When the first contender to be Jax’s new kitty step-sibling, an adorable little white fluffball named Miss Chandler, sneezed blood in my face, I tapped out of the process.
I was only a couple of weeks into my very first office job and felt completely exhausted all the time because getting used to the workaday rhythms of office life when you’re fresh out of college is tough and young people in general have about as much moxie as wet toilet paper. So dragging my ass to the Dumb Friends League after work to get another cat for my girlfriend that I wasn’t enthused about already had me teeming with resentment.
A week or so later, Kristin returned to the Dumb Friends League with her friend Joy and told me about this emaciated little dude with giant ears who reached out from his cage and gently smacked her on the arm as if to say, “Hey lady, pick me!” He too had an upper respiratory infection and was undernourished, but was otherwise healthy. Our best guess was that he was a rescue from an animal hoarder since he had some bizarre behaviors like marking the area around his food dish and getting jumpy for reasons that seemed impenetrable to us.
Newly christened “Finn” instead of the generic “Andy” the shelter gave him, he was quarantined in Kristin’s bathroom for a few days when I met him the first time. I opened the door, and this little face with a deathly serious expression and huge ears as advertised sat perched on the toilet lid, looked at me, and let out what felt like it was trying to be a meow. Because he was deeply congested, it sounded more like when you turn on an empty garbage disposal with no water running.
Uh, hi. I muttered back to him a little perturbed. Another deep, nasally gear-grinding meow back at me. Kristin, what did you buy? What the hell is wrong with this cat?
Last night, August 19, 2021, Finn passed away. We were never certain about his exact age, but the folks at the Dumb Friends League seemed to think he was about 8 months old when Kristin rescued him in August of 2006, so we decided his birthday was January 1 of that year. Finn lived to be 15 and a half, and spent more than half his life with diabetes.
Our vet tells us most cats with diabetes don’t live that long. We asked why and she told us, “Mostly because owners don’t have the discipline to give the cat insulin twice a day on a regular schedule.” That knowledge made and makes me incredibly sad because how can people be so lazy, stupid, and/or derelict? This is your little friend, and someone you consider a member of your family! You gotta take care of them!
Over the course of his diabetes, Kristin and I rarely missed an injection. I tallied it up, and we’ve given Finn somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 shots total and spent thousands of dollars on insulin, needles, and prescription food to help him live his best life. The only regrets I have about that – if these even qualify as regrets – are the $300 bottles of insulin Kristin and I have accidentally dropped and shattered. I’m pretty sure we’ve both dropped at least two.
I would change absolutely nothing about our efforts and don’t regret even one iota of the time or money we invested to treat his condition. Nor do I regret the multitude of weird conversations that necessarily arise with people when you mention injecting a cat with a needle twice a day for 8 years. This topic even came up when I interviewed Jim O’Heir from Parks and Recreation five years ago. I would gladly do it all again in a heartbeat, and I’m sad that today is the first day I haven’t had to consider who is poking the cat and when.
Finn wasn’t neutered when Kristin brought him home. In what I suspect was a power move to assert himself in his new surroundings, when I’d come over to Kristin’s apartment, Finn would plant himself directly in front of me and go to town licking his balls. It was both gross and hilarious.
A few weeks later he was neutered so the peepshow stopped, but his meow remained low and flat, like the cat equivalent of that guy in the Ricola commercial blowing his stupid giant alpine horn. Jax, on the other hand, was neutered when he was like 6 weeks old which gave his meow a very sharp, high-pitched timbre to it. Jax was frequently the aggressor between the two, but sounded like he had just sucked on a helium balloon, which was an amusing contrast for such a bully.
Finn fattened up, and quickly. The unencumbered access to high quality food and an existence free from being on high alert at all times had turned the slinky, serpentine Finn into king-size Finn. It was like seeing that Fat Axl Rose meme from a few years ago, but in cat form and in real life. We were happy we could give him that. He deserved to be fat and happy.
It wasn’t until a few months ago really that Finn truly warmed up to the girls. But earlier this Spring he started announcing his presence during books right before bedtime. He would meow down the hall, tentatively walk into Sloane’s room, and hop up on the bed for some pets and affection. Sometimes he’d change it up and plant himself in Grace’s room. It was nice to pet our friendly little cat while the girls wound down their day and told us about whatever had transpired. There was never any pressure in these conversations, yet a load was lifted whenever Finn was around at this time of day.
He took to their rooms so much, he started sleeping in an empty box under Grace’s bed in the mornings. Normally I wouldn’t give half a shit where he sleeps during the day, except I have to give him his first dose of insulin. And for several days I couldn’t fucking find him and would have to wait until I heard him eating to go poke him.
Realistically, there aren’t that many blind spots in this house, so failing to find him made me crazy to the point that one day I decided I wouldn’t give up until I found his punk kitty ass. When I did, I posted about it on Instagram and had to tip my cap to the little dude for putting one over on me. Well played.
When I say Finn truly warmed up to the girls within the last few months, I’m not kidding, and I’ll show you the extent to which I’m not kidding.
When Grace was like 3, my mom made Grace a little laminated booklet with pictures of us, herself and Grandpa JJ, their dog, the alphabet, and whatever else. On one of the pages was a photo of Jax and Finn together (seen above, Finn on the left). Jax has always been about as subtle as an ambulance siren, so she’s well familiar with his work at this point. She looks at the photo, points at Finn, and the following exchange occurs:
Our daughter spent the first three years of her life thinking we only had one cat, and this remains one of the funniest moments of my entire life. Sometimes Kristin and I will play act this exchange with each other four years later just for grins. He had done such an amazing job of being in stealth mode avoiding the clumsily grabby hands and unhinged energy of our infant daughter, she didn’t even know he existed.
Admittedly, Grace didn’t really give a shit about Jax for a long time either, so it’s not like Finn was kitty James Bond or anything. Sloane, on the other hand, was DIALED IN to both cats right from the get-go and Finn couldn’t have avoided her at the height of his powers for all the cat food in the world even if he wanted to.
That moment is one of my all-time faves, but I would be remiss in not sharing the story of how Finn is also responsible for the absolute funniest moment of my entire life. Finn is literally the only straight man in the house. Everyone else is doing material of some sort, and Finn is the only one you can count on for a fully earnest reaction and timing like George Burns.
Six years ago shortly after I got laid off from my corporate gig where the threat of drug testing no longer loomed, Kristin and I decided to try pot again after not touching the stuff since college. We smoked up, shared a few laughs, and watched the baseball game in our basement. Pretty uneventful, but nice and chill.
As we got ready for bed, Finn marched into our room meowing his ass off at Kristin. Literally just loudly jabbering on and on and on. Kristin, annoyed, says to him pointedly, “God, Finn, shut up!” And then without missing a beat, and like she’s in some fucking improv scene, flips the script and assumes his voice and says softly with a weird lisp, “But I’m tho thad…”
My pot-addled mind cannot handle how funny that is for some reason – I think it’s the idea of Finn incessantly meowing out of pure sadness, as if he’s capable of that emotion – so she comes out of the bathroom, finds me lying on the bed helpless from laughter, and I tell her how I experienced what just happened. She now finds the story as funny as I do, and we’re both dead from laughter. We laugh about it for the next 20 minutes or so, re-tell the story like a half dozen times to each other, and finally get it together enough to go to sleep.
It’s quiet. It’s dark. A few more deep breaths, and we’ve got it under control. Ok, I love you. Love you, too. A beat. A second beat. And on the third beat, out of the dark blackness like a fucking foghorn Finn goes…
Destruction. Total annihilation. We’re dead. The whole process starts up again and it takes even fucking longer to get control of ourselves from laughter. I still laugh when I think about this and I always will.
They say when older pets decline, they decline in a hurry. I saw Finn in his kitty condo yesterday when I woke up, said good morning to him, and went about my day. He seemed normal. I went to the gym and Kristin gave him his insulin while I was there. Later that day, I could hear him peeing outside the litter box, which he has literally never done. He did it again later that evening, and at that point I started to get worried. I called the vet and got him the first appointment I could, which wasn’t for like a week and a half, unless someone cancelled and they could squeeze us in, which I begged them to do.
As we got our girls ready for bed, I checked under Grace’s bed, and sure enough Finn was in the box again, but this time when I pulled it out, he didn’t move. He lay flat on his side, had pooped twice in the box, had drool coming out of his mouth, and I knew it was the end. He was still alive, but nearly catatonic.
I don’t think Finn is ok, babe. Kristin rushed in, took a look at him, and immediately called the emergency vet. She told the girls to say goodbye to Finn, and everyone cried. I pet him and said, “Goodbye, Finn. I love you.” She jumped in the car and drove away, and that was the last time I saw him.
I managed to compose myself enough to power through two books and finish bedtime – an effort for which I think I deserve a fucking Oscar – closed the door to Grace’s room, walked down the hall, and immediately began ugly crying, which I’ve done off and on for the last 12+ hours. Kristin came home sometime later, we both cried some more, exchanged stories, and now I’m here broken-hearted grimly typing this paragraph for reasons I can’t fully understand.
I wish I could have been there with him, but my role last night was to be dad and be strong for my girls, a role I’m proud I accomplished. I’m happy Kristin was with him up until his very last moment comforting him, holding him, telling him he was loved. That’s as good as any of us can hope for, and since he chose her first, I’m glad she was with him last.
I know when I think of Finn from now on, I will almost certainly think about the end from time to time. But I suspect the overwhelming volume of fond memories will come first.
I remember how Finn used to startle himself with his own farts. How his face wore a look of betrayal when he would go on a hilarious sneezing jag. How he would talk to ghosts in the house, then sprint away from them like some mental patient. His “Finny Trot.” His kitty stroke face from sleeping on one side for too long (seen above). His deadly seriousness when kneading a blanket. His subtle sidling up to guests in our house on the couch, but only late at night.
And most recently, I’ll always remember Finn’s and my time together during the pandemic. For the last year and a half, Finn would wait for me to finish putting the girls to bed so we could sit together in this chair at the end of the day. He would settle himself snugly between my right thigh and the side of the chair. We’d watch shows together, I’d pet him a bit, he’d turn around and look at me if my petting efforts were too much or not enough, and we would finish our days snuggled up together.
Having that little dude on my flank filled me with the knowledge that ultimately everything was going to be okay, and no matter how shitty a day I had, there was one soft, gentle, perfect little creature that wanted nothing more than to sit next to me for a little while. That always made my day just a little bit better than it was before.
It meant so much to me, in March I commemorated it with this tattoo on the outside of my right thigh.
I’ll always have Finn snuggled up next to me now, and although the current pain is both exquisite and piercing and this tattoo is just a little bit empty feeling right now, I suspect when I look at this tattoo years down the road, it will continue to fill me with joy.
Goodbye, Finn. I love you.
And I’m tho thad.