is. We’re very in sync with one another. I know that sounds friggin’ corny, but we are.”

Loughlin now runs a mostly-seasonal bed-and-breakfast inn near Cooperstown, and plans to work as a private chef this winter. She tells her story in correctional facilities in hopes of inspiring other women who have struggled as she had.

“I’ve totally turned my life around,” she said, adding that Soldier and her other animals have allowed her to do the necessary emotional work she needed to heal. 

Getting Soldier designated as emotional support animals required letters from her primary-care doctor, psychiatrist, and counselor, who endorsed his significance to Loughlin’s well-being. With that designation, Soldier could go with Loughlin where other animals generally can’t, like on airplanes and into businesses. 

It was a perk for Soldier, too, who was highly active, even in his later years, and “[loved] to be outside,” but had a tendency to bolt. Loughlin would walk him on a leash. 

“He’s very chatty, very animated,” Loughlin said of his personality, which had been described by both her and Marcia Scott, owner of Happy Cat Rescue, as highly unique. “He’s very lovey-dovey. He’s a scrapper. He’s just a very, very special cat.”

Scott told The Enterprise that Bohler, his previous owner, also had him designated as an emotional support animal. 

Age had caught up with him by the time Loughlin spoke with The Enterprise, though, with Loughlin explaining her plan to treat his kidney disease, which she had said cost her $3,200 so far. The cost was steep, but she said she’d spend what she could to keep him going while maintaining his quality of life.

“I don’t have unlimited resources. If they tell me something’s going to be $5,000, I don’t have that ability. I have the ability to spend a couple thousand dollars to try everything. If he gets really bad, I’ll start taking him in for IV fluids, but it all becomes a quality-of-life issue … I’ll be heartbroken to lose him, but I am going to do everything I can to keep him alive,” she said. 

After that conversation, on Friday afternoon, Soldier had “an extremely difficult night [Sunday] night,” and was “declining faster than I had originally thought,” Loughlin wrote in an email to The Enterprise. 

He “passed away peacefully in my arms around 2:30 p.m.” on Tuesday, she said, after sleeping in her arms one final night. “He was in severe kidney failure, completely dehydrated and hadn’t eaten since Sunday. I wasn’t left with much of an option other than to do the right thing and he’s no longer suffering.” 

Loughlin said she is “completely heartbroken.” 

Her final words to him, she said, were, “There will never be a special boy like [you] again in my lifetime.” 

More Regional News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.