This post was originally published as a Facebook note April 22, 2019.
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sami the Cat, otherwise known as Fort McMurray Ugly Cat (#ftmcuglycat). Sami died peacefully after a short battle with cancer. He is survived by his loving family: Peter, Gretchen, Patrick, and Dakota the Sheepadoodle, and he will also be missed by former roommate Jay Telegdi.
Sami’s early life was marred by near tragedies. Born in eastern Europe, Sami’s original family bred and showed purebred Persians. Sadly, Sami’s trademark facial growth limited his stage career. His family took to the river with a burlap sack. At the banks, a fortuitous exchange occurred. “Are you about to drown that kitten?,” a passerby asked. Sami found his next home, and his kitten days passed peacefully in the Transylvanian mountains, which we imagine was enveloped in Old World mist.
Immigration to the New World
In search of a better life, Sami’s first adopted family crossed the ocean to Toronto, Canada. They met with a shock in their new home. Their Scarborough rental disallowed cats, and Sami had to find refuge in this strange land. Not speaking the language, he nonetheless persevered, finding his next home with the young family of a graduate student in political science. Times were hard: food was meagre, but Sami caught twelve mice in his first week, and earned his keep.
Journey to Western Canada
Like many eastern Europeans before him, Sami was lured by the prospect of open fields and big skies in the western expanse. By vehicle, his second family moved slowly across the plains, finally stopping in Calgary, Alberta. Soon after his arrival, the Bow River swelled and escaped its banks, endangering the intrepid Sami. Drawing on his vast reservoir of survival skills, honed in the old country, Sami stayed dry and led his family to higher ground. Sadly, members of his family soon discovered their allergy to his long, luxurious show fur, and Sami yet again had to find a new home.
Move to Fort McMurray
Sami’s next move—which he thought would surely be his last—was north, to Fort McMurray. He may not have found his permanent home (which was a rundown, old duplex in Abasand), but he found his forever people: Peter and Jay. Peter, Jay, and Sami became roommates and fast friends, battling political foes and fighting for a better world. It was during this time that Sami first began to dabble in social media, starting a Twitter account and developing his own hashtag #ftmcuglycat.
Surviving the Flames
It was a warm early spring day, like most others, when Sami’s world was turned upside down, and he was unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight. As his roommates watched a wildfire cross the Horse River and began feverishly packing their belongings, two ice-cream sandwiches, and Jay’s extensive collection of expensive cologne (without any cat food or treats), Sami rushed into his cat carrier (the same one that brought him first from Europe and then to the west) and once again hoped for the best. From there they outran the fire from Abasand to Waterways, Waterways to Draper, when he, Jay, and Peter were evacuated by helicopter to the airport and then to Edmonton. The event was traumatizing, but like many other Fort McMurrayites, he persevered, depending on the kindness of strangers, most notably Tammy who made sure he had litter, a vast supply of wet food, and a safe place to stay. Though still shaken, Sami knew the importance of his survival story, and appeared on CNN, and German TV. This plucky Transylvanian immigrant captured the hearts of many across the world, and his story was featured in the CBC show “Still Standing.”
Using his newfound platform, Sami decided to raise money for those in need. Knowing what it is like to be a refugee, Sami felt a deep empathy for Syrians who were fleeing their homeland. Sami prompted his people, Jay and Peter, to put his image on a T-shirt, along with the words “Be Kind.” The initiative raised approximately $3,000 for refugees and helped to heighten awareness of world events.
After the fire, Sami, like his roommates, was left homeless. The fire had razed their duplex to the ground. Not a cat tree or toy was left behind in the rubble. They were all taken in by a loving Fort McMurray family on the north side of the river, where he continued to find his sunspots, although making do in a basement suite that was a little tight for three.
Soon, Peter met the love of his life, Gretchen, who was residing in the little town of Cochrane in the foothills, 700 km to the south. Once more, Sami was on the move. This, truly, would be the last one. Sami came to live with his special little friend, Patrick, and earned the nickname “Thunder Paws” for his joyous romping down the upstairs hallways and playing hide and seek, or as he and Patrick called it, “capture the wild animal.” Sunspots were abundant at the end of Sami’s life. For one beautiful year, Sami lived with his family, being visited by Jay and meeting many new friends. His family adopted a younger sister, Dakota the Sheepadoodle, who at first annoyed Sami by her puppy boisterousness, but he got used to it, and they joined together to serve as Best Cat and Dog of Honour at their owners’ nuptials.
Sami will forever be remembered as a caring companion, always helping his people to get their work done by sitting on their desks or nearby. His dying wish is that we always look for the sunspot in any situation, and to be always Be Kind. In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Red Cross or your local SPCA would be appreciated. Sami also leaves behind a large collection of XL t-shirts, and if you would like one, please let Jay or Peter know. To see photos of Sami please visit this gallery or search for the hashtag #ftmcuglycat in Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Sami enjoying a sunspot at his last home in Cochrane, Alberta. March 2018.