George C. Tsokos, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both in Boston, doesn’t recall the moment he first became infatuated with Little, a 12-year-old Siamese cat.
Dr. Tsokos doesn’t even own Little. Not that anyone can truly own any living creature. The cat belongs to his son, Christos Tsokos, MD, PhD, a pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and daughter-in-law, Emma Lubin, PhD, a computer scientist. Since the couple travels several times each year, Dr. Tsokos cat sits Little in his own home. More than likely, Little perceives the experience as a visit to an upscale resort: She is routinely petted, pampered and, yes, even placated at times, and often feasts on fresh cod or salmon that Dr. Tsokos buys for her at the local grocery store.
What’s more, Dr. Tsokos sketches Little. A self-taught artist, he says sketching is his remedy for boredom. Although he has never sketched his children or grandchildren, he has created more than 100 sketches of Little, some of which are based on his still photos of her.
“I’ve been sketching her for more than 10 years,” he says, noting it relaxes him. “Little has a special personality and is a very proud cat. I simply enjoy her presence.”
Education & Acknowledgments
In 1975, Dr. Tsokos earned his medical degree from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (UOA), Greece. He first trained in internal medicine at UOA and completed his training in 1982 at Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C. and the Washington DC VA Medical Center. Three years later, he completed fellowships in immunology and rheumatology at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. Between 1987 and 2007, he served as chair of rheumatology, vice chair of research and director of the medical research department at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Md.
In recent years, Dr. Tsokos has received many honors, including recognition with the ACR’s 2014 Distinguished Basic Investigator Award, the 2014 Evelyn V. Hess Award from the Lupus Foundation of America, the 2012 Lee C. Howley Sr. Prize for Arthritis Research from the Arthritis Foundation and the 2016 Carol Nachman Prize in Rheumatology.
He joined the ACR board of directors in 2017 and chaired or served on numerous ACR committees, including the nominations, journal publications, research, annual meeting and abstract selection committees.
He holds honorary degrees from four universities, including Harvard University.
Dr. Tsokos has been cat sitting Little for roughly a decade.
“The first time I cat sat, we were left alone and had to start a relationship,” he says. “I love the adoring looks she gives me, how she follows me around and likes to catch water out of a running faucet.”
One of his sketches hangs in his son’s living room. When Dr. Tsokos visits Christos and Emma at their home, Little immediately recognizes him, demands his full attention and insists they play together, which Dr. Tsokos never seems to mind. (Makes you wonder who he’s really visiting.)
He also enjoys sketching buildings and bridges, especially the Longfellow Bridge in Boston, but has vowed never to sketch any other cat besides Little. Over the years, he has produced more than 100 sketches of her. Two of them are also displayed on his office walls.
“She’s a very interactive and intelligent cat,” he says. “She’s very picky and opinionated, and I like the way she plays with me.”
Dr. Tsokos lovingly refers to Little as his grandcat. Just like a proud grandfather, he overlooks and forgives her naughty habits, even when she destroys his personal items, which he never scolds her for and refuses to address. He says he gets just as much joy and comfort from her as his two human grandchildren, ages 7 and 4, who are “simply amazing.”
He doesn’t really know why his bond with Little is so strong.
“Not everything has an apparent reason in life,” he says.
Even Cats Have Boundaries
Surprisingly, Dr. Tsokos has no plans to adopt a cat of his own. He compares animals to young children who constantly need time and attention—something that’s in short supply due to his busy work schedule—and dislikes the idea of kenneling cats for any reason.
Still, he’s not ruling out adoption. “There’s no way of knowing,” he says.
Meanwhile, he wishes Christos and Emma would travel more often so he could spend more quality time with Little.
“I love the way she snuggles up against me,” Dr. Tsokos says. “But if I’m not careful and touch her in a way that accidentally hurts her, she’ll bite me. I need to be respectful of her; otherwise, our friendship will be over.”
Carol Patton, a freelance writer based in Las Vegas, writes the Rheum After 5 column for The Rheumatologist.