On Monday, my family’s beloved cat Oscar (pictured) passed away. He had an aggressive type of cancer that apparently develops in outdoor cats with light fur. He fought against it for a long time, but it eventually got the better of him.
To everyone that met him, Oscar represented two things: the pinnacle of a rescued animal and easily the most badass cat to ever exist.
For the first point, it’s because my family was not Oscar’s first. When we moved to Georgia in 2001, Oscar had already developed the reputation of “neighborhood cat.” He technically belonged to the family down the street from us, though he spent the majority of his time roaming around outside, playing with neighborhood kids, murdering chipmunks and just generally being friendly to anything that wasn’t a rodent. Everyone who came to visit us instantly learned about Oscar as he trotted down the street, rolled onto his back, and demanded your attention. However, once the family moved, they left Oscar in the neighborhood he had grown accustomed to. He was left in the charge of another family, who would never let him in the house, simply leaving their garage cracked so he could get food.
As time went by, that family started occasionally “forgetting” to crack their door. Oscar would wind up wandering all night, hitting up porches and patios for shelter. At this point, he would start coming to my family’s back porch looking hungry. We began leaving food and water out for him. He would come up, eat, and then be on his way. If we ever had forgotten to replace the food, we would have a white, whining face in our window, shouting out us in his surprisingly trill meow to get off our asses and feed him. He had begun to trust us and we had grown more fond of him than we already were.
One winter, it was colder than in had been in decades in Georgia. There was snow and ice for weeks and Atlanta was actually put in a state of emergency, shutting everything down with a flip of a switch and leaving a lot of people stranded for hours. It was during one of these snow storms that my wife (then girlfriend) and I peeked out the front door to find Oscar huddled on the front porch of my parents’ house. He was obviously freezing, and it was a safe assumption he had nowhere else to go (we’re fairly certain he was nearly 100% an outdoor cat at this point). So, my wife called my father and pleaded with him to let us bring Oscar inside. From that day forward, he belonged to us. He started up a routine of coming in, eating, napping, smacking around my parents’ Papillon, and then venturing back out into the wilderness for a few hours. My parents didn’t want to infringe on his outdoor routine, since it had been that way for years, so they fell into the routine with him.
My wife, Tee, saved this cat’s life. Had we just ignored it, let it pass, he may not have survived that winter. He would have died then and there. The compassion of Tee and my parents gave this cat another 5 or so years to life. His story is the rescue story you hear about. I can’t say enough how proud I am of all three of them for what they gave this cat. For the happiness they brought into his life. They gave him the best final years he could ask for.
It’s been a rough week, sure, but it’s got me thinking a lot about the effect animals have on our lives. In olden times, animals were domesticated to serve a purpose: work fields, clear vermin, hunt, etc. Today, they are more for company, but I feel like they still have a very important duty to fulfill. Pets are avatars for our subconscious. They act as surrogates for our dreams, opinions and thoughts that we are too befuddled or anxious to voice on our own. We speak to them and they answer. No out loud, but to us. We assign meaning to their glances and stares, to their barks and meows, to every movement they make when they press up against us on the couch or playfully start attacking our hand. We pour out our inner being onto them, filling them with designated personalities so that they may serve their ultimate goal: to rid our hearts and minds of the dark clouds of stress and pain that might linger. Their reward for this noble undertaking is an existence of love, ours and theirs, rising up around them like a soothing mist, ballooning their happy hearts with a pride in their work. They live to see us happy, to watch us reciprocate their love, which we do in kind, accepting them not as domesticated beasts, but as members of the family, each with their own personality, motivations and needs as anyone else.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this uncomfortably long post, I have just one final message: take some time to share love with an animal. However you can. If you have a pet, spend a few minutes just rolling around on the ground with them. Take your dog to that dog park you never go to because it’s too far away. Buy your cat some of those tasty fish flakes she loves. Spend some time making faces and talking to your fish. If you don’t have a pet, see what you can do to make an unclaimed pet’s day. Volunteer at your local shelter or humane society. Donate to a charity that collects dog food or a thrift store that funds a humane society. Consider adopting if you have the means financially.
They may be animals, and many people still may see them as just that, but truly compassionate, caring people know more.
And the amount of good we can do for them out of that compassion is truly amazing.
It may just save their life.
Like it saved Oscars.
I’ll miss you, you old badass.
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