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Love of Cats Leads Volunteer to Troop-support Efforts

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2009 – Gayle Lucas’ extensive volunteer efforts began when she opened her home to two cats in need.

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Gayle Lucas of Darien, Conn., is an avid troop supporter who started her efforts five years ago when she provided foster care for two cats for a deployed servicemember. Courtesy photo
  

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The Darien, Conn., resident offered to take in the cats, Boots and Scooter, when their owner, a soldier, was called to active duty in Kuwait in October 2004.

She volunteered through Operation Noble Foster, a nonprofit organization that connects servicemembers with individual foster homes for their cats until they return home from deployment. At the time Lucas took Boots and Scooter in, she already had five cats.

“I love all animals, but I definitely have a fondness for cats, primarily because they fit my lifestyle,” Lucas said. “I was amazed that Boots and Scooter adjusted to my home and to my other cats within a few hours of being let out of a carrier. By evening, they were sitting on my lap, being brushed and running around the house with the other cats. They became the alpha cats.”

Within months of taking the two cats in, Lucas started sending “I Care” packages to the pet owner in Kuwait. Soon, she was sending packages to three other soldiers, then 21, then the whole battalion of 450 Wisconsin soldiers.

“She has been able to bring smiles, laughter and comfort to these soldiers in what can otherwise be an overwhelming situation,” Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery Goldfarb, one of Lucas’ “adopted” soldiers, said. Boosting our morale as a ‘combat multiplier,’ she enables us to do our job more effectively and efficiently.”

Lucas had the opportunity to meet the battalion soldiers when they returned to the United States in November 2006.

“Gayle has shown gratitude and appreciation to young servicemembers, far away from home and in harm’s way, who are risking their lives every day to protect people they do not even know, and doing so willingly and proudly,” Goldfarb said.

Lucas said there are no limits to her work. She is teamed with her fifth and sixth units in Kuwait now. Her second unit in Iraq recently returned home. In total, Lucas has supported more than 1,000 soldiers.

Lucas has sent turtle and fish food to “Myrtle,” one of the Army’s “Artillery Reaction Force” turtles in Kuwait. She also has sent Koi – a type of carp -- which, at the request of her soldiers, she named Bella, Lexi, Sake, Sumo and Tex.

Acting as a liaison in her community for soldiers, Lucas has delivered numerous presentations to community groups, and helped school children in sending their handmade cards and drawings to troops deployed overseas.

In December, members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets, Dealey Division -- a youth organization in Connecticut -- joined forces with Lucas to send holiday cards and goodies to the soldiers. As a result of this partnership, she was asked to give a “Support the Troops Project” speech to the Naval League of the United States, of western Connecticut. The keynote speaker was Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary.

In addition to the many accolades Lucas has received over the years, one of her soldiers presented her with his personal Global War on Terrorism Service Medal in 2006 for the support work she continues to do.

“I never really thought I would be doing this,” Lucas said. “Now, I wish I could do it full-time. I love supporting the troops. My love for cats, I believe, helped me find my true calling.”

Lucas initially was supposed to keep Boots and Scooter for 16 months while the soldier was deployed to the Middle East, but because of his housing uncertainty after returning home, she ended up providing a permanent home for the cats.

“I was asked by the soldier if I would keep the cats when there was a lot of uncertainty in his life upon his return,” Lucas said. “He did not have an apartment to go back to, so he stayed with family members and friends. He did not want to cause any more traumas to his cats by taking them back and moving them from one house to another until he found a permanent residence.”

Scooter became ill in April and was diagnosed with a large tumor in her abdomen. She later died.

“Even though Scooter was mine, knowing she was a very special soldier's cat made it even more traumatic for me,” Lucas said. “I miss her, but believe she continues to live on in the work I do for the troops.”

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Related Sites:
Operation Noble Foster

Click photo for screen-resolution imageBoots, one of two cats Gayle Lucas took in when the pet owner deployed, lounges by a window at Lucas’ home. Lucas took the cat in when its owner deployed to Kuwait in October 2004. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageScooter relaxes by a window in Gayle Lucas’ home in Darien, Conn. Lucas took Scooter in five years ago when his owner deployed to Kuwait. Scooter, who became a permanent member of Lucas’ family, died in April. Courtesy photo  
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