The Story of Oiva Wuorinen

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grey tabby cat picture

Watercolor Cat Painting on cold press paper

In nearby Fitchburg, over a hundred years ago, a four-year-old boy and his cat wandered into the woods. The boy, Oiva Wuorinen, wanted to find flowers for his mother, who was bedridden with an illness. It was April, a chancy month as far as how low the temperatures will drop.

No one realized he was missing until one of his siblings came home from school. She rode horseback to alert the townspeople. Businesses and schools closed so that people could help search the dense woods.

Two days later, searchers found Oiva in a swamp. Unconscious, he didn't have a coat or a hat. But he did have his cat. She was curled on his chest, keeping him warm. When the rescuers tried to take the boy, she scratched at them.

Wuorinen and his rescuers attributed the cat with protecting him in the woods and saving him with the warmth of her body.

I know some people might disparage the idea of a cat intent on saving its person's life. A skeptical reader could easily shrug the story off: the cat was cold and curled up on the child, thus warming its own wet paws. But in the range of personalities, cats are just like people. I have had remarkably flighty cats, who wouldn't be able to find their way out of a closet, let alone the great woods we had in this area a hundred years ago. Our cat Marina is the bravest cat I've ever known personally, but she isn't particularly loyal: had she been with Oiva, she would have wandered off and joined a company of bears. Our cat Widget the Manx would have been as protective as Oiva's cat, but only if she really liked the person in trouble (Widget only really liked one person in her life, and it wasn't me!).

Oiva survived his ordeal in the woods, but he had gangrene in both legs and his left hand. He also survived the surgery (without anesthesia or yet-to-be discovered antibiotics) to remove the gangrene. He lived a good and full live, and passed away at 88 years old. All, thanks in part, to his loyal cat.

Oiva's son told this story to the Fitchburg Sentinel in 1994. I've been holding onto the article ever since.

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