The Family, Diminished

Many of you have, I'm sure, felt the loss of a family pet. I grew up on a farm, and once upon a time, I counted at least a dozen pets at once, between dogs, cats, and lambs. I moved out of state to go to college, and I've never lived again in my family home (though as of this writing, I still own a quarter of it - an inheritance from my parents' passing.) I therefore had a mental distance introduced by the time most of these reached the end of their lifespan.

Post-college, I had a cat rescued from the street outside the chemical plant where I worked in New Jersey. He lived with me and my new wife about a year before a passing car took his life. I was very blue about it. That night, I made a rare call to my folks, to cry on their shoulders. (I grew up when long-distance calls were a strange and rare event, and I've never really shaken that background.) I had no way to know it - but that was going to be the last time I ever spoke to my father. He died the next day, from his second heart attack.

Almost two decades of pet-less time followed. Finally, at the wheedling of our daughter McKenzie, second (and final!) wife Brenda and I made room for a kitten a few months old. As it was to be McKenzie's cat, she got to name it, and she chose "Titania" - queen of the fairies in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream." Later, a vet revealed we had miscast our furry friend as female; she was really a he! So Titania was rebranded "Titanius." And that's how our pet got his rather unusual name.

When McKenzie went on to college, Titanius became my cat. We became quite close. After our move to our current home, it seemed he wanted more and more lap time, and if he wasn't seated on me, he wanted to be nearby. I returned the affection.

The year 2016 had warnings that Titanius was reaching his expiration date. I won't bore you with the incidents; they're typical for aged cats. When he suddenly went missing in mid-December, I combed the yard, poking in every bush, looking up in the trees, checking any place he could conceivably
reach, including under an inverted canoe. I even hung upside down in a storm sewer manhole, so I could peer down the pipe with a flashlight. No pussycat. Titanius had made the 5-mile move from our old home in good order a couple years ago, knew the boundaries of our property, and seemed perfectly content to stay within them, without prompting. (He was an indoor/outdoor cat.) I concluded that he had decided his time was up, and had gone in search of a quiet and private place to die. Nevertheless, I posted in the neighborhood Facebook page, in case he turned up.

On the fourth day of his absence, I got a call from the far side of our subdivision. A cat answering Titanius' description was on the lady's back porch, eating her dog's food. Would I come have a look? Well, it was he. And he was blind. Suddenly, things made sense. He must have had a stroke or similar, gotten disoriented and lost. He was 3 pounds lighter and starving.

I got him to a vet the next day, who confirmed the blindness. He was otherwise ok... but the vet noted that a 15+-year old cat was "a kidney disease waiting to be diagnosed."

I had two more weeks with my friend. We were even tighter; I needed to ferry him inside around the house, and outside for nature calls, until he learned to navigate again - I suppose, by counting steps. But warning signs persisted, and on Friday afternoon before Sunday Christmas, I made an appointment for euthanasia on Monday.

I was too late. I should have acted sooner. On Christmas Eve, Saturday, about the time we were leaving for a Christmas party with old friends, Titanius had a fit. His limbs jerked spastically, and he couldn't stand. He mewed pitifully. I sent the rest of the family ahead, and I held him closely until he shook off the fit three hours later. It left both of us drained.

On Christmas he had some smaller fits, but much of the day was peaceful, and we were able to enjoy having the whole family collected for the day. We normally shoot a family portrait each New Year's Day, but we moved it up to be able to include Titanius one last time.

I hung on into the wee hours that night with Mr. T, then shot this
picture of him, lit only by tree lights. It was his very last picture. I didn't know until the morning that as soon as I left, he crept to McKenzie's door and cried. She came out and slept with him on a mat on the floor, where I found them in the morning.

Going to a vet for euthanasia services is a very trying experience. I don't recommend it.

 A couple weeks later, I got this little box with his ashes. It has spent the last four months at my feet while I am in my home office. I waited for a hopeful Spring day to bury them.

Now a small rock cairn will remind me of the little fellow who for fifteen years was a part of my family. He is under a river birch, where I can see him from the kitchen window.

I miss him a lot.


  1. Anonymous5/04/2017

    Just wanted to give you a thanks for your readings. Reading Great Expectations is very difficult by myself, but you've really aided me with your recordings. Thank you!

  2. Hi Mark, Your story about your pet cat reminds me of ours way back in 1979. My daughter was a fan of Sesame Street and our cat was dubbed "Bert". Bert was a orange striped tabby. A male and loved to wrestle. In the winter all I had to do was put on a pair of gloves and that was Bert's invitation to let his claws out and have a grand old time. When the gloves were off he was as gentle a cat as one could imagine. When Bert turned ten he became ill. The common Feline Kidney failure. He was at the Vet for a days and the Vet told us he did not expect him to live out the month. He was comfortable enough but he would keep him for a few more days. The next day we received a call that Bert had had a complete turnaround, He was frisky, eating well and he wanted us to pick him up. The greeting we had especially my daughter was right out of a Hollywood movie. We were driving home and my daughter said, "daddy, I think Bert has died, he's very quiet and not breathing." I raced back to the vet and sure enough he was gone. The vat had no explanation. I looked at the Vet and my daughter and commented. "He just wanted to see us once more".
    Mark, I cannot thank you enough for your Librivox work, I've had Librivox contact you via the "Thank a Reader feature. Now in my 70's and blind in one eye audio books are a wonderful way to spend the time. You are my all time favorite reader. For such a long book you did a fantastic job. I just finishing your reading of "Mysterious Island by Jules Verne" for the 3rd time. My only request would be if you would read 20,000 Leagues and In Search of the Castaways. Best wishes Tom Heckhaus

  3. Anonymous10/24/2017

    Sorry for your loss Mark. I know it is hard to lose a furry friend. I hope you find comfort.

    Thank you for your work with LibriVox. I appreaciate how you bring life to each character. You are truly one of a kind.

    Also this blog is extremely well written. Maybe some day we get to purchase a book written and read by Mark Smith of Simpsonville, SC.

  4. Anonymous12/27/2017

    I am too lazy to do this any other way and am uncertain Mark will even get to see this. If so, my warmest thanks for your exquisite LibriVox readings. There are few things more excruciating than trying to listen to an inept reader-aloud. The odd syntactical hiccups, the unmodulated vocal tones, the mumbled consonants, the mispronunciations, etc. Add to this that just prior to Thanksgiving my husband, only 55, lost all his higher register hearing overnight and about two thirds of his word recognition. So there are many audio books read by people with shrill voices and poor diction that we can no longer enjoy together. To have your beautifully enunciated and modulated readings is a great grace to us at this time of struggle to adapt and stay connected organically.

    I am very sorry for the loss earlier this year of your little family member. It is wrenching indeed. Till we all are reunited, the best to you and yours.

  5. I Googled you while listening to Huckleberry Finn on Youtube. I googled "mark smith simpsonville, sc" to learn more. Thank you for the recording. I read this article and I have a dog named Titan I adopted from Slinger, Wisconsin when I lived near there. He's an American Eskimo Dog.

    I listen to as many audio books as I can while I play video games or relax.
    Best wishes, Andy Marks

  6. Anonymous5/04/2018

    Very sorry to hear of the loss of your cat. our pets do become family don't they. I too enjoy your readings.

  7. A beautiful story, amazing, and celebrating life, but I made some effort to not burst into tears.
    By the way, thanks for your readings on LibriVox

  8. To those of you who commented on this post - my apologies for only now approving them for publishing. This particular post was a difficult one for me to write, and I've had a definite disinclination to come back to my blog and re-experience it.

    The calendar has wrapped around nearly to the 2-year anniversary of Titanius' last vet visit. I continue to think of him often. His picture is my computer wallpaper. It is from his blind period in his last few days, but in the picture he looks sighted and purposeful. A video I have from the same trip outdoors for nature's call reveals his frailty and uncertainty; I choose not to review that.

    As you can see - despite some resolutions to keep up this blog, I have let it languish. I find it easier and more immediate to exchange thoughts on Facebook, and I am there most days. Come join me, if you wish.