It started with a bite of broccoli. Meet the cheeky little kitty who gets a pension from the Swiss Army.
Her features are dainty and her fur is silky soft, so her squawky meow comes as a surprise. Though she has her own cat flap, she urges bystanders to open doors for her. You might say she barks orders like a drill sergeant – but actually, this brazen cat ranks even higher. Known as Brigadier Broccoli, she has the run of an army base near the Swiss capital.
The frisky feline began prowling around the barracks in Lyss in 2004. As a bored housecat, she was looking for action – and she found it among all the young recruits, who were also a source of snacks between meals. The soldiers named her “Broccoli” after the tabby nibbled on a bite of the green vegetable. Though she had a home nearby, it seemed she couldn’t get enough of army life.
“It was awkward. She kept coming back – even at Christmastime, when there weren’t that many people here to look out for her,” recalls custodian Werner Holzer. But her former owner, who wasn’t around much either due to her job, was unable to prevent the free-roaming cat from visiting the barracks. So finally, the owner and the authorities at the base agreed that the green-eyed feline could stay.
Since Broccoli couldn’t live from mere table scraps, the soldiers set up a kitty to buy her cat food.
“She loves to eat,” remarks Holzer, who shares an office with Broccoli. “And she’s very clean. Once she got shut in a room by mistake, but she didn’t pee or make a mess.” He says she’s also quite curious, investigating every corner of the 60-hectare base.
Now a 14-year-old senior, she’s showing her age somewhat.
“We notice that she’s not as fit. For example, she doesn’t jump straight down from tables – she needs a chair in between,” Holzer notes. But she’s still lively enough to make her rounds, stalking birds, greeting friends, and chasing off a local cat that she doesn’t like.
Broccoli was added to the roster of army animals about three years ago. The roster includes 105 guard, search and rescue dogs – plus another 115 dogs in reserve. There are also 57 riding horses and another 200 pack horses in reserve. Humans number about 166,500, including 42,000 reservists.end of infobox
“Giving her the status of an official army animal made sense, especially if she’s being treated by the army veterinary staff,” explains Holzer.
He says there are two other Swiss army cats. They live at the stables in a nearby town, and it’s their job to catch mice that would eat the horses’ feed. But unlike her colleagues, Broccoli doesn’t even have to lift a paw to earn her keep. Unfair?
“She doesn’t have a job, but she adds to the atmosphere. A lot of the soldiers are away from home for the first time, and the days here can be long and tough. So it’s relaxing to pet a cat,” points out Holzer.
Two soldiers smile and hurry to let Broccoli out when they see her meowing at a door. Cat people, for sure. But not everyone on the base is.
“I’m not so keen on cats, but it’s not a problem,” says another recruit at the base checkpoint. “After all, she’s been here longer than I have.” His colleague keeps a respectful distance. “She’s a pretty cat, but I don’t really pet her or anything. I don’t want to bother her.”
Indeed, Broccoli makes a self-sufficient impression – happy to interact for a bit, and then eager to continue with her daily business. When she was young, she sometimes disappeared for two or three days at a time. Holzer says that today’s outings are more like two or three hours.
Broccoli even has her own Facebook pageexternal link with more than 3,500 fans, and it was there that she earned the “Brigadier” ranking.
“She moves hearts,” says Holzer, clearly a Broccoli fan himself.
Swiss police dogs
Brigadier Broccoli isn’t the only Swiss pet getting a pension from public funds. There’s also Aika, a German shepherd who retired from the canton Schwyz police force this year. She ended her service with a bang, catching intruders on her final work night. But now she can relax with her owner, police officer Monika Blättler.
“Twelve years is an incredibly long time for a police dog to serve. She deserves to spend her golden years at home with me,” Blättler told the Obersee Nachrichten newspaper. As with all retired Schwyz police dogs, the canton still pays for Aika’s food. However, Blättler is responsible for any veterinary bills.
Canton Bern also covers the cost of dog chow for its retired police dogs. And in canton Geneva, retired dogs with at least four years of service under their collars are entitled to free veterinary care for the rest of their lives.
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