Fur children

It was a tough week without Kramer. The sudden gut-punches still come, but each day is a little easier than the last. Now when I picture him curled up on the chair like a croissant, or remember him attacking my feet from under the bed, I can sense a little joy from the memory of his cuteness amidst all the sadness and loss.

I know that sense of happy memory will grow, as he joins all the other pets which live in my brain. I think about them all the time.

There was Bruno, the first dog I remember. He was a big husky/shepherd mix, and he died when I was around 4 or 5. I remember my mom telling my brothers and I.

Not long after that we got two cats, Snowflake and Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell didn’t live long, but we had Snowflake for a while. He was all white with a little grey patch on his head.

I remember when my Dad brought another puppy home from the SPCA. We named him Asterix, like the French comic. (Why we named him that and not Dogmatix, the actual dog in the comic, I’ll never know.) My dad took him because his paws were big, and he thought that meant Asterix would grow big too, but he was a goofy little 50-pound mutt. He was a loyal cutie, though.

After Snowflake died we got a kitten. I remember being there when we got him, though I’d not sure where we were…outside Amherst, maybe? I remember on the drive home in our Suburban he crawled up and went to sleep between my dad’s back and the car seat. We named him C.B., after Cresta Bear, which I think was some kind of soft drink mascot?

I believe we still had C.B. when we also got Skitter, another little black kitten. We named her that because she skittered and scampered all over the house. One night, when my brother and I were the only ones home, she got in Asterix’ face while he was sleeping, and he bit her. He bit the inside of her mouth, and when we came downstairs she was dripping blood. I was so scared, and mom and dad weren’t there. I called my grandparents who, god bless them, got dressed and drove to our house until mom and dad got home. Anyway, she survived, but not long after when my mom took her to get spayed she got an infection, and she didn’t come home. I remember mom having to tell us, and I remember crying on my bed. She was too young, and it didn’t feel fair.

Some time after that — I think for my 12th birthday? — we saw in the local paper that the SPCA had a litter of new kittens, and my mom called. They asked us if we could take the mother too, as all the other kittens had been adopted. We named the little orange kitten Tigger, and called the mama cat…uh, Mama. Not very inventive, I know. Tigger became my best bud — he let me carry him around on my shoulder, and he loved to squeeze himself into boxes and fruit baskets. He was a prolific hunter — he caught a rabbit once. He even caught an owl, for chrissakes. He was a chill dude. Mama, meanwhile, was tentative at first because she’d been badly abused by her previous owners, but she became a super-snuggly cat. She especially loved my dad, and would crawl onto his lap as he reclined in his living room chair, and knead his chest — with her claws — for hours. He would, of course, let her.

At some point a stray kitten showed up on our doorstep. I named him Patrick, after Patrick Roy. I don’t remember what happened to him. I don’t think we ever let him in the house. But he was there long enough that Mama didn’t take kindly to it, and she ran away.

Not long after I went to university mom told me that Asterix was gone. He’d lived a long life, and one morning he just couldn’t stand up, so she laid down with him on his mat and held him. He was our good boy for a long, long time.

Kind of in that same timeframe — my first few years at University — I got a call that Mama had come home. She’d come bounding across the field in front of our house, practically jumping into my dad’s arms. We never knew where she went for all those months, but she came back to us for her final few years.

My parents were never long without a dog, so around the end of my third year university they went to a breeder for a big rough Collie named Desi Maple Pride, who we called Stryder. Like Strider from Lord of the Rings, but with a twist. My mom picked him up from the breeder the day she drove me home to the farm, before I left for my third work term in Ottawa. I remember he whimpered a lot through the nights downstairs in the kitchen, until I turned on the radio for him so he didn’t feel as alone. I remember calling home from my brother’s place in Ottawa the next day, and leaving a message on the answering machine where I called to him so he wouldn’t feel alone. Mom said when she got home and listened to it that Stryder’s ears perked right up. He was always a scaredy-boy though — anytime there was a thunderstorm he’d sneak upstairs to my parents’ room. I remember that when we’d visit he’d get fired up and run circles around the kitchen table, knocking chairs over in the process, so we called him Circle Dog. He and Tigger had a hilarious and special friendship too — I think Stryder thought Tigger was his mom. Tigger tried to teach him how to hunt. Stryder would lick Tigger so hard he could barely stand up. Tigger would then grab Stryder behind the eyes, sink his claws into Stryder to hold him still, and then lick the dog’s whole face to clean it.

Around 2002 Tigger, who’d lived a long life, just didn’t come home — that was pretty typical on the farm. Cats would be caught by some other animal, or just crawl under a bush to die when they felt sick enough. Seven years later Stryder would also be gone, but by then my brother and his family had moved next door with their dog Riley, and then Ayce, and eventually Aly — all of whom would become dear to me too — and neighbour dogs suited my parents just fine, so Stryder was their last.

By then, Nellie and I had adopted Sonny and Michael from the Toronto Humane Society. They were giant fluffballs who stole our hearts. Sonny swung from the 10/10 affection to utter indifference. Michael was just stuck on 10, and would literally stay on the bed purring and kneading all night if we’d let him. We had them for ten great years. Sonny died after years of kidney complications; Michael died not long after, ostensibly from cancer, but in my opinion from a broken heart from losing his half-brother. Losing them was hard; farm cats only half live with you (Tigger would disappear for days at a time, and was never supper-snuggly) and it was the first time I’d had to make or co-make the decision to put a pet to sleep. It took me a long time to feel strong enough to adopt another pet. That pet was Kramer, when Lindsay showed me a picture of him being a dandy that melted my heart.

And so, as this haze of grief and loss dissipates, Kramer will take his place in my heart with all the beautiful, snuggly, silly boys and girls I’ve gotten to know over the last 45 years. I’m sad he had to go there so soon, but I feel so lucky it’s this full.

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