I did not want a cat. H wanted a cat… so, almost 18 years ago I agreed to go down to the Salt Lake County Animal Shelter where I found a little 6 week old brown tabby rolling around and playing chase with the other kittens. I picked him up to do the evaluation and he instantaneously captured my heart… He had chosen me just as I had chosen him. However, the shelter was closing and they could not adopt him to us that night, assuring me that he would be there for adoption the next day. I skipped class the next morning and ran right down only to be dismayed when they said he was gone. “Gone?” I asked? “Oh, he is over at the retirement home doing animal therapy with some other animals…” I was told. They assured me that he would still be available to adopt when he got back, but “they had other cats to adopt and why don’t I go look at them?”. I declined and waited… and waited… and waited… Finally, they returned with the little guy and I filled out the forms and took him home in a little cardboard box where he joined our family, living with us until yesterday when he passed away.
Back when we adopted him, he was just on the verge of being fully weaned and he bonded with us as we helped him learn to feed himself. We helped groom his rough kitten fur until he could clean it himself and tried, tried, tried to get him to sleep on his own. We tried in vain to keep him out of our bed at night when he was just a kitten, resorting to closing the bedroom door to make him go away and ignoring him. That did not last long as he persisted in standing outside the door for *hours* and wailing until we let him in. Once in, he insisted on climbing up into the bed. We had worried that we’d somehow roll over and crush him at night, but he ended up sleeping around H’s head until he got too big for that and then would sleep by her legs at night. He was developing a personality and was certain about what he wanted and did not want.
What he did want, was to be with us at all times possible. In graduate school, he was my study partner. After that he became my reading and writing partner, hanging out while I read manuscripts and wrote. He would crawl into my bathrobe and hang out in the sleeves or around the back of the robe in the mornings until he got so big, he could not fit, though that did not stop him at times as a full grown cat. After he could not fit in my sleeves anymore, he hung out in the chair with me, getting as absolutely close as he could until he decided that it was time to play or until I had to leave for work.
He would always wait by the door for us when we returned home and always wanted to be close to us at all times with none of the aloofness normally associated with cats. Our evenings had rituals for him in which he would greet each one of us and spend time individually with both H and I and then together as a family. These rituals were important and I always looked forward to them as a moment of peace, love and happiness shared between humans and a non-human.
Otto was always around at family events and everyone loved him. His aunt Hollie would bring a down coat over in the cold months that he loved snuggling up in. His cousin and aunt and uncle would always be happy to see him and his grandparents were always asking after him. He loved the holidays and was always a gracious gift recipient, eagerly playing with each new toy until it was well worked over.
Interspecies play has always fascinated me and Otto was always a willing participant, with us and with other animals like Willard the dog that lived across from us at one time. Otto loved to play and was a powerful cat in his prime which made wrestling amusing provided I was wearing a leather welding glove. It also made for fun times when he quite literally chased you or ambushed you by grabbing for your ankles just to hear you scream or yell which seemed to delight him to no end. These behaviors are obviously embedded deep within the feline genes, but what always surprised me was how much he truly seemed to enjoy their invocation.
Its amazing what animals can teach us and despite all of the hassles, our lives are improved by sharing them with creatures that have a certain purity about their motivations. They are not there to cheat, lie or steal (unless its some ill gotten kibble) and there is an honesty through which animals live their lives. If you can be just as honest with them and live your lives together with transparency, they will give you their all.
I’m a little stunned at how much this cat has meant to us and how hard the last couple of days have been. We loved this cat and know that this cat felt the same for us. He taught us so much about love, trust and patience and for that we will always be grateful.
Thanks to all of Otto’s family and friends who visited him, asked about him, cared for him when we were out of town and will miss him. Many thanks to Dr. Rick Whitty and his assistants from Salt Lake Veterinary Services who made house calls when Otto needed checkups or help. It meant so much to us and to Otto to have his vet visits occur at home rather than going across town and when the time came to say goodbye, Dr. Whitty helped Otto and us with care, respect and compassion.
The Internet is full of cat pictures and these add to them, but this cat was our friend and family member and we will always remember him thorough these images and in our memories.
Thanks buddy. We love you.