Disciples of Otis,
Brother Oliver here.
Disciples of The Leader Otis,
Brother Henry here.
People and fur people who are Disciples of The Leader Otis,
And it was Mama Cat, Cookie, Nacho, Zephyr, Domino, Whisper, and so many others.
And until October 31, 2013… it was Leader Otis.
But today it’s just me. It’s Kevin, the bigger Guardian and writer of The Cult of Otis.
The last time I wrote in the voice of Leader Otis was three days after I said goodbye to the inspiration for that voice. Otis died on October 28, 2013, but I posted The Leader’s final message on 10-31-2013. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to write.
I cannot fully put into words what the experience was like. Let me just say I was grieving the loss of my real cat Otis, but at the same time I was grieving the loss of a distinct personality his presence had created inside my head. When I sat down to write I had no idea what would appear on the page. Tears flowed freely onto the keyboard throughout the writing session. When I finished and looked back over what I had written, I felt like I had come closer than I ever thought possible to capturing the True Spirit of the cat my wife Julie and I loved so dearly. I also felt like I had finally managed to clearly state what The Cult of Otis was truly asking of its followers.
Otis was an eternal optimist who could find joy wherever he looked. Even as he gradually weakened due to the slow progression of the degenerative neuromuscular disease that eventually took him from us, he continued to enjoy life to the fullest extent possible. He kept the mischievous sparkle in his eyes until his final day. His resilience was inspiring and humbling, and the example he set changed my life forever.
At the time of Otis’s death, I was a Naturalist in charge of wildlife releases at a large wildlife rehabilitation center. I had been working at the center for 19 years, and had been unhappy for at least 7 of those years. The reasons for the unhappiness are too numerous and complicated to cover here but, despite my unhappiness, I was doing nothing to escape the situation. My excuses for not making a change were many: We were in debt so risking unemployment was foolhardy. I had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and diabetes, both of which made it hard to function in my current job and would make it impossible to learn a new one. I had very specialized skills that were not applicable to most other jobs. The list went on. And then came my last excuse. I couldn’t change jobs because I was overwhelmed with grief by Otis’s illness and inevitable death.
Poor me. I was paralyzed by life. Meanwhile, there was Otis, who was literally paralyzed, doing his best to play with a feather toy. There was Otis, barely able to get up but getting all excited about the sparklies being cast around the room by the sun catcher in the window. There was Otis napping in Kitty Valhalla even though it seemed impossible that he could have made it up those stairs. And this was the same Otis who once took a chance, in spite of all his fear, and extended his paw to two humans that were extending their hands to him when he was lost in The Shadows. And then he was gone.
When I sat down to gather my thoughts and attempt to write in the voice of Leader Otis for the last time, I poured through dozens of folders of photos that spanned the entirety of Otis’s life with us in “The Promised Land”. I saw the life he had lived. In my head, I also saw the life he might have lived if we had never attempted to reach out to him. On a subconscious level, I think I also saw two paths my life could take based on the choice I was making. I decided to make a new choice.
On the same day that I published The Leader’s final message, I applied for a new job. I credit this entirely to Otis and the example he set for me. Watching the way he faced challenges and lived his life was a true inspiration. I feel the best way I can hold onto his memory is to embrace the optimism, joy, and grace that he showed in life.
I got the job. And what is the job? Let’s just say I really took The Leader’s final message to heart. I now carry a badge, drive a large truck equipped with kennels, and will show up on your doorstep if I receive a report that you are abusing animals. While there is no law I can use to make people keep their cats safely confined, I have infinite opportunities to educate cat guardians in person on the benefits of doing so. There are laws that allow me to fine people for not keeping their dogs safely confined or on a leash though, so Leader Otis would be proud to know I am now a first line of defense against the Long-feared Dog Uprising. If you have been a longtime follower, I’m sure you all know what the voice of Sir Thomas just blurted out inside my head.
Tomorrow I will repost The Leader’s final message once more, but today I just want to remember the cat that used to sit out on the edge of our deck looking at us through the window and trying to make sense of these two humans who were being kind to him. Seeing him on the deck, Julie was reminded of the song “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”. There’s a verse in the song that goes, “I’m sitting here resting my bones, and this loneliness won’t leave me alone.” It perfectly summed up the internal struggle we recognized in the cat. The song was by a man named Otis Redding.
And so Otis was given his name and Julie and I brought him into our life and saved him. At the time I had no way of knowing that seven years later he would repay the favor by saving me.
In Otis’s name,