If I told you that Dennis Avner passed this November, it wouldn't mean much. But if I pulled up a photo of the character he was better known as, your interest would surge immediately. Avner lived a great part of his life as Stalking Cat, an identity that would earn him worldwide notoriety and supposedly a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Modified Person in the direction of an animal.
Avner, or as some called him, Cat, had Lakota and Heron blood, and was told by a Native American elder that his totem animal was a tiger. While most of us might go away from that realization with the intent to buy more tiger paraphernalia at the next flea market, Avner took it to heart…and epidermis. His entire body was tattooed, but his face was inked to look like a tiger's. Saline injections in his brow and upper lip made him more feline-esque. He had his ears surgically reconstructed to points, and dermal piercings on his lip and eyebrows were used to attach synthetic whiskers. A quick Internet search will reveal this information more times than you want to count. Newspapers across the nation, and even across the Atlantic, reported on his death. Yet finding out about the man behind Stalking Cat is a different story.
An old friend of Cat's, Octavia Wolfe, informed the Weekly that Avner actually spent a lot of time in OC between 2002 and 2005. Avner was born in Michigan in 1958 and lived in San Diego during the time that he and Wolfe met. Wolfe never visited Avner's home, but he lived somewhere in a remote location in the Northern San Diego mountains and worked as a computer tech. However, he came to stay in OC for weeks at a time. What was he doing down here? Well, just hanging out.
Avner stayed at a friend's home in Garden Grove where he gregariously socialized at parties, watched TV, cracked jokes, and mused about spirituality. He had girlfriends and cooked meals for his friends. Robert Johnson, another friend, described Avner as larger than life and full of stories. Johnson also pointed out that he shared several meals with Avner, and despite Internet rumors, he did not live off of raw meat. “He used a knife and a fork just like everyone else,” Johnson said. In fact, both Wolfe and Johnson recalled that after people got over the initial shock of Cat, and asking him 20 questions, he became just a friend.
The only peculiar thing about Avner's stint in OC was that he worked at a Furry Convention in Irvine. Before you start to chuckle and reference CSI, consider how comfortable Avner felt in this environment. Wolfe said that people at the conventions looked past Avner's body modifications and were more interested in him personally. He made many friends there and they all took trips to Disneyland. Not surprisingly, Avner had trouble getting into the park due to their “no mask” policy.
What happened, then, to a man loved by so many? After moving from San Diego, Avner lived in Washington for a brief time and then settled in his final destination in Tonopah, Nevada. Johnson commented that “he always seemed to live in the middle of nowhere,” and Tonopah certainly kept with that tradition. Neither friend knew much about what Avner was doing out there, and it is difficult to research. The only public proof of his presence comes in a few photographs that fans took after running into him at a gas station. Now these images seem almost ghostly. Avner passed away alone in his garage on November 5th at the age of 54.
No cause of death has been released to the public and searching for an answer took me down 3 phone trees to a voicemail for the Nye County records office. My voicemail has not been returned. Several articles about Avner's death blame suicide. Wolfe chose not to comment on this, due to spiritual reasons, and Johnson said he wouldn't muse on it. Perhaps the only person who knows about this and Cat's foggy past is his only biological brother, Dave Avner. Outside of mentioning he had a brother, Cat did not like to talk about his family. His brother recently posted a fundraiser on gofundme.com to help pay for Cat's funeral expenses and to save his estate in Tonopah. He never replied to an interview request.
No matter what Cat's past held or the complicated and emotional reasons that he chose to modify his body so extensively, it seems that no one who knew him minded. Without fail, Cat is remembered for his kindness and contributions. His friends saw his body modifications as something that simply made Cat happy and gave him solace. When I asked Johnson what the most memorable thing about Cat was he replied softly, after a long pause, “His eyes, without the contacts in. He had beautiful eyes.”