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.

RIP Kramer

Lindsay and I have spent the last four days in a kind of shock. Tuesday night our hearts were broken as Kramer was taken from us so quickly we barely had time to say goodbye. This little scamp who came to us four years ago, hissing and scared and standoffish, who had turned into the cutest, snuggliest boy, who had become such a prominent part of our lives…he was suddenly gone.


Kramer was fine when I got home from work Tuesday. I got ready to leave for a dinner, and while I checked my phone one last time he jumped up on the couch next to me — purring, getting scratches, flopping about. Usual happy things from our happy boy.

I ran upstairs to say bye to Lindsay, and we came downstairs together. When we got here Kramer began barfing up a hairball. Typical, for a hairy little guy who can’t be brushed — hairballs were a constant. But this time it sounded different; we could hear him struggling. While I cleaned up the first hairball, Lindsay noticed Kramer couldn’t walk properly — his back logs weren’t working. Panicking, he dragged himself up the stairs, where he looked back at us, panting. I started moving up the stairs; he always runs from us when he’s sick, so he clambered into the bedroom, under the bed where we can’t reach him. He began howling, throwing up more, still panting, still unable to move his back legs. He was clearly very sick. I sat on the floor next to the bed, trying to speak to him calmly, while Lindsay grabbed the carrier from the basement. While she did, Kramer did something we’d never seen before: he dragged himself, with his front claws, all the way over to me, and rested his head on my leg. He knew. He knew something was very wrong.

He didn’t resist as I picked him up and placed him in the carrier. There’ve only been two other times he’s been in a carrier: once when we moved to the new house (after which he hid in the basement for six days), and once when Sarah first brought him to us to be adopted (after which he hid from us for weeks). The only other time we’d tried to even attempted to put him in a carrier he probably thought he was being given away again, and fought me so hard I was covered in scratches. This time: no resistance at all. Still, we knew this must have added to his anxiety and pain, but we had no choice. We got him into the car, and drove as quickly as we could to the emergency vet on McMurrich. Once there they quickly ran Kramer inside to begin tests, while we waited, scared shitless. They came out once to ask if they could sedate him, because scrappy little street cat that he was, he kept biting the vet assistants.

Finally, the vet herself came out. She told us the news was bad: he had thrown a clot that caused the back half of his body to shut down. We’d later learn this is called Saddle Thrombus, and it’s common in cats born with an enlarged heart. We knew from our one previous vet visit that he had a heart murmur. We didn’t know just how bad it was. Our sweet boy’s heart was just too big for this world. The vet said that there was really no treatment: it’s not just the back legs that shut down, it’s organs too. Our boy was scared and in pain, and he wasn’t going to get better, so there was only one thing we could do for him. We couldn’t believe it was happening. The tears started. They didn’t really stop for the rest of the night.

They brought him to us, somewhat sedated, but still feisty. He was meowing unhappily when they brought him in, but Lindsay and I started petting him, and talking to him, and singing to him. He stopped meowing, settled down, and looked each of deeply in the eyes. I thought he was making sure it was us, and in that moment I felt sure that he knew we hadn’t abandoned him. That we’d be with him through this. They sedated him further to run some double-confirmation tests, and brought him back to us. We could pet him, scratch his chin, and stroke him between his eyes, which was his absolute favourite. He was mostly unconscious, but deep inside there he must have known we were still with him. The vet administered the final dose, and while we stroked his luxurious furs one last time and told him how much we loved him, he went to sleep for the last time. Our perfect boy. Our little bug. Our prince, our bubsy, our ham. It didn’t seem real.

The vet offered to shave a little of that world-class fur for us to take home, and we did. We said our final goodbyes, kissed his little head, and left. I somehow drove home as the tears really started coming. It was surreal to walk back into the house without him. We were in shock, and we could so palpably feel the absence of his somehow-giant presence in our home.


The days since then have been tough. My morning ritual, where he’d greet me as I make coffee and then snuggle with me on the couch, is a harsh reminder each day. We keep expecting to see him trot down the stairs, or brush against our legs as we sit on the couch. Every time we hear a noise in the house we think it’s him jumping off of something upstairs. We have little breakdowns throughout the day as memories flood back, or as we see his toys scattered around. The other day I walked into our office for a meeting, and saw his little stuffed wine bottle toy on the daybed where he would sleep behind me as I worked, and I melted down. I confess, we’ve both reached into the bag of his hair to touch it a few times. We miss him so fucking much. Since moving to the house he’d become a non-stop fountain of affection (who would, admittedly, scratch the crap out of us on occasion) and it feels like a huge part of us is missing.

Right now it’s all hurt, but we know at some point the hurt will give way to all the beautiful memories of the life he lived with us. We’re so grateful for the years we had with him. We’re thankful we took so many pictures and videos of him — they’ve helped these last few days. We’re even glad we were both home when this happened, so we could help him as much as he could be helped in those final hours, and we’re thankful we could spend his last moments with him so he knew his family didn’t leave him. Most of all, we’re grateful he trusted us to make him feel safe. He was less than six years old, but he loved — and was loved — enough for five lifetimes.

We miss you so much, bud. Rest easy, wherever you are.

[Insert Christmas Carol Title Here]

Today is day one of ~1.5 weeks’ vacation. We’re not traveling to Nova Scotia this year, though, choosing instead to stay here in Toronto and be cozy. Good thing, too — today would have been our likely travel day, and it’s a brutal winter storm out there.

So, we’ll stay put. We’ll catch up on TV shows (we just finished season one of Yellowjackets (imdb) and an old British miniseries called Secret State (imdb), and I have plenty more lined up). We’ll delve into the wine collection. We might finish Pandemic: Legacy. I’ll watch the World Juniors and write up my year-end lists & summary. We’ll try to tackle the mountain of sweets our parents sent to our home. We’ll snuggle with Kramer. We’ll watch Die Hard and Four Christmases.

We’ll miss visiting family, but it’s going to be a fun end of the year.

Happy 3rd gotcha day anniversary, Kramer

Three years ago, give or take, we adopted Kramer. Year by year we’ve seen him progress in terms of how much he trusts us, and how affectionate he becomes. This is how I described his progress last year:

In the past year, and especially in the five months since COVID hit here, he’s continued to warm up to us. He now lets us pet him all the time, and in fact demands it. He half-meows outside our bedroom in the morning until we come play with him. He sleeps near us most of the time. He purrs, occasionally. He’s even jumped up on the bed or couch with us, if we lure him with treats.

It’s hard to even imagine, given what he was like two years ago.

If we thought that was hard to imagine, his progress since moving into the house ten months ago has blown us away. He routinely demands pets, scratches, and now belly rubs, to the point where he’s become a bit insatiable. Each morning when we get up he runs to greet us and flops at our feet to get scratches, or rubs against our legs. He sleeps on the stairs between floors to maximize the amount of affection he gets per day. He even slept on the bed all night with us a few times in the winter, when it was colder. He still gets freaked out easily and scratches us sometimes, but then is right back looking for more love.

But really, it’s the belly rubs that are the most significant development. It’s a sign of trust, of vulnerability, for a cat to expose his belly like that. Guess he loves us. And he’s soooooooooooo soft.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash


A few weeks ago our cute boy Kramer started peeing on our stuff, sometimes just in little drops. That’s usually a sign of a UTI in male cats, so we hurriedly procured some over-the-counter urinary tract health drops (and a few natural cures, just in case) to help him pee. It helped for a couple of days, but then a week later things got bad again. Real bad.

We knew it could get much worse too — left untreated in males it could turn into a deadly blockage. After calling around to some vets, we tried — for the very first time — to get him into a carrier so we could bring him in to a vet. It…did not go well. The poor little still-kinda-feral guy was fighting for his life, kicking and scratching and hissing and spitting. I think he thought he was being taken away from us. 😦 Anyway, we just couldn’t get him in the bag.

One of the vets had recommended Toronto Mobile Veterinary Services, so we called them. They turned out to be a godsend. Within a few hours (we were lucky they had an opening, and were nearby) they came, got Kramer into the bathroom, gave him some shots, drew some blood for testing, and even trimmed his nails. They left us with a bunch of meds which, within a few days, seemed to have him healthy again. It wasn’t cheap (COVID has made things really difficult for them) but the vet who came — her name was Dr. Tina — simply could not have been more helpful, sweet, encouraging, or calming. Eight hours after being in a state of total panic, we felt such relief. She followed up with us in the days after to make sure Kramer was okay, and even gave us advice for how to manage his move at the end of the month.

After our clumsy transportation attempt + his medical ordeal we thought it would take weeks for Kramer to forgive us, but a few hours after the vet left he was asking us for attention and scratches. This past week he seemed totally back to normal. The only downside? From now on we have to feed him wet canned cat food, which makes me BARF.


Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Happy Second Kramerversary

Two years ago (more or less) we adopted Kramer, our cat. Here’s how I described him at the time:

He was a feral outside cat for over a year, so he’s still pretty wary of us — we can’t touch him, or even get near him. He usually sleeps under our bottom step where we can’t reach him.

In the first year he made remarkable progress:

He hangs out with us far more often, rarely sleeping under the stairs anymore. We bought him a stand so he can stare out the window at birds and squirrels. He shows us his belly when he sleeps. He can’t quite meow, but he squeaks at us with enthusiasm. He demands to play with us on a regular basis, and will now even hang out and play when company is over vs. just hiding behind the bed.

In the past year, and especially in the five months since COVID hit here, he’s continued to warm up to us. He now lets us pet him all the time, and in fact demands it. He half-meows outside our bedroom in the morning until we come play with him. He sleeps near us most of the time. He purrs, occasionally. He’s even jumped up on the bed or couch with us, if we lure him with treats.

It’s hard to even imagine, given what he was like two years ago.

(Belated) Kramerversary

Just over a year ago I posted about Kramer, our adopted cat / companion / son. This is how I described him at the time:

He was a feral outside cat for over a year, so he’s still pretty wary of us — we can’t touch him, or even get near him. He usually sleeps under our bottom step where we can’t reach him. But he’s started spending a little more time with us, even playing with us a bit.

While he’s still far from being a lap cat, he’s made incredible progress. He hangs out with us far more often, rarely sleeping under the stairs anymore. We bought him a stand so he can stare out the window at birds and squirrels. He shows us his belly when he sleeps. He can’t quite meow, but he squeaks at us with enthusiasm. He demands to play with us on a regular basis, and will now even hang out and play when company is over vs. just hiding behind the bed.

In the past couple months he’s been rather at war with himself too: he’s become obsessed with rubbing his face and body on whatever toy we dangle in front of him. He arches his back and puffs his tail like he’s ready to be petted, but then just can’t quite get there. He’s desperate to feel some contact, but still runs away from (or hisses at) our hands if they come too close. In a few of his playtime fugue states I’ve managed to pet him briefly, and once he even let me scratch his little face with my fingers before running away.

So it’s slow, steady progress, but when I look back at what he was like when we first got him — hiding 99% of the time, hissing constantly, sometimes peeing on our stuff — he’s a different cat.

The category is: fuuuuuuurrrrrrrr!


This is Kramer.


We got him last Thursday from our friends, who rescue all kinds of cats. He was a feral outside cat for over a year, so he’s still pretty wary of us — we can’t touch him, or even get near him. He usually sleeps under our bottom step where we can’t reach him. But he’s started spending a little more time with us, even playing with us a bit.

He’s a project. But he’s also just about the cutest goddamn thing we’ve ever seen.


Last July we said goodbye to Sonny, the older of our two cats. We still miss him every day, but he’d struggled with kidney problems for so long, and went downhill so quickly in those final days, that it almost felt as if it had to happen. Not to over-anthropomorphize, but Sonny seemed at peace when we put him to sleep. He was tired. He’d fought a long time.

We were worried about how Sonny’s death would affect Michael, his younger brother. Michael had always been a little needy, and liked attention, even Sonny’s which tended to be rough. After all, it was Michael who got our attention in the cage at the Humane Society eleven years ago, and his cuteness led us to bring them home, so they’d always been a pair. But Michael thrived on his own after July. He owned Nellie and I now, had us all to himself. We couldn’t even be in a different room than him for long; he’d have to come snuggle with us, or nuzzle us, or eat Nellie’s hair. And I couldn’t watch TV for two minutes without this happening:

He was just always, always happy. More like a dog, almost, with all that unrestrained affection. Frankly, we probably misnamed him — if Sonny was the kinda-sullen older brother who was prone to violence, Michael was always…well, he was always more of a Fredo than a Michael. No dark schemes or quiet intelligence with this one…he just wanted to please everybody all the time. Plus, like Fredo, he exactly wasn’t the brightest.


He’d avoided all his brother’s health problems, and passed his check-up in March with flying colours, considering his age. We thought we’d have him with us a while longer. But things took a turn this past weekend.

On Saturday he seemed a bit lethargic, and kept trying to wheeze up a hairball. That’s not unusual, especially with hair as long as his, but he just couldn’t get this one up. Still, he spent part of the day on my lap and part napping under Nellie’s blanket, and even some time playing catch with me while enjoying a sunbeam, so pretty close to normal. We’d seen this before and figured he’d be back to normal after he hacked something up.

Then, yesterday, we noticed that his breathing was a bit shallow. He wasn’t wheezing, and he was still getting about just fine, but he was definitely a little off. Especially that night, as we got ready for bed — he didn’t start the evening on the bed with us, as was his custom. Instead he curled up on a pile of sheets in a corner of the closet. We went to sleep, worried that this hairball was giving him more problems than usual, and planning to call the vet in the morning.

I don’t know what it was that woke me up in the middle of the night. I’d finally drifted off despite worrying about him, but something woke me. I looked for him, and found him on the living room floor, struggling to breathe. We rushed him to an emergency vet clinic where they stabilized him, put him on oxygen, and kept him overnight. He had fluid around his lungs and his heart, which was making it hard for him to breathe. The next morning we heard the results of the tests on that fluid: it tested definitively for a carcinoma. Cancer, and not operable. They broke it to us that we could never bring him home again; even if they drained the fluid from his chest it would just build back up to choke him. He’d need oxygen pumped constantly just to keep breathing.

After talking to the doctor and to our regular vet clinic, we knew all we could do was to keep him from descending into pain and struggle. Palliative care just so we could bring him home for a few days would’ve been for us, not for him. He wouldn’t have wanted that. He wouldn’t have been able to jump up on my lap. He wouldn’t have been able to burrow under Nellie’s blanket. He wouldn’t have been able to chase his laser pointer, or stalk summer birds on the balcony, or eat food straight out of the bin, or play with the suds in Nellie’s bath, or climb on our most-allergic guests as he so loved to do. He wouldn’t be Michael. Not anymore.

And so, we went to the vet clinic. We spent a long time with him, as much as we could. We rubbed his belly and scratched his chin inside his oxygen tent. Even with all his discomfort and stress, he couldn’t help himself — he rolled onto his side and started purring as we stroked him. We kept on scratching and rubbing as he gently lowered his head and closed his eyes for the last time.

When Sonny died we’d been expecting it for years, then had a few days to come to terms with the prognosis, and then had a full day at home with him to spoil him. With Michael it was barely 12 hours after realizing how sick he was that he was gone. We wanted so much more time with him to say a better goodbye, but it wouldn’t have been fair. After eleven years of being so intensely affectionate and loving with us, we owed him the gentlest end possible.

And so: goodbye. Goodbye Michael, aka Mike, aka Monkey, aka Dumbass, aka Stinky Mike. Thanks for getting our attention at the Humane Society that day. Thanks for being with us and making us goofily happy all these years. Say hi to Sonny for us when you see him. We miss him, and already we miss you so much we can hardly stand it. We love you both. We’ll always love you both. Rest in peace.