March 9, 2009

img_1094Today my brother is taking my old buddy Rumpus to the vet, then when they get home my brother will go out into the backyard with a shovel.

Rumpus’ health has been in decline for a while. He’s 15 years old. I saw him recently, and he was a skeleton with fur. He still purred a little when I petted him, but everything, even purring, seemed at least a bit of a struggle. It hit me while I was sitting beside him in the room he’d been quarantined to after taking a senile leak in a box of my brother’s kids’ toys that I was seeing my friend for the last time. He struggled onto my lap on his rickety legs as I was thinking this, and as I continued petting him and he continued producing his ragged purr my wife called me on my cell phone. I got about two words out before I started crying.

rumpus-1I was sharing an apartment in Brooklyn with my brother when Rumpus arrived in our lives. Construction workers found him in the first days of his life wandering along the side of a highway, then my brother and his future wife selected him from among several other cats in the cat-glutted apartment of a woman devoted to rescuing cats and finding them good homes. Or, to put it more accurately, Rumpus selected my brother, sauntering into the room, picking a couple fights with cats much bigger than his kitten self, then going right over to Ian and climbing onto his lap and falling completely and satisfyingly asleep. It was love at first sight between my brother and Rumpus, and later that day the same thing happened with me when I returned home from my shift at the liquor store and saw a cute little kitten staring up at me and purring, already completely at home in our lives.


Always a voracious eater, he grew in fairly short order from a cute potbellied, big-pawed kitten to a bright-eyed behemoth with what my brother and I liked to describe as the gravitas and charisma of an All-Time Great. I lived with my brother for the first few years of Rumpus’ life, and he was our cat, but then when I moved away it wasn’t even a question that Rumpus belonged with my brother. He was my brother’s echo—both of them big, exasperating, lovable, surly, affectionate, moody, sensitive, bullying, kind. My brother has had his rough patches over the last fifteen years, but his burly little echo was always there by his side.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a bad day. For my brother especially, but for me, too. After I went off on my own Rumpus always knew me whenever I returned, always came right up to me and started meowing in an excited, slightly demanding way, as if to say, “There you are, guy. What the hell?” He always let me haul his big bulk up onto my shoulders and pet him as he purred. I am going to miss him.



  1. That is touching and sad. It’s terrible that they always go before we do. Without tediously recounting my own experiences, it is enough to say it is a universal experience and one that is quite legitimate in pain and loss. You know someday you’ll be able to appreciate how lucky he was you had him and the feelings will be all good again, only that day is not today.

  2. We get what, maybe 3 or 4 animals in our lifetime? My first dog died when I was away at camp. She was with us for 14 years, pulled out of an abandoned home, tied to the radiator by the previous owner. She was a mutt, but loyal as hell. The end was near when my dad had to help her up the back stairs when her legs failed to lift her. It was shocking, because 13 years before that, she had dropkicked my dad with all 4 legs! We had several years where there were no pets; Princess was a Hall of Famer, and the belief was no animal would match her brilliance.

    Then we got a new, smaller, young cocker spaniel. His previous owner beat him with regularity. So, instead of going to the pound, he ended up with us. We still had the rugs Princess had peed on in her final months, and this new dog had no problem finding the spots.(how hard is it to get dog piss out of a rug!)Within a few days, it was abundantly clear that this dog fit right in despite the fact he was so much different than Princess. He followed my parents around, he barked at neighbors, he chewed everything. 8 years later, suddenly he wasn’t doing so well, his eyes weren’t as shiny. On a Tuesday, the vet said he had advanced tumors throughout his body. Wednesday we took him to the vet because he was bleeding. We knew it was over, but the vet gave him a sedative and sent him home with us. About 3am, a wimper was heard from the kitchen, and I went down to see the little guy at the edge of the kitchen, sprawled out with legs in every direction. I sat down next to him and gave him a good ear scratch. My dad was up around 6am and took our dog to the vet that Thursday morning. 8 years wasn’t enough. It wasn’t fair. It was too abrupt, too sudden. There was no old age. My parents haven’t gotten another dog yet; it’s been 5 years and as crazy as it sounds it’s too soon.

    Sorry I got long winded here, I didn’t think that would happen. 🙂 Though, I guess pets have that effect, we never expect that we’d become so fricken attached.

  3. having met rumpus several times, i can attest to his status as an All-Time Great. we recently lost two All-Time Greats as well, and it hurts like hell. our hearts go out to you and your brother’s family.

  4. Rumpus received from the gods a one-day reprieve — the vet (our good friend John Howland, perhaps the most naturally kind and gentle man I know) couldn’t see him this morning. I’ll lay out a Last Supper of chunk-white tuna for him tonight, and take him in tomorrow morning. I’m glad I have a patch of land where his body will reside, next to a dogwood tree.

    Thanks for writing this, Josh. I’d been kind of numb about it, for various reasons. But he’s been a great friend and constant comfort for 15 years, and he deserves to be mourned. You helped me find my grief.

  5. sb1902, redsoxeveryday, seaver41:

    Thanks for the consolations and reflections. I appreciate it.

  6. Josh:

    Sorry to hear about Rumpus. I have this thing for grey cats with black stripes and white socks/vests.
    My second cat, Chas, was one of these. He was a classy guy I got at a shelter when I was 19 (or should I say he chose me as he did). I knew he was for me when he did not hide when he came home and took over. He was there when I was finishing college, got my first job, and then went through cancer treatments. I remember the day I came downstairs and found him on his side crying and unable to move. I tried to get him to UPenn’s vet school but he breathed his last in the car (I swear he hated UPenn as I had briefly gone to school there — he was more of a Temple cat). I had prepared myself as he got older for his demise (I have experience as a hospice nurse) but I still bawled my eyes out when I got him home and put him on his favorite “blankie” (he loved wool). I often call Chas my early adult cat.
    Now that I am middle aged and less sane I have four cats. Two are of the Rumpus variety. I found Chloe in the alley and she’s a doll even though she is rather shy and reclusive. Then there is Andres, aka Big Cat (hence he was named after Andres Galaragga, “The Big Cat”). At the shelter his name was “Hang ‘Em High” and he is a piece of work (he rolled over in his water bowl while I was there). I thought he was full grown as he was ten pounds at 6 months — now he is 17 pounds and able to terrorize the others (Chloe hates him). My friend works with special needs kids and says Andres is just like them. Andres is indeed odd — he cries for broccoli and cauliflower and ate four cat beds in the last year or so. Yet he is a lovable lunkhead.
    Animals give us so much yet ask for so little in return (except getting up at 4:00 AM to feed them). I hope you and your brother’s sadness is tempered by the wonderful memories both of you have of Rumpus.

  7. Thanks for the nice words and the memories, jsapovits.

    I know I’m imagining it, but the two cats who allow me to share an apartment with them seem to have been extra nice to me the last couple of days.

  8. You guys have my deepest sympathy; there’s not a lot more heartbreaking than putting down an animal. It doesn’t get any easier when you’re older either, but the love and appreciation you’ve both displayed with your words here make me confident that Rumpus had a wonderful life and the final vet trip was , as lousy as it sounds , the only thing to do.

    We had five cats for many years; about three years ago, we lost the three oldest in the space of about a year , two to extremely old age complications, one to kidney disease. After the heartbreak of three such vet trips, we were thinking “no more, this is too sad” and carried on with the two youngest cats. Over the past 6 months, we’ve taken in three new ones, abandoned , we found out later, because of divorce in two cases and foreclosure in the other one (this cat had not only been spayed but declawed, fending for itself in the zero degree weather;can you imagine what kind of ass would leave a pet behind at all let alone in that condition?) We, (including the two older cats) couldn’t be happier about it.

    I guess what I’m getting to with this ramble is that you’ll never “replace” Rumpus; obviously, you can’t ‘replace’ loved ones like you can an object or something. But you can keep alive the kind of love that you felt for him by getting another cat (or two) that ‘chooses you’. Maybe not right away with the intensity of this situation and all, but maybe in the not too distant future. The shelters are overwhelmed right now with strays of all ages etc that would be thrilled by the kind of home Rumpus had and I’d encourage anyone reading this to look into it.

  9. It’s done. It was a rough trip on the way down, him meowing and purring behind me in the cat carrier. He had a lot of life force in him — found as a 5-week-old kitten wandering the breakdown lane of a horrendous, traffic-choked New York City expressway; survived a bout of irritable bowel disease that looked like a sure prescription for his doom, when he was maybe 7; and just kept to his daily rounds as he gradually declined over the last year. Much tougher than one might think, looking at the haughty, fat, and pampered fellow he was throughout his long prime. It was a real struggle over the last two-three months, just monitoring him and trying to figure out whether his pain and suffering had reached a tipping point — I just couldn’t really tell for a long time whether that superball-sized growth in his mouth was bothering him. From the beginning we spoiled him silly; after 15 years of listening to him yowl to be fed, yowl at the insult of finding any door in the house closed to him, yowl to be picked up and put on a high perch, yowl 15 seconds later to be returned from high perch to floor, how surprising it was to find that he was a stoic about pain.

    In the end it was clear. He still wanted to eat and be petted, but he seemed agitated and couldn’t leave his face alone for more than a few minutes unless sleeping — he’d worry it with a paw, as if the motions of cleaning his face would clear it away. There were visible and olfactory signs that his condition was not good. His vet said he thought putting him down was the right thing to do.

    I’m grateful for folks here and elsewhere extending support to me and to Josh; it’s a weird thing, but in my case at least it seems I really need some help to sit with a difficult emotion like this sadness and loss; without people helping me stay with it I’ll just dissociate and then the unfelt emotions just bleed round through my head, a ghost in the machine mucking up the works. I’m beyond tired of experiencing things in that way.

    Someday soon I’ll properly celebrate the exploits and glory of this raccoon-sized, huge-pawed, lordly and thoroughly ridiculous cat. Write something; put a set of photos up on Flickr. But for now I’ll just sit still, and hold my kids a little tighter.

    Good-bye and rest in peace, my friend.

    Chief Rumpus

  10. Ian and Josh – as some of the others have mentioned, it is hard losing a pet. They become such a part of the family, the fabric of your household. We have one dog (our second) and one cat (our only). The kids were pretty small when we had to put our first dog down, but they took it pretty hard and one cried at the drop of a hat months later.

    Cats were new to us. Seven years ago or so, we got a couple of shelter cats and our oldest son broke out in hives. They couldn’t tell for sure it was the cats, but it was the newest addition. We gave them back. A couple years later, we tried again and no hives. Cosmo (named for the Fairly Oddparents fairy, not Kramer)is a big part of our lives now, so losing her (yes, it’s a her) would be traumatic.

    Best wishes,
    Greg P

  11. we know exactly what you mean about not being able to judge Rumpus’s quality of life in those last days and months. we recently lost our two boys, Moo Shu and Shinsan, within a year of each other, after they had been with us together for about twelve years. we struggled and struggled every day with that decision, wanting them to be with us as long as they were not in pain — and as long as it seemed like they still wanted to be with us. eventually, Shinnie let out a horrible howl and we took him straight to a twenty-four-hour vet. less than a year later, Mooshie passed away in his sleep, quietly, and on his own terms. just like how he lived.

    we have two new cats now, a boy and a girl, and we’re in the process of falling in love with them, but that was an amazing run we had with our two extraordinary guys.

    Please let KG and the kids know they’re in our thoughts, as is the Big Chief.

  12. my heart goes out to you, boys. as someone who literally grew up with two cats – my mum picked up tasha and sable six months before i was born – i feel your pain. i’m the eldest and the cats would always choose me to sleep with at night; i often miss having their lumps obstructing my sleep. my mum and dad have a dog now, and she sure is cool but she takes up too much space any time she’s ever tried to sleep with me and she hasn’t always been *there*. there’s nothing like that first pet, the ones who come later are great and you love them in their own way and in ways you’d never imagined, but the first one is always the most special. godspeed rumpus.

  13. Thanks for all the continued condolences and memories, everyone. I really appreciate it.

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