The animals we save sometimes end up saving us.
That's the takeaway from a moving new video anchored around the story of Josh Marino, an Army veteran injured during a mortar attack in Bagdad, and Scout, a black and white kitten that came into the man's life when he was needed the most.
While Marino's physical wounds eventually mended, he wrestled with crippling bouts of depression that lingered long after he had returned from the battlefield.
Like so many other veterans, he was struggling with conditions associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But just as Marino was readily entertaining thoughts of suicide, an unexpected hand reached out to help.
"I walked out the back door of the barracks. I smoked a cigarette in the rain. It was gonna be my last one. It's when I heard a little meow. This little black and white kitten comes walking out of the bushes. And he just walked up and started rubbing up against my leg and letting me pet him.
I broke down crying and burst into tears. Maybe he knew there was something I couldn't quite handle. I stopped thinking about all my problems and started thinking about all his problems and what I could do to help him."
Over the next couple of weeks and months, the bond between man and cat deepened as a routine developed. Scout would coming running when Marino called to him. In exchange for plates of tuna, the cat would sit on his lap and purr quietly.
Having someone dependent on him gave the soldier "something to look forward to every day" and his mental condition improved dramatically as a result.
But just as quickly as the tuxedo cat entered Marino's life, he suddenly disappeared. The man was crestfallen at the loss of his new friend, but thankful for the support he had provided.
"When I found out that he wasn't around anymore, it devastated me ... He helped me realize that I could actually not just care for someone else, but that other people could care for me."
Fast forward several months. Marino and his new girlfriend, Becky, came across some cats that needed to be re-homed at an adopt-a-thon. As they walked between two rows of crates, a familiar paw shot out — it was Scout's!
Both shocked and amazed at this stroke of serendipity, the couple adopted him on the spot and later relocated to their hometown of Pittsburgh, where Scout was joined by Becky's three other cats.
The unlikely reunion spurred Marino's continued improvement: He worked out regularly, lost weight, quit smoking, proposed to Becky (spoiler: she said yes!), and returned to college to pick up a master's degree in counseling.
Today, he helps veterans just like himself find their way back from grief and trauma incurred as a result of their service.
"I'm not really able to serve active duty anymore, but working with vets, I'm still serving, just serving in a different uniform."
And he credits Scout, who, sadly, has since passed on, for his stunning rehabilitation.
"Even before he was my cat, before he even knew me that well, he saved my life. He put me on a different path. He gave me the confidence to try and come back from all the adversity I was feeling.
Scout was my battle buddy. He saved me — all I did was the paperwork."
Watch the full video below, but pull the tissues close because you'll need them.
Are you or someone you love struggling with mental issues? Help is just a phone call away.