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The Not So Secret Lives of Academic Pets
Episode 2219th October 2022 • Academic Aunties • Ethel Tungohan
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Many academics have pets. For me, most of my academic life from my postdoc until very recently involved my beloved cat, a long haired Maine Coon named Cornelius, who was my sidekick, my best friend, my confidante.

We said goodbye to him on October 4, 2022. So for this episode, I want to honour Cornelius by talking about academic pets with Academic Aunties producer, Dr. Nisha Nath and returning guest, Dr. Sule Tomkinson. Throughout this episode, you'll also hear voice memos from listeners sharing stories of their pets. Thanks to Chad Cowie, Kristine Alexander, Megan Cloutier, Rita Dhamoon, Megan Gaucher, Justin Leifso, Stepanie Silverman, and Melanee Thomas for sharing your stories!

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Thanks for listening! Get more information, support the show, and read all the transcripts at academicaunties.com. Get in touch with Academic Aunties on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie or by e-mail at podcast@academicaunties.com.



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Transcripts

Ethel Tungohan:

I'm Dr. Ethel Tungohan, an associate professor of politics at York University. This is Academic Aunties.

Ethel Tungohan:

Today we are talking about the love we have for our fur companions. Many academics have pets. Many of these pets are featured on hashtag academic pets or hashtag PhD pets. For me, most of my academic life from my postdoc until very recently involved my beloved cat, a long haired Maine coon named Cornelius, who was my sidekick, my best friend, my confidant.

Ethel Tungohan:

We said goodbye to him on October 4th, 2022. So for this episode, I want to honor Cornelius by talking about academic pets. Throughout this episode, you'll hear voice memos from listeners sharing stories of their pets while my France, Nisha, and Julie and I talk about why our pets are so central to our academic lives.

Stephanie Silverman:

Hello, this is Auntie Stephanie calling in from Toronto. I wanted to share a few words about my three year old Aussie Doodle named Bear. Bear is a barker in the parker.

Stephanie Silverman:

When I asked the vet about this, the vet said her bark is just her laughing and I try to remember that. Another great thing about having bear is going to the dog park. When I went during Covid times, the dog park people were basically my water cooler. You would talk and laugh and go on with a little bit of social contact through the day.

Stephanie Silverman:

Bear isnot a great study buddy. But it is good to have that reminder to get out and go for a walk even when you don't feel like it.

Ethel Tungohan:

I am so happy to have two of my favorite aunties who've been guests in our podcast before. We have auntie doctor, well, Dr. Nisha Nath, who is Auntie Nisha who is, that was kinda...

Nisha Nath:

Auntie Doctor

Ethel Tungohan:

Auntie Auntie Doctor.

Nisha Nath:

Yeah.

Ethel Tungohan:

Like. Yeah, no, we have Auntie Nisha joining us today. Uh, she is a producer for Academic Aunties and we also have Auntie Doctor , Dr. Sule Tomkinson, who was also a guest in our pod, last year when we were talking about bad advice. And I've gathered both of you here today because as you know, um, you know, I just went through a really hard, uh, time because my beloved for baby Cornelius left us last Tuesday.

Ethel Tungohan:

We have a lot of listeners who have pets, who have their furry babies, and we thought, you know, for a lot of us, our pets are such a crucial part of our academic life. So thank you so much for being part of this episode and hanging out with me.

Nisha Nath:

It's a pleasure. Absolutely. Um, especially 'cause Cornelius, um, yeah. What you've shared about Cornelius is just so lovely in terms of his impact and presence on your life.

Sule Tomkinson:

Indeed, I'm, I'm extremely happy to be here and that we'll be honoring his contribution to your life, I would say.

Ethel Tungohan:

Thank you. Um, I mean, I immediately thought of both of you to have this conversation with. I mean, at first I was like, is it kooky to have an episode in honor of Cornelius. But really and truly academic pets are so important. And you know, one of the things that devastated me so much about Cornelius kind of saying goodbye was I actually like Cornelius more than I like 99% of the people that I encounter.

Ethel Tungohan:

And so I think, you know, I just wanted to honor that as well. And with that, I guess my first question to both of you is tell us about your fur babies. What are their names and what are they like? Maybe Auntie Sule, you can go first.

Sule Tomkinson:

Sure, my pleasure. So my dog is called Monsieur. Monsieur means, I mean, in French it is either sir or gentleman or mister. Several meanings. Um, he's a shiba inu, a Japanese dog. It was my husband's idea to name him Monsieur. Um, I mean every, we were meeting a lot of shibas when we had decided to get a dog and all were named something Japanese.

Sule Tomkinson:

Right from tofu to, I dunno, uh, to sushi. Yeah. And we were like, no, we are not going to do that. We are trying to get, we, we'll try to choose a fun name. So as you can imagine it, there's several funny things happened where I would talk to Monsieur in the park, Monsieur you don't do this, don't do that. And if we had men around us, it was like, are you talking to me women? Right?

Sule Tomkinson:

So that happened several times. Quite fun. Uh, he is extremely independent. He is very nonchalant. He is stubborn. He's smart, I would say. Okay, But he is not, I mean, I wouldn't say he's the smartest dog in the world, but. But at least he, he never tries.... I mean, he is not a dog that tries to pleases his humans, right?

Sule Tomkinson:

He'll do something only if he wants to or if he can get something out of it, like a treat. Otherwise, doesn't, doesn't mind it at all.

Ethel Tungohan:

I love it. I love it. When did he come into your life? How long have you been companions?

Sule Tomkinson:

So we got him in 2018 and Ethel, I know that actually before Cornelius came to your life, you were a dog person, right? And you ended up adopting a cat. For me, it was the contrary. I grew up with cats. I was actually scared of dogs. When I was growing up in Turkey, there were a lot of stray dogs.

Sule Tomkinson:

And I found myself in many situations that were where, where I was extremely scared of dogs. But then when I was in Canada, when I was doing my PhD, I was also getting a certificate to teach yoga. And during that time I met a woman, my private yoga client who had us, had a service dog called Bruce. He was a lab, and that was the first time I felt like, my God, these pets can, like, the dogs actually can be so special.

Sule Tomkinson:

They make you feel good, they make you feel grounded. And it was that time that I felt, maybe 2014, I thought, Oh, wow, I see why people are crazy about dogs.

Ethel Tungohan:

I love it. I feel like when I was growing up, we always had dogs, right? Like cats were never really something. I mean you saw cats on the street. This was in the Philippines, but also in Hong Kong too, right? And so my baseline when it comes to understanding pet care would always be dogs.

Ethel Tungohan:

My first dog as a child was this black poodle named Katie. Anyway, um, but like I've never had a pet as a grownup. I didn't want to have a pet. I wasn't thinking about having a pet. This was not in my life plans. I was a postdoc. I was, you know, living between Edmonton and Toronto.

Ethel Tungohan:

And then this like cat on this winter night just followed me home. It was March and I was just walking home from the gym. And I just heard this meowing, this incessant meowing. when What the hell? And so I turned around and there was Cornelius and I kind of bent down, petted him, and then I was like, okay bye cat. And then he, Followed me home. He literally, when I was in the door at my, uh, shared house, he went in and I had to text my roommates cuz we had pets in the house if it was okay.

Ethel Tungohan:

And that was basically how I adopted Cornelius.

Nisha Nath:

Let me say, it only just struck me now as you're telling this story about Cornelius kind of finding you, you were also alone there, right? Like, it's just so special, right? You were, Wayne wasn't with you. It was like a really big time in your life too, for other reasons. And yeah, it just, it really struck me that you found each other under those, those conditions.

Ethel Tungohan:

And I know some of the listeners will be like, Ethel will stop being so superstitious or whatever. But that March I was feeling kind of stressed out because I was a postoc that March, uh, it was March five, I remember it. I was thinking about my grandmother, whose birthday it was, right.

Ethel Tungohan:

My grandmother passed away in 2013 and I was just like remembering my grandma. I just remember, right when I was thinking about my Lola, I was like, Oh, I really miss her. You know, this is her birthday, and I was feeling like, ugh. Just a lot of stress and a lot of sadness. That's when I heard the meow.

Nisha Nath:

I love that. There's something about how we find each other in those moments. But yes, I do have two current long time companions or forever companions in our home. They were both meant to be fosters and we couldn't bear to part with them. So Cindy Lou is our two year old Borador who came to us when she was around three months old, and she had kind of really bad living conditions for the first three months of her life.

Nisha Nath:

She is very smart. She's, she's wonderfully smart. Um, she's super affectionate, wonderful with the kid. She's relentlessly jealous, and then we also have a cat Richie, who came to us in 2020 as a foster. I do think the Humane Society set us up because they sent us someone who was just so perfect, really.

Nisha Nath:

We describe him as our mahogany tiger cat. We've invented this category to describe him, and he's very chill. He is persistent in kind of claiming his space. He's very vocal, very brave, um, very fascinated by Cindy, and, you know, the constant flow of life through our home. But we've also had many other, um, like we've loved and lost three other cats in our lives that that really saw us through, through a lot. But those are our two current companions right now who are quite lovely.

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Justin Leifso:

So we have, uh, 11 year old English Bulldog, Liz Lemon, who we got, uh, when I was doing my master's degree. Um, she was there right next to me, cuddling as I wrote my MA thesis and as I wrote my PhD dissertation. Um, started teaching, got my academic position. Uh, I bring her to office hours. Sometimes I put pictures of her in my slide deck.

Justin Leifso:

She's just, um, crucial part of my, uh, of my work practice.

Chadwick Cowie:

Max and Bella have enriched my life. So, Max, has graced my life for the last 13 years. I call him my season gentleman. He is Himalayan and Ragdoll. He, uh, It's very easy going, very loving, wants to cuddle as like a dog in, in a lot of cases, but just has always been there for me for the last 13 years. He has been a very stable, important part to my life, alongside my partner. He knows when there's something upset with me or when I'm upset or I'm going through something stressful, he'll come and cuddle with me. But at the same time, he's like me in the sense that if I tried to tell him something, he'll, he'll talk back.

Chadwick Cowie:

In a sense it's rather funny cuz like I will say something like, get down or go, or no, you're not getting any food. The table and he'll simply do this little snotty meow at me. He just, he's amazing, affectionate, and very intelligent.

Chadwick Cowie:

And for Bella, Bella has a very different history than than Max. My partner and I rescued her, and she's, she's gone through a lot of trauma. So Bella reminds me and reminds me about the importance of being able to go along with their pace and not just expecting everything in my way. She's very shy, she's very cautious.

Chadwick Cowie:

They both remind me of things that I need to remember and how to interact with other people, but at the same time, just, just their, their stable affection and, and being there has been very important throughout not only my personal life, but also throughout my, my academic career.

Kristine Alexander:

When I moved from Winnipeg to Toronto to start my master's degree in history in fall 2002, I was excited, but also truthfully told a little bit lonely. One of the first things I did after unpacking my furnished bachelor apartment on York University's campus was sign up to be a foster parent with the Toronto Cat Rescue.

Kristine Alexander:

Within a couple of days of my sending that initial email, someone had driven up to North York and dropped off to cats with me. Um, these were a Longhaired, Calico, uh, and her tortoise, shell kitten, both of whom were pretty emaciated and sick, suffering from Feline Rhino.

Kristine Alexander:

The kitten got adopted just about right away, but folks didn't seem too interested in the two year old Calico who came with a name. Brittany. I adopted her myself after a couple of months, and she died during the first summer of the pandemic at the ripe old age of 20. A couple of days after she died, I posted a particularly gorgeous photo of her on Facebook and said that I had just lost the curious and good humored companion who had accompanied me through two graduate degrees, two post-doctoral fellowships, one tenure track job, and getting tenure, uh, across four apartments and three houses in four cities in three different provinces.

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Ethel Tungohan:

How did you get into fostering?

Nisha Nath:

So we had two losses that were quite close together. So we had a cat, Titus, who was with us for 18 and a half years. Um, so he literally saw us through everything. Right? And this is, you know, I relate to, to your, your life with Cornelius 'cause he saw us through. Um, you know, death, right? An intense loss in our life, through marriage, babies, grad school, all of that.

Nisha Nath:

You know, he was there for everything. And so he, he died and then our, our, another cat of ours died a year after Tweaks. Um, and we just didn't feel like we could do it again, right? Like it felt like too much, too much grief to hold, right? So yeah. I was like, Okay, well we need, we need that energy in the house. The kids need it. We need it. Let's, let's foster. And so it was the start of the pandemic and we decided to sign up to foster, and that's when Richie came with us and, and never left. And it's been a really wonderful decision.

Nisha Nath:

And I have also questions for you both too, 'cause I, I, One of the differences I see in us is that it sounds like you both, um, kind of animal companions have been part of your life since the beginning. Is that, is that right? And so that has not been my case at all. So I grew up in a, in a, in a home where there was a lot of aversion to having animals in the home and, and, and lots of, um, feelings around that.

Nisha Nath:

I was very different from a very, very young age. So I would, I would, you know, go to kids' birthday parties and I wouldn't spend any time with the other kids. I would like go find the animals in the house. So I, I'm really curious too for, for you both, how that love for kind of, you know, other than human life, if that has shifted now being in academia. Because I think for me it has. The reasons are the same, right as to why I was drawn to two kind of other than human companions. But I find now that because I am immersed in academia and there are so many particular kinds of relational logics in academia that are counter to this relationship that I have with Cindy Lou and Richie. It feels so much more needed to have them in our lives.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think for me with Cornelius, he was my first pet as a grownup, right? And so, you know, when I was a kid, the dogs would be there and they would be like family dogs. He was never just my pet. So in terms of kind of being responsible, For the dogs there it wasn't really me. I was, I was a kid. Right. And I think Cornelius arriving in my life when I was a postoc, it was actually super inconvenient to have a cat because, you know, I was between two cities, right? But I think, you know, an answer to your question, I think my relationship was different because I was a grown up when Cornelius went into my life and I was also in a different kind of state too. Like it wasn't really, uh, someone whose care I could delegate to someone else. i.e. My parents. Like my cat was someone who I was responsible for, right? So I had to take care of that as well. And in so far as the unconditional love given to me by Cornelius, one thing that you know, you said that I thought was particularly poignant was that, you know, your pets are there without, well, sometimes they have an agenda. I was going to say they're there without an agenda. Sometimes, you know, sometimes there's an agenda. They, like, they want treats and they, they can manipulate you. Right. But in so far as you know, being completely upfront with how they feel about you. The beautiful thing about pets, unlike academia, is that you always know where you stand with 'em.

Nisha Nath:

Hmm.

Ethel Tungohan:

Sometimes you have these like relationships in academia where you have to code and decode and deconstruct and think about, right? Even the act of writing an email, you're like, wait, how do I make sure that my meaning is clear? And when you read people's emails, you're like, what do they actually mean?

Ethel Tungohan:

I mean, we've all done. With pets. It's so refreshing because there's love, uh, there's manipulation when it comes to getting treats, and there's just a lot more openness there, right? So if Cornelius doesn't like you and if he doesn't like what you're doing, he'll just walk away, right? So there have been guests in our house where he's not feeling you even if people try to like me at him, he's like, no man. Like, and he just walks away. And so it's way easier to navigate our more than human relationships. Pets are way, animals are way easier to relate with than humans because it's all there. Right? And so that's how I feel.

Sule Tomkinson:

Absolutely. So one thing I learned from Monsieur is, is just to feel and not necessarily to think in certain situations, right? I mean, as academics we are super cerebral people. We have to constantly think and reflect, and in certain situations it's just, you just sit with yourself and with your pet, your companion. You don't have to say anything like, you don't have to constantly verbalize things. I mean, feeling is okay. Right? And, and people always said to me, I, your animals, your companions actually feel when you're feeling bad.

Sule Tomkinson:

Right. And they come and help you. And until Monsieur, I'd never seen that. I had a, I had one bird who was, who were the, who was effectively very dependent on me. That was not a good relationship actually. She wanted me constantly within her angle of vision. Like if we were not in the same room, she would yell all day.

Sule Tomkinson:

I'm not exaggerating. I'm not exaggerating. No, it was not a good relationship. But one day, a student of mine, once in a while, I would take Monsieur to my office and, uh, some, some of my students would come chat and, and just see Monsieur. And once a student came and they were telling me about like what a difficult time they went through during the last few years and, and Monsieur just sat with them.

Nisha Nath:

Hmm.

Sule Tomkinson:

And I normally, he's not a dog who likes being petted, but he just stayed there with my student because Monsieur felt like they needed it. Right. So in that sense, just being there. Without verbalizing, just feeling, holding space is something I find is, is, is, is very enriching.

Nisha Nath:

Oh, I, I love that because, you know, I, I have been, especially with the, the imminent, return of Blossom, our foster, this morning, um, I've been thinking about, you know, why, why do we, why do we do this, and why is this so meaningful, especially, you know, the past few years. And, you know, when I think about academic work, and especially when I think about it as a racialized woman or a woman of color, you know, I, I feel the impact of this work that is structured to be so non relational, right?

Nisha Nath:

Like we work against that constantly. But it's work that is, it's non relational. It's work that can consume your whole life or threatens to consume your whole life. There are huge ups and downs. It's precarious. There's so much gas lighting, there's often a lot of toxicity. We're wound up in a very fast pace with deadlines and you know, the experience of caring for these companions so genuinely, honestly, with no pretense, with mutuality, it feels like a breath of air, right? And I think I've shared in, in different contexts how there was a point a few years back where I noticed that as I was navigating academic spaces, I would hold a lot of tension in my body, and in in particular, I would hold tension in my hands, right?

Nisha Nath:

So I would clench my hands a lot, and at the end of the day, I'd be wondering why are my hands so tired or sore? And especially with a pandemic, my, my cat would come up onto my lap during meetings, and then I would just find myself, you know, petting him, stroking him. And I realized that it was entirely shifting my body in those academic spaces.

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Rita Dhamoon:

, My Rusty. You made me get up and away from my desk. That little pink nose nudging me for a walk. You stayed with me on days I could not get out of bed. Patiently tolerating my desire to snuggle in your soft, reddish gold fur coat. You outsmarted us so many times. Intelligence on a register way beyond a PhD.

Rita Dhamoon:

You tested my patience when I thought I couldn't hold anymore. After repeatedly being disciplined, injured, discounted. For you, gave me gifts I did not know I would cherish so close to my heart. Gifts of connection and groundedness and absolute joy in my darkest hours. My spirit sparks for you. I see you running free of pain and total beauty across the skies.

Rita Dhamoon:

You are my love forever.

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Ethel Tungohan:

Gosh, talking to both of you makes me feel the profound loss of Cornelius so much. I think the saddest, the saddest moment last week was, you know, I told my kids, I told Wayne, I think I need like a few minutes to myself. Um, and so I just went upstairs and I was just kind of sitting there really sad because Cornelius had just passed and I think I felt the biggest loss because had he been there...

Nisha Nath:

Yeah.

Ethel Tungohan:

He would see how sad I was he would just climb on top of me. And so I guess for the last few years since having him, right, like every time I was sad, every time I was mad, every time I was stressed out, which is, which happens a lot in academia, Cornelius was always a constant presence, right? He somehow sensed when I was feeling that I needed company. Not human company, but his company. And he would find a way to just be there.

Ethel Tungohan:

When I was, um, in labor, with my first child, Freddie, and it was 72 hours. It was awful. Whatever. My freaking husband was asleep. You know, Cornelius was just, Cornelius was just like there, like he wasn't, you know, I was, I was just, So whatever, like pacing back and forth my apartment, went to the bathtub and he, he would just kind of be around me and just watch and, and made clear that he was there. And so I think it's, it's the emotive, it's the affective, it's the out of body. It's, it's the relationality that I think I truly appreciate about Cornelius.

Sule Tomkinson:

Of course. I mean the love you you have for him, right? Not had you have for him. And one example I can give about how Monsieur allows me to take a step back from the rules of academia that we are expected to follow. I mean, think of a conference where you felt like you needed to attend a talk by someone, a senior academic or someone who's seen as, as a star. You don't wanna go, but you go because everyone is going, because everyone is in that space, right? Mm-hmm. but I mean, with Monsieur, whenever we would go to the dog park, right? I mean, you know how some dogs are like they wanna play together, they wanna run together.

Sule Tomkinson:

Monsieur would go and he just like do his own thing, sit in his corner. If he wanted to play, he did. If he did not, he did not. And at some point I was like, Oh my God, actually I can do this too. I do not want to be in that talk, I don't have to be, I don't.

Nisha Nath:

Oh my gosh. I love that they teach us so much, right? They really do. An otherwise way of, of being. It makes me wonder too, like how, how do we bring more of that into our work, right. It really can shift the posture with which you enter everything. If you are in that kind of receptive, mutual, reciprocal, honest way of engaging.

Ethel Tungohan:

Auntie Nisha, what have your pets taught you though? I mean, just in terms of kind of some of the narratives that we're sharing here and now.

Nisha Nath:

You know, I mean, I think what you both have shared resonates with me. Um, I think it is around slowing down. quite frankly, I mean, I know that they keep me healthier.

Nisha Nath:

Right. They, you know, the, the weight of stress that we often feel, especially as we're weathering things like racism or misogyny in the academy, right? Like we know that that has a really deep impact on so many of us. And so I know that one of the, the gifts that they are giving me is, is better health. Whether it be about just, you know, sustaining a less intense level of stress, about slowing down, taking time to be outside, to just be able to step away. And you have to be accountable to them. Like you, you can't not be. So I think it, it just, it structures a different way of being. And I think trying, trying to learn from that, and then incorporate that into, to academic life is, I don't know, it's something that I am aspiring to and, and trying to learn those lessons from all of these fosters that, that keep coming into our home.

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Melanee Thomas:

I started my PhD in 2006, uh, moving from Calgary to Montreal. Uh, my relationship did not survive, uh, that particular mover. My relationship at the time didn't anyway. And so I was a bit heartsick and lonely and it took me about six weeks to be completely committed to adopting a cat. And so I got Chairman, Meow.

Melanee Thomas:

He was a, uh, uh, very fluffy. Brown Tabby, uh, when he was younger, like we knew that he was gonna have a really fluffy tail, but like, as he like grew up, he like the fluff became truly magnificent. He loved olives so much. He would like, I would give him an olive and he would roll around on the floor and like, And like lose it in his belly fur.

Melanee Thomas:

He became the cat mascot for the big grad student house that I had moved into a couple years into the program and, uh, I genuinely thought that he would be the cat that would see me through like PhD, the post doc, the first job, getting tenure, all of that stuff.

Melanee Thomas:

And he did get me, uh, all the way back to Calgary for sure. Uh, but he unfortunately passed away when he was only eight, um, due to cancer.

Melanee Thomas:

I don't think that I could do academic work without having. Without having a cat around. Uh, I think people don't realize how special the unconditional love a cat gives you is because they pick you, right? Like when you become a cat's person, they're like, they're with you. Um, like Velcro, like my current cat, um, Winston is snoring, curled up next to me, um, stuck to my side like Velcro.

Megan Cloutier:

So I often joke that grad students should get the numbers for their local humane society as part of their orientation package. I know so many of my peers who have adopted animals during their graduate studies as a way just to ground themselves a living thing that reminds you that you're also a living thing that needs to be fed and watered and walked and played with.

Megan Cloutier:

I adopted Leon at a critical moment in my graduate studies. He was a three month old tuxedo kitten at the Calgary Humane Society who was found in the trash. It was the beginning of Covid, and so I could only spend about 15 minutes with him, but within seconds I knew that he was special. He was bouncing around the little room we were in.

Megan Cloutier:

His stripe tale reminding me that he was pretty much a lemur. I quickly leash trained him, and we spent our lockdown days at the park.

Megan Cloutier:

Leon loves to explore and he often sits at the door just until I take him out. It's like he knew I grew up with a dog, and so he was trying to be as doglike as he could be, but I'm so grateful for Leon's company and affection. But it also reflects about how truly devastating it is that how few graduate students can afford pets or kids, or rent for that matter.

Megan Cloutier:

I just think about all the sacrifices students make to go to school and how these long nights of reading and writing have been made so much easier with my cat by my side. I really hope something changes for the funding of graduate students, so nobody will ever have to think whether they can have a noble companion alongside their acc.

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Megan Cloutier:

Academic schooling journey, Leon has made mine instantly better, and I cannot thank Dr. Melanie Thomas enough for telling me to adopt a cat.

Ethel Tungohan:

What are your thoughts about how our pets bear witness to all of the different moments in our lives?

Nisha Nath:

Well, I, you know, I, I can speak, um, to, you know, our experience with Titus, who again was our cat who was with us for 18 and a half years. And who really did you know see everything that happened through post-secondary education, grad school. We often forget that so many huge life transitions are happening, right?

Nisha Nath:

Like as with Melanie, a big breakup, you know, many people lose parents or loved ones, you know, they, they have children. They, they experience all sorts of shifts in their lives and then they also experience profound dislocation, right? We also have careers that there is this kind of unfathomable expectation that once you get a job, you should move away from everybody you love and the communities that you've built.

Nisha Nath:

So I think there is something really significant, especially within the context of academia, where that sustained relationship becomes such an anchor for all of us. I, I think that, you know, we get that from other things too, but there is something so distinctive about having that continuity of love and care and reciprocity that I think means a lot and gets so many of us through. Helps us survive. Quite frankly.

Ethel Tungohan:

Well, what's interesting, Auntie Nisha is that, you know, we also had another voice memo this time from Megan Cloutier who is a PhD student at the University of Calgary who talks about the unconditional love that her beautiful cat gives her. But we also do need to think about who can afford to have cats and how for some graduate students, um, even if they want to have pets, it's just simply not in the cards because of financial reasons. Cats are, quite frankly, expensive. Pets are expensive. Um, and I just kind of wanted to give space to affirm that, I mean, you know, it's hard enough as it is to subsist on a graduate student stipend, but let's be clear, like vet bills are expensive. Cat food can be expensive. And I just wanted to give space for all of us to, to talk about some of the financial aspects of, of pet ownership and affirm what Megan seeing here as well.

Sule Tomkinson:

Megan is absolutely right. I mean, I am a tenured associate professor. I do not have children. My husband also works full time, so financially we are fine, but I am on sabbatical this year, and I am going to spend a term in Vancouver, UBC, right? Compared to Quebec I mean, the, the life is much more expensive. The cost of living is much more expensive.

Sule Tomkinson:

So when I was looking for accommodation, I thought I would go with my husband and with my dog, but any apartment that I could find, find that accepted dogs were double the price I would've paid if I were to just go with another human. So I cannot even imagine what it means for a graduate students to take care of a pet.

Sule Tomkinson:

I mean, here I am, a tenured associate professor, and in the end, I decided to go by myself and not take my dog and my husband with me. So it was mainly a cost issue.

Ethel Tungohan:

That's interesting 'cause I know that even here in Toronto, it's so hard to find housing, period. And a lot of the available apartments actually prohibit pets, right? Like, you know, you can't rent, you know, an apartment if you have a cat or a dog or any pet.

Ethel Tungohan:

Auntie Nisha, I mean, earlier you said that you had Titus when you were a graduate student.

Ethel Tungohan:

I mean, were there costs that you had to cater to as well, uh, that were different when you were a grad student compared to now as someone who is a professor?

Nisha Nath:

Totally, and, and let me say that there was deception too. So we lived in places where we weren't allowed to have pets, right? And so I remember so, so vividly. We were in this apartment, um, not too far from the house. You were at Ethel, um, in Edmonton and not allowed to have pets, and something was broken. In the apartment and the, the guy had to come in

Nisha Nath:

And we had this cat. Um, and we might have had two cats at that point. It might have been Titus and our older cat Baby. And so I remember I was like, Quinn, we've gotta hide the cats. And so we, we put the cats into the bedroom, we found a way to move this big armoire in front of the bedroom door so that we could like block out ideal, like ridiculous. Like obviously they knew, but so that we could somehow block out the noise of like scratching or meowing, but we went to incredible lengths, right? Because it, it, there simply were no places. It was hard enough to get, uh, an apartment at that time. As a grad student who immediately invoked so much distrust, um, from, uh, landlords.

Nisha Nath:

So yeah, that certainly was a part of our, our journey. But it also, you know, I flew my cats with me when I went to Ottawa back and forth. That was a, you know, that was a cost and that was a stress. Cats required treatment. Our cat Baby needed so much dental care. He had cancer. And, you know, you, you do what you can and you take what little money can, and you try to allocate it there. So, you know, I, I, I love that Megan is also, reminding us that it's not just all like roses and sunshine, right there, there are these real accountabilities that are not accessible to all of us. Um, that and, and stresses, right, that accompany loving someone so intensely.

Ethel Tungohan:

It makes me really sad that not everyone can kind of have a pet because of these, you know, rules surrounding housing and also the financial barriers, which I think in this podcast we do have to openly acknowledge.

Nisha Nath:

I will say, I mean, as we are fosters and I, I don't know how it works in other cities, but part of what is helpful, frankly, about being a foster is that you don't pay those costs, right? So you, you know, the animal comes into your home and you do what you can to, to, you know, ready them for a forever home.

Nisha Nath:

But those costs are covered and I think that was, you know, one of the, one of the appeals too, after having two very, very sick animals that incurred costs and wanting to, to have that in, in our lives, we knew that by fostering we could also kind of still build those relationships with the kids having, you know, these these companions in the home, but those costs were covered. So I don't know if I should pitch that as an option for graduate students, but it is something to think about.

n

Megan:

Hey, it's Megan and Max. Uh, Max is my new puppy. I'm very new to the academic pet game as I just got this puppy a few weeks ago. Um, I have to admit, it is a very welcomed development. Uh, having just started my sabbatical and having been at home for the last couple of years, I have found the last. A little bit, a little bit more isolating and more lonely than usual.

Megan:

Um, so I have welcomed having Max at my feet while I write or biting my feet, which is more like it, um, and also getting me outside and outta this office way more than I probably would if I was on my own. So, turns out having a dog is pretty dope.

asts

Ethel Tungohan:

Auntie Nisha, Auntie Sule, where are your pets now? Are your pets with you when you write? Is it cool to have your pets being with you when you're kind of writing and trying to get that chapter out, or whatever?

Nisha Nath:

So mine are upstairs, but often there there's a little, well, obviously you can't see it's podcast, um, but there's a little couch behind me and often there, there is somebody there. I remember I had to like, record a little clip for a, a workshop and I couldn't attend it in person, and I recorded my clip.

Nisha Nath:

But like Cindy Lou was in the back just languishing on the couch, and she was just like slinking in different positions on the couch. I wanted so badly to rerecord this clip just for my own performance. Um, but I didn't because she was there and she was a star and it was so beautiful because she was just present in it and, and yeah, So they, they are often, often with me, um, but currently upstairs sleeping.

Sule Tomkinson:

Monsieur is, I think downstairs in the guest room, guest bedroom. That's where he's sleeping right now. So he's, I would say he is rarely in my office. I have a sofa bed here, so when I work he will, I guess, uh, grant his presence a few minutes every morning and, and then leave, I guess. But I think one thing he taught me, which I did not have the opportunity to talk about, is I have serious concentration issues in life in general. Uh, until a few years ago, I thought, Oh, I'm a multitasker. That's why. But it's like, no, I have, I have issues concentrating. It's not that I'm a multitasker.

Sule Tomkinson:

But one thing is actually when I write now, I write, I don't do other things. And that is one thing which I learned from Monsieur because before I would take him out for a walk, I would take out my phone, maybe read something, he's like, No, you have a ball to throw at me so we can play together. Right? So being fully present again without trying to do other things.

Ethel Tungohan:

That's such a good point. I think Cornelius, I mean, one thing, and I'll just kind of end on this note. I was in a really super toxic meeting and I was in my home office and Cornelius gets, or he got, he got, I felt like we were connected. He was my, he was my, he was my pet, right? So he could sense when I was getting kind of aggravated and antsy and literally Auntie Nisha, Auntie Sule, you know what he did?

Ethel Tungohan:

He walked across the table. Showed his ass to the camera and started meowing. And I was like, you know, and it injected kind of a dose of like humor. And I was like, you know, I think that's a cue that this meeting has gone for 30 minutes over. Thank you so much. You know what I mean? So, and people kind of laughed and it diffused the tension , but like literally he just kind of like, it was his ass crack.

Ethel Tungohan:

Like it was just this, his like butt, like he just kind of, he like raised his tail and I'm like, Oh my God. And then, I mean at first I was horrified because I was like, how professional? But you know, It's unprofessional to make the meeting last half an hour past the allocated hour. Right. Come on. So, yeah, love our pets.

Ethel Tungohan:

Love the fact that they remind us of other things in life that are more important than this academic world we live in. Thank you so much Auntie Nisha, Auntie Sule. This was a very healing, very fun and very, very comforting conversation to have. Really appreciate it

Nisha Nath:

Thank you, Ethel, for turning your love letter to Cornelius into a love letter for all of us to write together.

Sule Tomkinson:

Thank you so much for giving us the space as well to remember him, to cherish him.

Ethel Tungohan:

Thank you.

Ethel Tungohan:

Before we go, I wanna say thank you to all of you who sent invoice memos on this episode. You heard from Chad Cowie, Christine Alexander, Megan Clothier, Rita De Moon, Megan goer, Justin Laso, Stephanie Silverman, and Melanie Thomas. Hearing their stories was really heartwarming, and when I was listening to these stories, I remembered Cornelius, and I really, really appreciate the time all of you took to send in these voice memo.

Ethel Tungohan:

And to close, I want to read out a tribute of my own to Cornelius that I wrote just after he left. On March 5th, 2015 in Edmonton on a freezing winter night, I was walking home somewhat sad because it was my late grandmother's birthday. I stopped reminiscing when I heard a loud meow . I turned around and there was a scrappy black cat staring right at me.

Ethel Tungohan:

I bent down to pet him. And then he followed me home walking directly into my shared house. This was the start of me and Cornelius's love story. I've never had a cat and had never contemplated adopting one, but it made sense in that moment to adopt him. In the years since Cornelius has been my sidekick, he was there through all my life milestones in my 30.

Ethel Tungohan:

He was there. Never straying far from my side and keeping vigil When I was in labor with my two daughters, Freddy and Georgie, he didn't sleep, but my husband did. . When Freddy and Georgie were born, he made sure to stay close by. When I'm writing, working, or just hanging out, he would be there. When he feels like I'm not paying attention to him, he would conveniently plop on top of my key.

Ethel Tungohan:

He was an asshole in the best way, demanding that he be the center of attention. When younger, he would swipe people passing by his perch on his blue armchair seeking cuddles. He also cared deeply for us. I never understood why people say that dogs give love, but cats don't. So over Christmas break in 2016 when we were visiting my parents in bc, my mom was feeling quite sick In the middle of the night, Cornelius scratched on all of our doors and me out loudly for hours until someone woke up to help my.

Ethel Tungohan:

Cornelius was also a fighter. He lasted beyond the eight week diagnosis The vet gave him after they discovered that he had renal lymphoma, staying with us, staying with me for another week. He also left on his own terms, breathing his last breath in my arms half an hour before the vet was scheduled to come to Lee, him to rest.

Ethel Tungohan:

It is an absolute honor that Cornelius chose me to be his. It's the end of her love story and I will miss him tremendously.

Ethel Tungohan:

And that’s Academic Aunties.

Ethel Tungohan:

If you want to get in touch, contact us on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie or email us at podcast@academicaunties.com.

Ethel Tungohan:

If you like what you’re hearing, visit academicaunties.com/support to find out how to support this podcast. This includes becoming a Patreon supporter, which goes right into the production of this podcast.

Ethel Tungohan:

This month, we’d like to give a big shout out to our latest patron, Veronica! Thank you so so much!

Ethel Tungohan:

Today’s episode of Academic Aunties was hosted by me, Dr. Ethel Tungohan, and produced by myself, Wayne Chu and Dr. Nisha Nath.

Ethel Tungohan:

Tune in next time when we talk to more Academic Aunties!

Ethel Tungohan:

Until then, take care, be kind to yourself, and don’t be an asshole.