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TOPAZ: THE CAT THAT THE AQUARIUM WAS BUILT AROUND

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10 Year Anniversary Stories | Volunteering | Mammals

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hugh

Which animal at the Aquarium of the Pacific has been there the longest? Is it one of the sea otters? Perhaps its one of the seals? Maybe even one of the sharks? Actually the animal with the longest tenure at the Aquarium is Topaz the cat. Now… I know what you’re thinking: What is a cat doing at an aquarium? Well, truth be told, Topaz was here at the site way before the first fish ever swam here.

The first time I saw Topaz was when I took a hardhat tour of the Aquarium as it was being built back in 1997. Amidst the steel beams and construction equipment sat a young orange tabby. Warren Iliff was leading the tour, and he was the one that pointed out Topaz to us and joked that the Aquarium was being built around the cat.

Topaz showed up one day as a stray at the construction site. He made friends with the staff overseeing the construction from the Aquarium’s temporary office, a trailer in the midst of the site at the time. The staff bonded with the feline and made a little bed in the trailer for the cat to sleep in. I’ve heard that they did this because they were worried about the well being of Topaz. Gale force winds and a deluge of rain from the El Niño storms of that year were making the area around the proto-Aquarium dangerous for an unprotected animal. Even wild sea lions were having trouble coping with the stormy conditions that year. It was so rough that one exhausted sea lion pup even hauled itself into the construction area of the Aquarium during one particularly bad storm to find sanctuary. How do I know this? Well, my wife Pam and I were the ones that had to pick up the pup in the wind and the rain to take it to a rehabilitation facility that we volunteered with at the time. By taking Topaz in, the staff probably saved the cat’s life.

Topaz earned his keep over the years by being the unofficial greeter at the staff entrance of the administration office. Almost every Saturday morning since I’ve been a volunteer at the Aquarium I’ve been greeted by Topaz with his big green eyes waiting just inside the door to the office area of the facility acknowledging my arrival. And I acknowledge him back with a “Morning Topaz” or on a less formal day “Hey Towp”. Sometimes he’d meow at me until I scratched that certain part of his back that he likes to have scratched. It’s a nice way to start my shift.

Topaz has become such an institution at the Aquarium over the years that the tabby is even being acknowledged in the Great Hall during our ten year anniversary as “Fun Fact # 9”. Next to the Northern Pacific Preview on the first floor is a display that reads “One of the Aquarium’s first animals was a cat. Still with us today, Topaz is an orange tabby that loves to lounge in our administration offices. Topaz was a stray that lived along the harbor rocks when the Aquarium was in its construction phase. He befriended staff and when the Aquarium was finished, Topaz became an official member of our staff”.

TOPAZ: THE CAT THAT THE AQUARIUM WAS BUILT AROUND
The display in the Great Hall acknowledges Topaz in "Fun Fact #9."
TOPAZ: THE CAT THAT THE AQUARIUM WAS BUILT AROUND
Sometimes Topaz will meow until you scratch that special spot on his back that he likes to have scratched so much.
TOPAZ: THE CAT THAT THE AQUARIUM WAS BUILT AROUND
Topaz during a quiet moment.  | Hugh Ryono

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Alexi Holford's avatar

Alexi Holford

Thursday, July 03, 2008 03:20 PM

Hugh, this is such a nice Topaz story. I love Topaz! Every time I see him, I slow down and make sure I stop to pet him. He is so sweet.

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Staci

Thursday, July 03, 2008 04:16 PM

This is great, Hugh!  I didn’t know the history, and this was a beautiful thing to read.  My favorite moments with Topaz are those moments (after a good scratch/petting) where he gets all frisky…and his belly swings back and forth as he runs around!

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Melinda

Monday, July 07, 2008 10:54 AM

Nice story!  I just hope you keep him well fed so he doesn’t try and feed himself, with the other residents :0)

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senoritafish

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 10:45 AM

That’s great the Aquarium adopted one of the park cats; I’m glad Topaz found a home there.  I adopted two from the park before the Aquarium was built; they just came up to me wanting to be petted, unlike most of the park cats who were feral.  Unfortunately, back then, it was a place for a lot of people to abandon unwanted animals.  I hope that’s changed.

Hugh's avatar

Hugh

Thursday, July 10, 2008 03:08 PM

Thanks for all the comments.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if all the feral and abandoned cats along the mouth of the LA River also found a home like Topaz did.

Hugh

All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.

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