ANDERSONVILLE — After more than seven years in the Army, Wes King returned to college preparing for his post-combat career, but he still couldn't shake the anxiety of what he experienced.
King suffered from Post Traumatic Stress after returning from duty, but found relief in an energetic 6-month-old kitten named Steven.
"We would call him our therapy cat," said King. "When you go to combat or go overseas you’re going to have lasting effects when you come back home, regardless of who you are... You can go over there and come back and have quite a big mental breakdown."
King, 29, was deployed three times in Iraq and four in Afghanistan for a total of 28 months as member of the Second Ranger Battalion, stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington.
The battallion conducted air patrols at altitudes above 9,000 feet and "mobile patrols through major population centers." They also conducted air assaults and direct action raids, according to the U.S. Army website.
"It has it’s ups and downs. I loved ninety-nine-percent of it, but there’s that one-percent of it that pushed me out of it as well. But if I had the choice, I would absolutely do it over again one-hundred-percent," said King, a native of Seattle.
After his time in the Army, King studied at Central Washington University and roomed with a fellow combat veteran.
That's when he adopted the kitten from a neighbor, who could no longer take care of it.
"Both of us experienced random spouts of depression or... when we would have just a s***** day. It would be something we can’t control, but Steve, we’d like to say, he can kinda tell when we were having a bad day. And would be a little bit nicer," King said.
"He likes to fight a lot," but when one of the veterans was having a bad day, the cat would "be nicer and more cuddly," he said.
Their friends couldn't believe that a cat could sense their despair, but King said if they spent one day with him, "they'd know he wasn't your average cat," he said.
"He acts more like a dog than a cat. He comes when he’s called... most of the time. I take him for walks outside," he said.
The walks slowed a bit when King moved from Seattle to Chicago's Noble Square in August, forcing Steven to adjust to city life.
But on Tuesday King got a chance to honor Steven, who helped him through his darkest days.
A series of murals are going up across the city to celebrate National Cat Day, which is Oct. 29. The series is driven by Meow Mix as an extension of its Purrfect Together campaign.
A huge mural of Steven and King is currently on the wall of the Bongo Room, 5022 N. Clark St. in Andersonville.
Wes King poses next to the mural in the Bongo Room parking lot. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]
"It’s mindboggling. I really don’t have any words to describe it," King said minutes after the big reveal. "I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I first saw it all the color on it just popped so vibrantly. It just made it so warm of a piece."
"This right here is the story of an animal and a person going through the trials and tribulations of life together," the artist said, admiring his work for the first time in ten hours.
Local street artist CZR PZR puts the finishing touches on the mural outside the Bongo Room Tuesday. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]
CZR PRZ's personal work as an illustrator, painter and designer reflects his upbringing as "an Americanized Latino," he said.
It features a lot of imagery, animals, women, children, mythology and theology usually with heavy Christian tones.
"This was something so relevant. It isn't anything cheesy or cutesy. It shows how it's real out there," he said.
While the color scheme is opening and inviting, something about the size of the duo in the 14-foot mural feels off, King said, though Steven wouldn't think so.
"He thinks he’s a 6-foot mountain lion. Him seeing as big as he is on that wall, he’d be like 'that’s about right. That’s about how big I am,'" King said.
Wes King and street artist CZR PRZ embrace after the mural is completed. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]
The Cat Day mural project highlights other human/cat relationships as well.
Monday, Anthony Lewellen put his artistic spin on the relationship between the Welkes family and their two tabby cats on a wall outside the VCA Lakeshore Animal Hospital, 960 W. Chicago Ave.
When they got married, Lauren and Chris Welkes opted to raise money for a cat shelter rather than have a traditional registry. The newlyweds raised nearly $3,000, according to a press release for the project.
Want to honor your cat? Find out more about the project here.
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