Saturday, I went to a meeting of the Midwest Exotic Feline Educational Society in Anderson, IN. MEFES is mostly people from Indiana, though it has had members from several nearby states as well. In the past, it has worked to make exotic cat owners in the area aware of each other and help them both to keep their animals in the face of increasing government pressure and to have better husbandry. In the last couple of years, the active membership has dropped to a handful and we haven't done much beyond meetings, but we have hopes of getting some new people involved.
MEFES pretty much got started because of one man and one amazing serval. I may have a few details wrong here, but the outline of the story is right. Somewhere around 1985, a man named Marvin Hierlmeier and his wife got a pet serval they named Hush. (Hush rhymes with 'bush', not 'gush'.) Not long after that, Marvin's wife died. As she was dying, she told Marvin to share Hush with the world, and Marvin carried out her wish to an amazing degree. He took Hush all over the place and shared him with many people, allowing them to meet and touch him. In particular, he took Hush to nursing homes in southern Indiana and surrounding areas. When I say that, you probably think that half a dozen times, he walked through the lobby with the cat on a leash and maybe gave a little talk. But that's not what I mean at all. He took Hush to actually visit the patients, in their beds, on thousands of visits to hundreds of nursing homes. Hush had over ten thousand visits with nursing home patients. It seems crazy, either that someone would try to bring a 50 lb. wild cat into nursing homes, or that anyone would let him, but he did. He never hurt anyone, and he made the lives of thousands of people better. Marvin and Hush have both died of old age in just the last few years, but those of us who got to meet them will never forget.
In addition to the lives of so many nursing home patients, Hush met a whole lot of other people, and some of those people were the ones who were inspired to found MEFES. That is why the club named their special award for service to exotic felines the Hush award.
For some reason, they saw fit to give me this award this weekend.
I feel like I can't post this without a few words on responsible handling of exotic animals. Let's be blunt here. What Marvin did was a terrible idea that only worked out well due to amazingly good luck, or if your beliefs run that way, perhaps to divine providence. I believe with all my heart that the world would be a much better place if many more people had the chance to really meet and touch exotic cats, but even if we didn't have a lawsuit crazy society and a sensationalist press that would blow a member of the public getting a nip that needed a band-aid into a lurid tale of a monster leaving a trail of severed limbs in its wake, even an animal as relatively safe as a serval needs to be handled with special deference.