It’s just an image of two friends sleeping together: a warm cat seeking comfort with U.S. soldier Staff Sergeant Kevin Davidson in Kuwait. But it went viral on the Web with the help of and Purina pet food.

Perhaps the cat could smell food cooking inside the base or maybe it was looking for a place out of the sun. On Christmas Eve the feline curled up outside a U.S. base in Kuwait to lie down for a nap.

Like other cats and dogs at overseas posts, troops noticed him and took him inside the base. Despite the fact that “adopting as pets or mascots, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal” is a punishable offense under the UCMJ, taking in a furry local is commonly overlooked.

As one lieutenant colonel told Stars and Stripes in 2010, there’s a lot more to worry about in the life-and-death world of a war zone than who’s sneaking puppies and kittens.

For Davidson, the story starts a week after the cat was discovered.

“I was sitting in my tent with two of my soldiers and I heard a ‘meow.’ I went outside and found this cat laying on one of the [temporary barriers]. I picked him up and brought him in our tent to show him to everyone,” Davidson wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.

Davidson put the cat outside the tent, but the feline trotted back inside a few minutes later. Again, Davidson put the cat out, but the animal returned.

“After that, the cat just sort of moved into our tent with us,” Davidson said.

Davidson, who is on his second deployment and is in the process of rotating back to the States, said the troops who initially found the cat brought him into the base and started feeding and petting him.

Because the cat was at risk for rabies and disease, the commander of the unit wanted to euthanize the feline. Instead, the company executive officer took the cat to the nearest installation with a veterinarian.

Davidson said the cat was fixed, vaccinated, given a flea bath and microchipped. The cat’s ear was also notched to signify he was safe.

For Davidson and others at the base, the companionship meant everything.

“I was honestly really thankful for [the cat]. You see, as a reservist on a nine month deployment, it isn’t just nine months without leave, it’s about 10 1/2 because we have to leave our families and go to an active-duty installation to train,” Davidson said. “So this cat was the first thing I could hug or really show any affection to. It was very therapeutic.”

The image is a moment of bonding between the two, each receiving comfort in the other. After the photo went viral on Reddit and Facebook, Purina featured the photo on their community page and a deluge of people contacted Davidson, asking if he would bring the cat home.

“After seeing how he raised my morale and the morale of my team, I couldn’t take him away from all those soldiers still [based] there,” Davidson said.

“After having a cat for a few weeks, I can honestly say that more pets for deployed soldiers would help with the depression and probably cut down on the amount of suicides. I’m not saying I considered suicide while deployed, but I had some dark days missing my wife and kids.”

Davidson has an 8-year old daughter and his son just turned 5.

The cat earns his keep: he killed two mice in the first week. The soldiers weren’t supposed to feed the cat in order to encourage hunting, but the soldiers did anyway. According to Davidson, the cat stays pretty much indoors, “as indoor as you can be in a tent in Kuwait.”

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