Danielle M. Eriksen: The story of Otis, who was a really cool cat

  • Mika and Otis, the really cool cat, take a nap. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 5/28/2017 7:06:58 AM

We lived in a small house on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, bordering Pike National Forest.

One fateful day, we watched from our patio on a hill as a strange car drove to the edge of our land. A man got out, opened the trunk, threw something in the woods and got back in his car to leave.

Furious, I ran to the end of the driveway, cell phone in hand. “Don’t call the police until we know what he dumped!” Chris yelled, so I glared at the guy and wrote down his license plate and a description of the car. Then I jogged to see what he’d dumped.

“It’s a cat,” Chris said.

“Oh you poor thing!” I cried, and immediately picked up the bedraggled creature.

He welcomed my advances and didn’t cower at all, in fact he started purring as I carried him up the hill to the house. He was a mess – skinny, with an awful coat, some small lumps on his back legs, and a ragged ear. An adult black tom who obviously hadn’t been well cared for yet had no fear of humans, despite the fact that those lumps, I later learned, were BBs shot from a BB gun.

We had no cat food, so we fed him some turkey. He was starving, so I was careful to feed just a little at a time, and quickly went out to buy some cat essentials. We all became instant friends, even Milo, the husky/Lab cross, and Mika, the young border collie, had no issues with the newcomer.

I took Otis to the vet on a Monday morning with specific instructions: “I want him tested for FeLV and FIV (feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, two incurable cat-only diseases), and if he’s negative, I’d like him vaccinated and neutered.”

I picked him up after work and the doctor said, “Well, I have good news and bad news. He’s FIV positive, but I went ahead and neutered and vaccinated him anyway, and I’m not going to charge you for the neutering.”

“But I said not to do it if he was positive!” I insisted.

“This is a really cool cat, and he deserves to live,” the veterinarian replied. “The shelter has specific policies about FIV positive cats. If you bring him there, they’ll euthanize him today. And this cat does not need to die, in fact, he can and should be given a chance to live a good life.”

I was in tears the whole way home, feeling like I’d been sold an item I really didn’t want by a crafty salesman. Chris saw it differently, and agreed that he was a remarkably friendly cat.

“But he’s going to die!” I lamented.

“So, you give him the best life you can for as long as you can, and you just accept it when his time is up.”

I went to bed feeling frustrated and sad, but Otis slept next to me and purred a lullaby.

Otis fit right in; he learned his name in a day, and he would soon sport a shiny coat and a healthy weight. He always came when he was called, faster than most people’s dogs.

Mika and Otis hit it off instantly. They didn’t just coexist; they played, and it was hilarious watching the dog and cat wrestling on the floor, then snuggling together on the couch after their game.

Like most cats, he was very fastidious. Unlike most cats, he loved the vacuum. When I’d start vacuuming, he’d sit in front of it until I took out the brush attachment and gave him a thorough cleaning. He’d let me vacuum his head, back, and belly, purring the whole time.

Otis did not care for the extended road trip when we moved back home from Colorado to New Hampshire, and those days on the road are the only times I remember him expressing his dislike for anything. Once here, he settled in immediately, and our house in Weare seemed like it had always been home.

Otis was friendly to everyone. Visiting children could pick him up and cuddle, much to their delight. He seemed especially fond of men, and even electricians and plumbers were quickly befriended.

Given Otis’s FIV status, I expected him to live a shortened life span, but he didn’t. He enriched my life for 14 glorious years and died at age 15. He never required any special medication or care, just a loving home, a healthy diet and annual wellness exams at the veterinarian. I will forever be grateful to the veterinarian who insisted I keep him, because he was indeed “a really cool cat.”

While FIV and FeLV are incurable, we now know that these diseases are not as deadly or contagious as once thought. Many infected cats, like Otis, live long and healthy lives.

So here’s the rub: New Hampshire has a law on the books that states that shelters cannot adopt out any cats that test positive for these two diseases. They don’t need to be euthanized, but they must remain in the shelters for the rest of their lives. This clearly impacts the well-being of those cats, and it impacts the shelters and rescues as well, using valuable space, staff time and resources for cats that can and should be placed into loving homes.

There is an additional flaw in the logic, because not all cats who test positive actually have a disease. False positives can and do happen with both FIV and FeLV tests, and more importantly, cats that have been vaccinated for FeLV will always test positive. That’s right: There is a vaccine for feline leukemia, and many people, especially those with outdoor barn cats, choose to vaccinate their cats for this illness.

House Bill 2, which is part of the state budget, includes an exemption to change this legislation and allow shelters and rescues to place FIV- and FeLV-positive cats in responsible homes at no cost to the state. This common-sense action will be a win for everyone involved, including the cats, the shelters, and the responsible pet owners whose lives will be enriched by adopting these cats.

I support this legislation. I hope others will, too.

(Danielle M. Eriksen lives in Weare.)

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