Who Saved Whom?

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,

It’s Thomas.

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.

That's me in the middle. I'm the one with the laptop.

That’s me in the middle. I’m the one with the laptop.

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.

Otis and Julie

Otis was an eternal optimist. He was also an eager participant whenever I pulled out the camera. Here he is posing with Julie for a people and pets photo contest.

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.

The New Job

I got the job. I have Otis to thank for it.

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.

Otis on the deck

The loneliness wouldn’t leave him alone… nor would we.

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,


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Filed under Daily Life, The Good Word

36 responses to “Who Saved Whom?

  1. They have a way of doing that. A paw salute to all humans who get their message. (Always knew Otis had to be tied to that song – it just fit personality, aspirations of an old soul)
    Applause – and Otis would be so proud.

  2. Paula Ogier

    I got teary just reading this. What a lovely and fitting tribute to your dear Otis.

    And I’m so glad you were also inspired to find your right calling, with the opportunity to educate cat guardians through new means. In some cases, well meaning people just haven’t thought things through enough to understand the dangers their pets are exposed to outdoors.

    Otis remains with you and Julie. Thank you for this post.


  3. What an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing it. And for taking in Otis and all the others, and most of all for learning the lesson so completely that Otis died to give you that now you are fulfilling his wish, to help others like him. Thank you for being on the front line and helping make life better for all animals.

  4. hold on – the mom had to go get a tissue…..

    what an incredible inspiration! congrats on the new job….we will be rooting for you knowing that you are taking a stand for animals. Otis would be proud! It is sometimes amazing that the smallest creature can make the biggest impact if people are willing to listen.

  5. Kevin, I can’t count the number of times I read Otis’s final message. And I named one of the feral cats I care for Otis, in his honor. (We are preparing to rescue and relocate him and his three pals who are part of a stable colony). This post brought tears to my eyes because I can picture Otis wanting to play with the light beams and feather toys. Despite having a disease and a trajectory that indicated he couldn’t.
    I love that you have a job now where Otis would be proud, where your daily mission really is the mission of the Cult. It’s wonderful that there has been such a mindful integration of your passion and your career.
    Although it’s a message I was carrying on my own, I have felt galvanized by Otis and the cult to educate and work to overcome the plight of homeless kitties. Three of my girls were rescued from the mean streets of Jersey City, NJ. One was within days of dying due to horrible wounds that had been inflicted upon her as the youngest in a feral colony (we believe she was offered up as food to a predator). They were all so fearful coming into captivity and now live in what my friends refer to as the Princess Palace. Our non-profit will focus on both rescuing/rehoming as well as educating the public about cats. And I will come back to your blog as a source for inspiration regularly. I really, really appreciate each of your posts. Together I believe we can make a difference.
    Tomorrow I will read Otis’s Final Message. I carry him and all the kitties we’ve lost to their short lives amongst the Shadows and on the streets as reminders to never give up. Not ever.
    Peace to you and Julie. And the boys, who I simply adore from afar!
    Thanks for sharing your world with us.
    -Laura of Squeedunkcats.com

  6. Claudine Erlandson

    What a wonderful tribute to Otis and great news about your life directions. I also hope that Julie’s health will remain perfect.
    With love and best wishes,
    To Kitties and their wonderful parents,

  7. Beautiful post, I can feel the love. Thank you for giving Otis the chance he deserved of a wonderful life with you both.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your deeply personal thoughts. I, too, have found much inspiration from my companion animals over the years, particularly the ones with health issues. There’s no self-pitty, just love of life in the moment. Congratulations on your new endeavor. Stay strong! :o)

  9. So many cats, so few cat parents. Thank you for educating and inspiring cat caregivers and allowing your cats to share in the name of Otis.

  10. We think it’s wonderful that you’re on the front lines against the long feared wiener dog uprising! That must give Thomas some comfort!
    Otis was a special cat in so many ways. We’re glad he changed so many lives, yours included.

  11. I have sleep apnea and diabetes too. I know the struggle. I also have two cats and one dog (sorry otis) that are the love of my life. My struggles aren’t nearly so bad when they are around to comfort me. May you and all your furry friends walk in love and light. 🙂 I know Otis is…….

  12. Oh Kevin and Julie, Otis also changed my life forever. I have taken on more and more projects through my own blog but more so in my own county to humanely reduce the number of cats living in limbo through no choice of their own. I can’t demand that people keep their own feline companions inside but I can try to unsure that those free roaming community cats are no longer able to reproduce and I can try to help those who can be socialized find their own Promised Land. Savannah saved me by coming into our life. I had nothing to do in my retirement years and both my husband and I worried about me as I am also rather shy. I had been a successful international organization development consultant, my own practice for 25 years. And then nothing. Savannah helped me gain confidence to help her find her voice and to learn social media to promote animal rescue. Otis’ blog was one of the very first I found. We adopted our panther girl Sage to follow the Leader’s last request and ‘be the change’ for a black adult cat in a shelter. We picked her up the day after Otis’ last post. Congratulations Kevin and Julie; Kevin for making the job change and Julie for kicking the big “C’s” butt! Paw hugs, Savannah and Linda

  13. My wife, Linda, and I, as well as our cats Savannah and Sage, have long admired and cherished Julie and Kevin and all the kitties they have sheltered and continue to love. Thank you so much for this post. It went right to my heart!

  14. manxmnews2014

    I cried so hard reading Otis final message and I’ll cry again when you repost it. But his legacy is still alive, pushing you forward, what a honor it is to carry his message forward.Onward, by all means.

  15. Kevin, do you know how hard it is to type while tears are falling on your keyboard? (Dumb question; of course you do.) Thank you and Julie for rescuing Otis. Thank you for sharing him with us in words and pictures. Thank you for being his voice (you got it right; his personality shone through). Thank you for conveying his message. He inspired you, you inspire us, we’ll try to inspire others. He is so much missed, yet he’s also still here. “There is no better prayer to morning than to feel glad to know: the greatest story is that all life is one.” — Carl Safina,”Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel”

  16. What a lovely post. Last month, at 55 years of age, I was let go from my day job that I barely tolerated. It paid the bills but that was about the extent of it. I always wanted to move on – much greater and loftier ambitions – but had as many excuses as you did and more as to why I didn’t. Now, without a choice but to move on, I sit at home with my cats watching over me as I ponder the rest of my life. I don’t know what the future will bring – some days are good for me, and others, as I get the proverbial form letter response, “you are perfect for this job but we have decided to go with someone else” leave me in a funk. But, I did write a book last year, and in it were the very wise lessons of my cat, the voice in which the book was written. He is no longer with me in the physical sense, but I know he would tell me to cherish every moment I have, because that’s how he lived his life with me. Thank you for sharing your story – I was having a very bad day, and someone this gave me the butt-kicking I needed.

  17. Dat’s beautiful. Mommy says savin’ is a two way street ifin we choose it to be. We joined da bloggin’ community too late to have known Otis, but we have heard da name. Weez so glad you all took da chance on one anuvver.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

  18. Dear Kevin and Julie,

    Well it IS difficult to write between tears. I just wrote a long message but lost it as I tried to post it…..let me try again. I can’t even begin to image the pain you both felt in loosing Otis. I only knew him through your posts, but it was so incredibly sad when David and I read your post on October 28. He was and is such an inspiration, as are both of you.

    I am so happy that you were able to find your path through Otis’s memory, Kevin. You did such a beautiful job in capturing his personality and that of all his cat siblings. You have no idea how many sayings we have around our house that come directly from the Blog (it’s the best thing is the history of anything ever!).

    You and Julie have both had a lot of challenges of late, and I hope you both realize that you have so many people here for you when you need our support. I wish you both (and Brothers O and H and Sir T) much happiness and joy, just as you’ve given us through so many of your blog posts over the years.

    And I too love Otis Redding’s song. I’m so happy to hear that’s where the Leader’s name came from. It was absolutely perfect. I’ll read your post tomorrow and thing with love of your beautiful boy and all of you.

    Much love,
    Linda, David, Lola, Griffon, Luna and Little Otis

  19. What an honor… Kevin and Julie, to finally see your faces. Because your hearts I already knew quite well!!
    I’m sorry I’m not so good with words, I just want to thank you for sharing all of this with us. It is incredibly inspiring.
    Much love to you, all the way from Brazil!

  20. I wish we had never traveled this awful road of grief together, but I cannot tell you how much you and Julie have helped me in my own journey of grief. We are all better for knowing him, and we have you to thank for that. Thank you for sharing him with all of us. I will always, always hold him (and you) in my heart.

  21. Beautifully written. I believe all cats have something to teach their humans, and they do love us. I graduated from college during the recession and ended up unemployed for some time. Family cat Jenny used to come “knock” on my door and visit me when I was really down. I think she always knew when I needed her most. She stayed with my family when I moved out, but I visit my sweetheart regularly.

  22. By the way, Kevin, I should have also mention, you’re an incredibly talented writer. Thanks so much for taking us along with you.


  23. sandy921

    I can’t say it better than everyone has already. Kevin and Julie – thanks for sharing Otis’ story and how he changed your lives (and continues to change them). I volunteer at our county shelter and share many of the lessons that I’ve learned here about the dangers of unprotected outdoor living. Sending you all good thoughts and many thanks as I get some more tissues.

  24. Bravo!!!! Simply and completely awesome. Otis is pleased, I’m sure.

  25. Tracey

    Thank you for sharing Otis and this blog with us.

  26. Nirmala

    Congratulations!Not many get to do this kind of good work. Otis will always be with you

  27. Thank you so much for this post and for all you and Julie did and will do. Crying here, but Otis’ spirit obviously lives on.

  28. Kevin, thank you for sharing your own voice with us to tell us how Otis has continued to influence your life. So amazing that you have helped each of the Cult members to find their voice to communicate with us. I can’t find the words to tell you how I feel about the work you’ve done and continue to do for animals. Simply, I think you and Julie are wonderful! Thank you for always sharing with us – the strangers on the other side of the computer. d

    Sending hugs & purrs from Mom Nora, Buddy, Jazzy, Cuzzin Cavalli, the new girl (hasn’t told us her name yet) and angel Finny – from 2CarolinaCats.

  29. Thank you all for the kind words. I apologize that I so rarely reply to comments these days. With 10 hour work days, helping Julie battle breast cancer, and Julie’s and my new project (www.exploringhistoryinyourhikingboots.com) I’ve been spread pretty thin.

    This is also part of the reason why the posts on The Blog of Otis have been so infrequent. The main reason for that though is the obvious one- the loss of Otis. He really was the driving force behind this “Cult”, a true muse if there ever was one.

    So again, sorry for the relative silence from my end. Please know though that I do read every comment and appreciate you all so much. You are an amazing group of people and I am honored and humbled by your support.

    – Kevin

  30. This made me cry. Thank you for sharing.

  31. msphoebecat

    Having read this post a few weeks ago I was so moved that I literally could not express my thoughts that were everywhere. Your life with the Leader was everlasting in many ways and his influence even more, I too have felt this way with my angel cat Ms. Phoebe. While I have loved past fur kitty kids now at the Bridge and continue to love those with me now, Phoebe was special in many of the ways you described the Leader was to you. No fur baby of mine taught me more than Phoebe about perseverance, strength, independence, and courage– all vital skills I needed and helped me survive during a devastating and life altering time in my life. When I discovered the Leader’s blog almost four years ago, it also became an inspiration, all your work saving cats like the Leader, his brothers, and Mama Cat and then presented in such a genius format helped educate and influence me. Although I never had the honor of meeting the Leader, I thank you and Julie for sharing him with us and encouraging so many followers to do what they could to help change the inhumane, ignorant attitude the public often has about feral and homeless cats. Highlighting the distinct personalities of your cats helped show the souls these cats have proving their worth as fellow living beings who deserve to be saved and cared for.
    Concatulations to Julie on being a true warrior and fighting cancer and to you Keith on your new career path, we wish you the best of health, happiness, and success in the coming year and beyond. As forever followers we look forward to the continuing adventures and work of the Cult of Otis- including the over throw of any future wiener dog uprisings. It is a comfort to know the boys are on the job!
    With many purrs and much admiration,
    Angel Ms. Phoebe’s Family: Clove, Kaspars & Mom

  32. Heather

    I always seem late in responding…but this was so touching. I loved reading it. Your entire family has touched me deeply. I’ve saved a few cats thanks to Otis last message. The whole “be the miracle” always whispers back to me when I don’t want to help…b/c I’m busy, b/c I have enough cats to help, b/c I don’t want to rush to the vet again, b/c I’m afraid the cat is too sick and will need put to sleep and I’ll grieve and grieve again…but “be the miracle” whispers through and I can never walk away w/o listening to and obeying Otis. I will always be the miracle thanks to him.

  33. Thank you Kevin and Julie for all the years of compassion you shared with us, and that touching tribute to Otis when he departed. I hope that next fork in the road has treated you well, and you have received just a fraction in return of what you gave to so many.

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