Monday, August 11, 2008

Oscar's Blog


(This, as always, is going to be another long post. To me, this one’s worth it. I will be putting my tips inline with the text to make it a bit more useful for others. PS- the pic is clickable.)

Twelve years ago I was living in Eureka, California in my 2nd year of college. I had 2 roommates, John and Amanda. It was my first real time out ‘on my own.’ Our upstairs neighbors were fun and well connected in the area, and were often downstairs hanging out with us.

We, Amanda in particular, expressed interest in getting a cat, and one day our neighbor just appeared with one on our doorstep. Born a couple hours south of us, we never did know his exact birth-date, but it was sometime in September. He was weaned a bit too-early from mom, this tiny palm-sized kitten with grey and white fur and yellow eyes. At the time, I had just bought a couch for my room at the Salvation Army and had a gargantuan amount of reading to do for school. So I laid down on my couch with my book and Oscar curled up underneath my chin. We stayed that way for the first 3 days almost non-stop. His head under my chin is still his favorite spot.

Tip 1: Get a mutt from someone you know. Pure breeds are idiots and puppy-mills suck.

He earned nicknames like Mountain Climber for climbing up everyone and everything with his claws so his tiny body could be up where the action is. I’m sure being that small and in a sea of giants must make the floor scary too. I also called him Parrot, because he would climb up and sit on my shoulder, and often stay there even if I got up and walked around. Our friend Dru insisted on calling him Tom, since he had the right colorings of the classic cartoon cat. It never quite caught on with anyone but him though.

We always had people over, being college students and such, and everyone always wanted to play with him. He learned early on that he was part of a human family, I was dad and Amanda was mom. Amanda always had far more patients to pet him for hours, but he would always lie around on the floor or on my lap in my room while I was on the computer.

Tip 2: Have your pet (especially cats) meet as many friendly and warm people as possible when they are young. Have them get used to people and they won’t run and hide when company comes over.

About a month after getting Oscar, our neighbor showed up again with another cat. He was an orange tabby, about a month older than Oscar. We gladly took him in, but it was kind of a dirty trick- how can you say no to a kitten on your doorstep? I was given the privilege of naming him, something I am bad at. He was a bit of a pretty-boy and instantly announced himself as king of the house, so I named him Adonis. He turned out to be a huge glutton, and we had to start feeding Oscar separately so he would get food. They never really fought beyond the standard kitten play-fighting though.

Tip 3: The best pet names are out-dated human names.(But not as out-dated as “Adonis.”)

Adonis was good for Oscar in a couple respects, but most notably when we started letting them outside. We lived in what I called a ‘bad cat neighborhood’ where there were many cats fighting for territory. It was also an area of busy streets and our house was on the corner, so we were worried. Even at ~5 months old, Oscar was still very tiny.

The Fence

One of the funniest things I saw Oscar do in his early life was around then. Behind our house was a fence with a board near the top to support it. The board was wide enough for the cats to walk along. Hearing the familiar cat-fight noises, I look out the window to see Oscar, Adonis, and another cat I didn’t know. Adonis and the other cat were facing each other fighting. Oscar, behind the other cat, probably just thought it was play. When Oscar jumped on the cats back and started nibbling, the other cat instantly turned around with a “WTF?!?” look on his face and they all promptly fell off the wall. I still don’t know how Oscar even got on that wall. He had trouble getting on the counter at the time.

Tip 4: Let your cats go outside. Not possible in all areas I know, but it gives them a life and a personality far beyond just sitting around the house waiting for you to do something interesting. You’ll see below Oscar went outside in all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect.

Oscar also enjoyed the finer things in life. Like his dad, he enjoyed dark beer. Well any beer really (just like his dad…) He did not like carbonation though. He would often lick around the mouth of a bottle, can or even glass once someone had drank, and in his young life would always seek out that half-full beer on the table after a party and once it was flat, knock it over and drink it as it poured on the floor. We of course ended up discouraging this behavior.


It was a good thing he was an outdoor cat, because when John moved out and we got another roommate, she had a year old Dalmatian puppy. The dog was big and obnoxious, and for the next few months the times that Oscar and Adonis were in the house they were on shelves, counters, and furniture tops, darting in-between.

That didn’t last for long though, as the falling out in the house continued. We all ended up moving out separately. Adonis was renamed to Max and went with Amanda. I only saw him one time ever after that. Amanda also had Oscar fixed before we moved, because I probably never would have done it. I already knew Oscar’s genes should continue.

I took Oscar to Trinidad to move in with two new roommates, Loren and Dru. Loren was my roommate in the dorms and Dru lived across the hall. Trinidad can only be described as cat heaven. I think of all the places he lived, by far it was his favorite. On top of a hill overlooking the beach, we had a shared driveway that led up to a 2 story house. The bottom story was just a storage room and garage, upstairs was the living quarters. The balcony covered 2 sides of the house and gave a full view of Humboldt Bay and as far up the coast as your eyes could see. There was a stairway down from the balcony, and we left the sliding door a crack open for Oscar at all times except for pouring rain.

Between us and the road was a charming little one story house with a retired woman living there. (Trinidad is mostly a retirement community) Being a coastal area, there was a lot of flora and fauna around. She had put up a bird bath, probably years before Oscar existed, and put it about 6ft away from a large row of bushes that lined the shared driveway.

I don’t have any memory of Oscar hunting before this. But he quickly became amazingly proficient at it. He literally would bring 3 birds a day in. At first he left them there for me, and I promptly threw them away. After awhile he learned that I was going to do nothing but waste them, and so I started just coming home to feathers and leg bones strewn about the house.

His proficiency was amazing; he even caught a pheasant one day. But there are two stories that exemplify this more than anything.

The little yellow birds

Dru and I were out on the balcony one day and there were these tiny little yellow birds on a tree in our neighbor’s yard. Dru said he had never seen them before and wouldn’t it be nice to get a closer view. “Just wait for Oscar to catch one” I said. He said that such a small bird would be quick and there was no way Oscar was going to catch one. I didn’t feel like arguing further because it was just a hypothetical anyway.

About 2 days later I walk out onto the balcony and Oscar is running up the stairs smiling with one of the birds in his mouth. Dru was sitting on the couch just inside. Oscar doesn’t like to be doubted.

America’s funniest

On summer vacation, I stayed in Trinidad while everyone else went home. One day I was on the phone with a friend (still no idea who sadly) and walked out onto the balcony for fresh air while I talked. Oscar came jogging out with me and immediately went down the stairs. As soon as he hit the grass, this bird lost its mind. Shrieking this “Ka-Ka-Kakaka” sound repeatedly, it proceeded to dive bomb my cat. Oscar didn’t quite know where it was, but hit the ground as the bird passed just inches over him head-on.

I am on the phone with my friend in a state of shock. This bird was loud and incredibly brave. As it came around for a second pass, I think its critical mistake was it never shut up. As it came close, this time from Oscar’s rear heading forward, Oscar hit the ground again but this time leapt forward with both claws flying. “Ka-Ka-KakaKAAAAA!” went the bird, and it suddenly got religion. Finally realizing it had no chance in this battle, it went and landed on top of the old-lady’s house which was pretty much eye-level for me. It just refused to shut up after that, sending me back inside so I could hear my friend again. 20 minutes later it was still going.

I know that Oscar probably took his/her mate or something, which is sad and all, but I still think that if I had that video taped, I would have won America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Those are by no means his only exploits, just the two most memorable to me at that time. He even helped me get a bird at one point.

The Oil Spill

We weren’t supposed to have cats at the Trinidad house. (I’m so bad) and they wanted to do an inspection one day. So I had to bring Oscar with me in my van to school, he could sit there while I was in class. (Humboldt isn’t known for heat-waves that get above 75 degrees) Oscar hated cars and always whined for the first hour he was in one. My class ended up being canceled that day, and I had nowhere to go with Oscar. After driving by the house to see that the landlord was still there, I decided to take Oscar down to the beach.

I figured he had heard them since he moved there, but the loud noise of the waves crashing terrified him. He was content to hide in my jacket with pretty much just his ears sticking out. It was also relatively cool that day and the sea breeze was strong. I found a waist-high rock that I put him on, and he looked around very sheepishly. A dog ran up to us barking and the owner quickly followed, not understanding why his dog was acting that way. My cat was RIGHT NEXT to him… Anyway, he proceeded to tell me that there was a duck near the water covered in oil. I hadn’t heard yet, but there was an oil spill in the Humboldt Bay, which they claimed never got out of the bay. This beach was on the other side of the “Head” a large hill that ended the bay.

I took Oscar home and thought about it. I called and found out that HSU was taking the birds in, and I went down to the beach with a pillowcase and wrapped it around the bird. The bird tried to get to the water before I got there but couldn’t really move. I drove 90mph the whole way to the school. I figured I had a good excuse to any cop that stopped me. I gave the duck over and was given an ID # so I could call about his progress, but I never called. I didn’t want to hear if it didn’t make it.

There was also another large orange tabby that lived at the house that had the little yellow birds. The cat was larger than Oscar, and would often come in the house when everyone was away and eat Oscar’s food. Oscar never did get to be a BIG cat; he had an extremely athletic build. When caught of course a fight always ensued, and though to an extent Oscar was out-classed, he always managed to defend his territory.

Another memorable hunt was the time he caught this giant bug. No idea what it was…

The Solar Powered Bug

I was on my own in the house when Oscar runs into the house with something in his mouth and goes straight into Dru’s room. I follow and turn on the light, and immediately this bug that was like the Silence of the Lambs insect flies to the ceiling against the light. I turn off the light, and hear an obvious thud as the bug hits the ground. Turn back on the light, and the bug is at the ceiling again. Oscar just LOVED this game, he would often sit back a few feet away and wait for his prey to try to get away again, but I quickly grew tired of it. He only got about 4 rounds out of me.

Oscar also picked up another nickname at this time…



Around this time, there was a girl that was interested in my roommate Dru. It is also when South Park started. Every Wednesday she would come over with a few of her friends to watch.

I guess this is common to cats that are weaned to early, but Oscar liked to suckle. He actually trained me not to sleep on my back because if I did I would wake up with claw-marks on my face.

Amazingly for Humboldt, all of her friends were always pretty cute. Humboldt is famous for girls that don’t shave or shower, so this was a minor miracle. We would have discussions on it after, and sure enough, Oscar would always pick the hottest one and sit on her lap and suckle the whole night. Mind you he had excellent aim… at first they would always say”Oh no… stop” then “oh he’s so cute…” and let him. Damned cat…

All good things must come to an end though, and so did Oscar’s time in Trinidad. The area was beginning to get pretty “fished out” anyway causing Oscar to travel longer and longer distances. I had failed out of HSU, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing there, and so I moved to Salt Lake City where my friend Adam moved a couple years before. For the first 2 months we stayed at his parents’ house as we looked for a place, and I was a bit worried because his parents had a tiny little cat. She was declawed however, which Oscar had no concept of, so he always thought she was playing and played with her. He was always very respectful when on another cat’s turf.

We found a place, a 2 bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor, a very nice place. Still, with winter coming, I wonder how Oscar was going to take it. The first time I took him out into the cold fluffy white stuff he did not seem very happy. I guess he got used to it though because he still always wanted to go out. I don’t really remember him catching anything there, though that doesn’t mean he didn’t, we just couldn’t leave a door o pen for him anymore so he might have disposed of his kills elsewhere. It wasn’t until I was moving out about a year later that I found out a bit more about what he was doing.

I had met one neighbor the whole time I was there, and not till near the end of living there. Everybody knew Oscar. He apparently went into everyone’s home and they fed him, played with him, etc. I guess his life in the snow wasn’t too rough after all.

Tip 5: Don’t believe your vet. The occasional “people food” is good for a pet. Variety in diet makes humans healthy; I believe it is the same for cats. Not to mention it makes them less likely to turn up their nose at food. Besides, if you only ate what was best for you, how happy would you be?

I ended up moving back home to Orange County, Ca to live with my parents while I went back to school. Now knowing it was computers I was interested in, I had direction. Once again I wondered about Oscar, the outside was much more akin to Trinidad than anywhere else we lived, but there were two cats and a dog in the house as well and I knew Oscar hated dogs. Willie, our Daschund, was of course obnoxious, but after a few bats on the head they had established a treaty. The other two cats, Siamese sisters, hate everyone and prefer to hide in closets and such, but on and off they would play with Oscar, one of them even seemed to have a crush on him at times.

Outside, Oscar went right back to work. If he really did not catch anything in Utah, he certainly didn’t loose his touch. For some reason, the community was beginning to have a pidgin problem when I moved back. I saw Oscar almost catch 2 of them. I am not sure if the community did anything about them, but they were soon mysteriously gone. He came very close to catching a crow around this same time, the crow having just enough strength to hop over a solid wall Oscar couldn’t. He didn’t really catch birds too often, but rodents and small reptiles were in large supply. He seemed to just stop hunting the lizards and snakes; they just didn’t offer enough fun for him.

Tip 6: If your cat catches an animal- let him have it. Unless you are going to snap the poor thing’s neck yourself, nothing is so cruel as to let the animal slowly die of disease or starve. If this bothers you so much, look at your own dinner.

Happy Easter

Probably the best was right after I moved back. It was Easter morning and my parents were getting up at the crack of dawn like usual to go to church. Leaving the house, my mother sees a perfectly beheaded bunny on the doorstep. How he does it I don’t know, but it always looked like a perfect cut. She of course was not at all happy. But if you are wondering why you never see the Easter Bunny, now you know.

He had new rules to get used to as well, the #1 being that he couldn’t be out at night. This was new for him and he didn’t much like it. The reason is there are coyotes around at night. Through a system of basically grounding him the next day if he was out all night, he learned. It helped that he realized he liked dinner too. He also had to get used to the fact that people were busier and busier and not around as much. I was working during the day and going to school at night, at first he resented it a bit, but our evenings became our time together. He would often get mad at me if I was at the computer too late. (This was unfortunately often.)

When I went to Japan for six weeks in 2004, he was beside himself. My parents told me he moped around all day and even started to sleep with them at night, kicking the girl cats out of the room. It took him awhile to forgive me, but he eventually did. It was about the same last year and this past summer when I went back to Japan, but he got used to it quicker.

He also made new friends, with all the neighborhood kids. I was a bit worried about this because kids can be too rough; I was worried how he would react. But true to form Oscar patiently put up with it until he could get away. He seemed to have a simple rule: If you’re human, you’re family; if you’re smaller than me, you’re dead; and if you’re bigger than me, you’re scary. It served him well.

Things always come in threes, and another orange tabby was to come into Oscar’s life. Hairy Newman was my sister’s roommate’s cat, but seemed to prefer my sister. They told the breeder they specifically did not want a cat like my parent’s cats, which always run and hide. He told them to lock him in a small area when they were away so he didn’t feel like he had to defend a large territory. Sadly this gave exactly the opposite effect.

Anyway, when they stopped being roommates, my sister’s friend was moving home with the parents to a large obnoxious dog and was going to have to have Hairy declawed. She was planning on only being home for a month, so I said I would take Hairy in rather than declaw him.


Tip 7: Don’t declaw your cats. They are living beings not meant to be modified for your convenience. If you value your furniture more than your pet, don’t get one. Also, if someone ripped your fingernails out, you would never trust them fully again either.

As far as I know, Megan (her friend) is still living at home, and Hairy is now mine. Oscar being as territorial as he is, doesn’t let Hairy on my bed, but he has his own place under my bed where he knows it is almost impossible for anyone to get to him so he loves it. In the cat world it is opposite, so Oscar owns me and “the girls” own my mom. So Hairy is the cat with no one to own and is always kind of on the out-skirts. He is very loveable though and gets a decent amount of attention.

He is bigger than Oscar, but doesn’t seem to know it, and it is very easy for Oscar to put him in his place. Still they get along fairly well together. I also made Hairy an outdoor cat, much to the chagrin of my mother who over-babies him keeping him as weak as he thinks he is.

A little after Hairy came on board, Willie (the dog) died. He was 13 and had lived a long life. On occasion you could see all 5 of them, the cats and dog, sitting in a room hanging out nearby. It was like interrupting the meeting when you saw them, and they’d all begin to wander off on their own.

Oscar slowed down in his old age (of 10) and began to lie around more. He didn’t hunt as much, preferring to hang out in the garage on the boxes and relax. He also began to have a bit of trouble jumping up on the counter to get food, so I started putting a chair out. His ego usually wouldn’t let him use it though and he would jump up and pull himself up to the counter. He still had a lot of life in him though and would catch the occasional game; rabbits seemed to be the one thing he still really liked to get.

Recently, he was just getting over being mad at me for being gone for 5 weeks in Japan again. I have been doing a lot of work at my computer like usual which annoyed him, but I always find at least a few minutes to pet him before I pass out.

He did not come home Friday night. I usually come get him around 10pm and he is used to that, but it is not out-of-the-ordinary for me to be a bit late, especially on a weekend night. When this happens, it is not out-of-the-ordinary that he goes and finds another place to camp out and says to hell with me. Especially in summer when it is hot out but very nice at night. Friday was one of those nights. I went to get him at 11:30, then one more time, then at 1am. At 1 I was exhausted, so I went to bed. I always worry about him when I do this, but he is always at the door in the morning hungry.

He wasn’t at the door Saturday morning. This also isn’t unprecedented. He had been out for over 24 hrs twice before. Once I even put up flyers, I only got 2 calls. One was a lady saying her son was obsessed with looking for Oscar. The other was some bitch saying how I am not allowed to put up flyers. He came back both times, and I theorized he was trapped in someone’s garage. When I went out looking I kept an eye on what garages were open, and it wasn’t many throughout the day. I tried to just keep busy and wait for him to come home, which resulted in me cleaning my brother’s old room.

Sunday I made flyers. I put his name, when he was last seen, my cell #, and asked people to please check their garages and anywhere else he could have gotten trapped into. I put them on the mailboxes on the street above and below as well as mine and on each person’s door from my street. I was worried no one would go to the mailbox on a Sunday.

As I was putting them on the doors, I ran into the kids down the street. One girl in particular is a real animal lover. She took the flyer and was really worried. She said Oscar was her best friend, and always came to her lawn to play with her. But maybe he only came because she had cheese. He freaking loved cheese. You could never have any form of cheese around without him getting his share. She was really hard to talk to at that point.

I also went down to the guard shack to ask if they had any reports of strays. Without a collar I always worried he would get picked up. I couldn’t help it, any collar I tried to put on him would last a week or 2 at max, and I wasn’t going to embarrass him with a harness.

The guard told me that the patrol guard saw 2 coyotes with a cat Saturday. No other info as to when, where, etc. So I gave her a flyer and asked her to ask the patrol guard if she saw him/her. Shortly after I got home, I got another call with the same information. It was a black cat. Oscar is not, but it would have been dark.

Then the patrol guard came to my house personally. It was like something you would see on cop shows or whatever. She told me she was the one who witnessed it, she was following the coyotes and called animal control but they wouldn’t help with wild animals. (“Coyotes? Those things are dangerous! I ain’t goin’ out there!” – aka your tax dollars at work.) They cut thru a cul-de-sac and she had to drive around. When she did, they were at the corner of my street in the grassy area with a cat “matching Oscar’s description” She also clarified it was Saturday morning, I was expecting Saturday night which had me thinking it may not be Oscar.

The guard was in tears by the time she left. She had apparently recently had to put her own cat down. I thanked her for coming.

Shortly after that, I got another call. The wife couldn’t tell me, so the husband came on and said he saw the same thing Saturday morning, and it was a grey and white cat.

Sunday night I bought myself a Chimay Grand Reserve, an expensive beer I use for gifts and celebrations, and I celebrated his life. Thinking of all the memories I have with that cat is what inspired me to write this post. There is no way I want to forget them.

I had a lot to do this weekend, but couldn’t really do much. I did not sleep well Saturday or Sunday night, and therefore I decided to take the day off today. I always feel bad when I don’t go to work, but I don’t know if I would have been able to handle a busy day or just a stupid customer without snapping. I was going to call shelters just to be sure today, but I’m kind of scatterbrained. Maybe I will do it tomorrow. Any chance is worth it.

He lived by the sword, and died by the sword. Somewhere there are dozens, if not hundreds of birds, snakes, lizards, mice and rabbits cheering. I swear I have seen more rabbits run around outside on the hill in the past 2 days than the past 6 months. Eventually something bigger got him.

This sort of divine justice is somehow comforting. I think it would be way worse if he was hit by a car, and as much as it hurts I think it is better than never knowing for sure. Of course old age was always my preferred choice, but it can be difficult too. We had to decide not to treat Willie because it was too expensive, and then we had to put him down. My mom asked if I wanted to be there for it and I said no. I changed my mind but it was already too late, and I still feel guilty about that. What sucks is I have nothing of him. I have recently been cleaning quite a bit, so there are no large stores of his hair around like usual. As I said he never wore a collar and I probably wouldn’t have that either if he did. I do have lots of wonderful memories though, far more than I could put here. Though I tried, and you’re probably suffering for it.

This all may be more than a bit disjointed. As I write (Word says I am on my 9th page, and that’s without pictures) I keep going back and filling things in that I forgot, so hopefully it isn’t too bad. I know it’s a huge cliché, but there really will never be another one like Oscar. The stars just aligned for him. From the bad cat neighborhood of Eureka, to the lush hunting grounds of Trinidad, his experience in the snow in SLC, and back to OC with a family, other animals and people who loved him, he always adjusted quickly and added a new facet to his personality. I guess the most telling thing is that even cat haters loved him. Even my dad, who did not grow up with animals and always jokes about ‘thinning the herd’, was put into submission when Oscar started climbing up on him and sitting on his chest about a year ago. He would even PET him.

I was lucky to have him with me for almost 12 years. It is hard for me to remember a time when he wasn’t around. You have two families in life, the one you are born into and the one you make. Oscar is the closest thing I have to the one I made. I am sure many people might say that I am going overboard comparing him to a child, and I know he isn’t. But if you actually read all the above I think you can see by now just how special he was. He was the one, that when everyone else was gone, was always there. That is a very difficult thing to replace.

Oscar never lost his whiny kitten voice. He learned early on that enough of the ‘I’m dying’ whine was enough to get him anything he wanted. He was always very talkative and we would banter back and forth, especially when I was calling him in for the night or he was looking for me.

I opened the door today to get the packages on our doorstep. I swear I heard his meow. I welcomed him home.