It was an early April morning in 2005: U.S. Army machine gunner Karolyn Smith was deployed in Baghdad, and that day she was assigned to provide security for a tanker transporting fuel, TODAY reports.
Everything was going according to plan until a roadside bomb exploded nearby. Smith wasn't unfamiliar with roadside bombs — in fact, this was her thirteenth run-in with one — but this particular explosion was different: She suffered a mild traumatic brain injury and spinal injuries and was later diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Smith, now 43, tells TODAY that her transition in 2006 from soldier to citizen was a tough one. She found it difficult to relate to non-military women her age, so she relied on her local community of veterans in Santee, California (a suburb of San Diego), for support. She was recognized for her service in 2014 with the 71st District of California Veteran of the Year Award, but something was still missing from Smith's post-war life.
Enter Sprinkles, a tiny kitten who had recently been abandoned. Smith spotted her on the San Diego Humane Society Facebook page one day in 2014 and was immediately drawn to her unique coloring. But what really attracted Smith to this particular cat? Sprinkles, whose right hind leg was damaged during birth when it was wrapped up in her mother's umbilical cord, was actually an amputee — just like many of Smith's veteran friends.
Smith knew she just had to have Sprinkles and her cat BFF, Leprechaun, but many other Facebook commenters felt the same way. (Just check out the San Diego Human Society's photo album dedicated to the pair, and you'll see how much the local community loves them) So, she entered a voting contest in an attempt to win the cuddly cuties — and ultimately was chosen to become their new mom.
Smith says the two cats, renamed Sophia and Leonidas, work as a treatment for her PTSD. "They're so funny and uplifting," she said. "When my fingers touch their fur, my mood improves. The cats have motivated me to go out into the world and be more productive."
For this war veteran, being "more productive" involves doing some inspirational speaking engagements and working as a volunteer counselor for other veterans struggling with PTSD. And little Sophia's been doing well for herself, too: Smith has been working with San Diego innovation hub Fab Lab to get her a prosthetic leg (the prototype should be ready in two weeks, Smith says), and Sophia will soon be certified as an official therapy animal.
In the end, Smith thinks they were meant to be together. "It's like God told me, 'This one. You need to look at this one among all the others,'" she says.
You just might call them a purr-fect pair.