Oh, goodness. It has been a spell.
The last time I opined about the wonders of wonderfully ancient cats was probably in 2016. Maybe a little later, when I wrote a goodbye love-letter to beautiful Bianca. The point is, it has been a spell. And as we often find with spells, it has been…complicated.
Not to worry, though. Not all changes are bad; not all paths lead to ruin. But they can lead to discomfort and, unfortunately, outright sadness.
Fred became mine (and I became his) after I lost my soul cat, Sirius. I stayed within my self-imposed tradition of adopting a cat older than 10, with extra interest in cats with existing or potential special needs. Fred fit those requirements perfectly, with all 21 pounds of his beautiful bodaciousness. He was funny and sweet, a beach ball in black with a little white bow tie. He joined Forever Foster Patches, my wonderfully ancient ward, five-ish pounds of total senior splendor. They got along beautifully – I couldn’t ask for more!
In December of 2018, a series of Deep Personal Life Changes were set into motion. Patches and Fred came to stay with me at my parents’ house (insert my eternal gratefulness here) and integrated themselves well. My mother delighted in finding Patches, raggedy and ancient, sitting on the bathroom sink with the expectation that someone would eventually show up and turn on the taps.
The cat is always correct.
Unfortunately, the cat cannot stop the onward creep of time.
In January of 2019, Patches began to decline rapidly. We were a few short months away from her 23rd birthday, but it was not to be. On a cold day in mid-January, we who loved her gathered at Tabby’s Place to say goodbye. It was an overwhelming thing, to be so surrounded by such care and compassion; every staffer came to say their goodbye. They thanked me for caring for her for almost four years, but all gratitude rightfully belongs to Patches, who gave me more than I could ever have given her in return.
Two weeks later, Death came for Fred, too.
Shortly after Patches went to the Rainbow Bridge, I noticed that Fred seemed particularly rotund. More so than usual. It bothered me, this abrupt roundness; a few tests with my veterinarian brought devastating news: Fred had an aggressive stomach cancer.
He went to his final rest just two weeks after Patches.
I will admit, I was a bit angry at The Universe for taking both of my companions from me in such short order. And suddenly, I was at a very large crossroad in life; as one tends to do at these intersections, I took a very sharp turn. I moved to Japan.
For seven months, I worked and lived in Tokyo, with exactly zero cats in my care, and tried to learn and do as many good and useful and interesting things as I could. Of course, life tends to reroute our well-made plans, and COVID-19 derailed things about as quickly as I got them on track. After a stellar start to my job teaching English, Deep Personal Life Changes struck again, and I returned to the United States in May.
Once again, my parents graciously let me stay with them while I sorted things out. (Is there enough gratitude in the world for such a safety net?) And I did sort things out; by the beginning of July, I had a job, a vehicle, and a cute little apartment.
But no cat.
I told myself (and anyone who would listen) that I planned to wait a month or two before I started thinking about adopting a companion. “Get settled in,” I said, foolishly. “I need to establish some routines before I introduce a cat,” I said, stupidly.
“Hey, nincompoop,” said The Universe, “Your cat is already waiting for you.”
And so she was.
Now, I told you that so I can tell you this.
I started with the search filter and limited my results to cats ten and older in honor of Patches. I filtered the coat colors to black in honor of Sirius and Fred. I focused on cats with special needs in honor of Buffy. All choices are made to honor the cats who I was lucky enough to love.
The pandemic, as pandemics do, has caused some disruption to the usual way things are handled. Tabby’s Place, for one example, switched to virtual appointments for potential adoptions. I was interested in Denni based on her profile, but meeting her via a video call with sublime staffer Jess had me totally enamored. Denni is about 13 or 14; she’s missing a few teeth these days, and her thyroid is over-active. The biggest thing, however, is that high blood pressure robbed her of her eyesight.
Not that I cared.
In very short order, I was on my way to Tabby’s Place, my little cat carrier beside me. And in even shorter order, Denni was my little cat, in my little cat carrier. She meowed once, a small and slightly gravelly sound with an upward inflection at the end that made it sound like she was asking a question.
“Where are we going?” Asked the little lilting voice.
“Home,” I told her, and as soon as I unzipped the carrier enough to place my hand inside, she settled down and purred. We drove the entire hour home like this.
Owning a blind cat is similar enough to owning any other cat that the differences are little more than asterisks. Some of these things came via intuition. Some we learned together.
- It is a good idea to have multiple litter boxes to make them easier to find.
- It is a good idea to have multiple sets of food and water dishes to make them easier to find.
- Water fountains are particularly useful because the trickling sound makes them easier to find.
- Anything is a bed when you can’t see. (Or when you can see. We don’t judge.)
- Tapping on the floor is a good auditory cue to tell her where I want her to go, or where the treats are. (Especially where the treats are.)
One of my proudest moments (so far) with Denni was teaching her to use the cat stairs to get on and off of my bed. I sprinkled some catnip on each step to help her find them a little more easily. It took four days before she had them mastered.
First I held her and touched her feet to each step, one time going up and one time going down. Then I held my palms flat against her rear and sides to urge her to take each step, one time going up and one time going down. With treats as the reward, I tapped on each step to help her find her footing, a couple of times going up and a couple of times going down. Finally, I tapped at the top step and bottom step, a couple of times going up and a couple of times going down.
Done. Mastered. Stellar staffer Lisa told me Denni was “cautiously bold” — there will never be a more accurate description for her. Denni wasn’t always blind; this was a recent change, one that took place after at least three years in shelters. She had experienced plenty of her own version of Deep Personal Life Changes. Denni does not fear these changes. Watching her navigate the steps downward by reaching out to feel for safe surfaces to step to puts me in awe.
Denni is a registered therapy animal. There are few sentences in the English language that have been proven as true as that.
One thing I was told about Denni is that she has a strong need for human companionship, which is rather funny, because I have a strong need for feline companionship. In the morning, Denni will begin our daily routine by purring in my face about 15 minutes before my alarm goes off. She offers generous headbutts and gives me her perfect little old lady “Meow?” when I greet her.
I work from home most days, and Denni will often sit beside my chair, or on the sofa behind me. If it has been any length of time since she last located me by sound, hearing me move or speak will always trigger that same response – “Meow?”
Every so often, she’s a kitten again, and will chase and bat around a noisy string or toy. (I’ve found that the tough plastic of my measuring tape works well on the kitchen floor.)
At mealtimes, Denni is by far the most pitiful beggar I have ever met. No lunch is safe from her curiosity. No dinner can be kept away from her all-knowing nose.
In the evening, as I wind down toward my eventual bedtime, Denni will lay on my chest as we stream The Office; she is unbothered by any giggling I may or may not do in response to the antics in Scranton.
For bedtime, I give Denni a fresh bowl of her favorite wet mush; she will eat some then and save the rest for undisclosed times overnight. Denni climbs her stairs to get into bed with me, sometimes settling in the space behind my bent knees, sometimes forming a neat little loaf beside my pillow.
On days I must go to the office for the day, Denni spends the time at my parents’ house. Upon finding out her adoration for attention, my mother volunteered to “babysit her grandcat” – Denni handles the change in scenery beautifully.
Throughout the day, I’ll stop and ask, “Whatcha doin’, Denni?” Every time, she rewards me with a meow in response, a poignant response that sounds a bit like may-oh. I love it.
I don’t know how much time Denni and I will have together. One could say the odds are stacked unfavorably; she is old. She has health problems. I administer medications to her twice per day. I closely monitor her eating and litter box habits. I know the great majority of her lifespan is already behind her.
I don’t care.
What Denni and I have together is the here and now, and it is beautiful. I will relish every silly little may-oh, the beautiful glinting opals of her blind eyes, the tremendous gentleness with which she gives me headbutts. Denni is infinitely special, and because of all the cats that I have loved and lost, I can now love her.
Deep Personal Life Changes can bring pain. Shatter dreams. End things we did not want to finish. They can also bring love and joy and humor and wonder and gratitude and hope, all the things I feel when I look into the infinite universes in Denni’s eyes. For that reason, I cannot fear change; I will continue to embrace it.