Marine makes sure Afghan cat has a home in Pearland

Brian Chambers nursed Kiki back to health after the Marine and the scrappy cat met in Afghanistan. Now Kiki is with Chambers' parents in Pearland -


In an enclave of eastern Afghanistan, a scattering of Marines keep watch over villages on rolling green fields situated near the Helmand River. There aren’t many Taliban insurgents in Nawa district and the young Marines pass their days patrolling a large marketplace, interacting with locals, overseeing logistics from tents and trying to keep busy.

When Cpl. Brian Chambers arrived last November, he soon became bored by the confinement of the four walls surrounding his command center, lonely for his Pearland home, and staring at the prospect of four months with no Internet and no phone.

Then he met Kiki and it was love at first sight. Almost.

“To be honest, it was just something to do,” Chambers said of his first weeks with Kiki, a 3-week-old kitten that was brought over from a neighboring base when the troops there couldn’t take care of him and his feline friends. “It helps because over there it’s just horrible.”

Caring for the short-haired orange kitten became Chambers’ escape from the realities of war and a way to keep his sanity. But the cat that initially served as a nice distraction became much more in March, when someone tried to skin Kiki alive.

The cat became a treasured friend as Chambers nursed it back to health and then raised $6,000 to get it home in Pearland. Kiki has also become a source of pride, as the story of their bond inspired People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to bestow high honors upon the Marine.

“I was surprised by the attention,” Chambers said.

PETA honored him and two other Marines on Thursday with its Compassionate Action Award, which recognizes those who take action to help animals or improve their lives.

“These soldiers set an example by coming to their aid and doing the right thing,” said PETA spokeswoman Marcia Masulla. “We’re always looking for stories like this to get our message out.”

Chambers is thankful for PETA’s recognition and feels it will show Marines as compassionate instead of just square-jawed tough guys.

Kiki kept him going

When he first encountered Kiki, Chambers didn’t plan on spending his spring making the arrangements for the global trek, but the kitten won him over.

Kiki started sleeping with Chambers, roaming his quarters when he wasn’t there. Sometimes, after a long hard day, the critter was the only thing keeping him going.

Feral cats and dogs roam the streets in Afghanistan, scavenging for an existence in a culture where there aren’t many shelters and where few Afghans keep pets. Chambers couldn’t fathom leaving Kiki behind, so he instead arranged to send him home to Pearland in May.

Until Chambers is home for good, Kiki will live with his parents’ four cats. He has turned out to be a bit of a bully.

“I don’t know if it’s to be mean or if he just can’t help but chase a tail,” Chambers said.

The playful Kiki of today is a far cry from the kitten Chambers found in March, bruised and covered in feces, on the edge of death from deep stab wounds and loss of blood.

“He looked like someone had tried to skin him,” Chambers recalled. “Under his arm was a big flap of skin hanging off.”

Kiki required multiple surgical staples, and was started on antibiotics by an Afghan veterinarian. For a while the hyperactive cat, which until then had loved climbing any available leg, was afraid to approach anyone.

Chambers rarely let Kiki out of his sight for the next several weeks, while nursing the scrappy cat back to health.

“I don’t think he would have lasted this long (without me),” Chambers said. “I had to do something.”

Family, friends, strangers

The military doesn’t let animals aboard its transport planes, so Chambers — with the help of his wife, Yianna – turned to social media to raise $6,000 for Kiki and another cat to be flown to the United States by a nonprofit agency.

Within a week, friends, family, old high school pals and complete strangers had raised enough to hire a driver to take Kiki to Kabul, where he got all his vaccinations before departing to Pakistan, and eventually to Texas, by way of New York City.

Two weeks ago Chambers came home on leave and was reunited with Kiki, who hasn’t let his favorite Marine out of his sight since he walked in the door.

“For the first three days he didn’t sleep, he just followed me around everywhere,” Chambers said. “I had to put him outside the bedroom (when I slept) because he was so hyper.”

Chambers deploys Sunday for Hawaii to finish out his commitment after nearly five years with the Marines.

“It’s hard,” Chambers said about having to say goodbye to his little friend for a little while longer. “But I know he’ll still be here when I get back now.”


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