This is a love letter.
Most who know me know that I love cats. Those who know me well know that I love old cats.
This is a love letter to the old cats.
Pet MD suggests that a cat is a senior when they reach the age of seven to 10 years old. By calculation, this is the human equivalent of approximately 45 to 55 years old. By today’s standards, this isn’t actually that old – a mature, middle age human being still has many years – decades, even – ahead of them.
My interest is in the cats that fall beyond this range. I love the geriatric cats, the ones who start to fall off the scale of cat-to-human-years. I’ll start with Sirius; he came into my life when he was about 12 years old – 65 years in a human equivalent. Today, nearing 17 years and the human equivalent of nearly 80, he remains my constant companion. The years have not sapped his sweetness; he remains as perfect as ever, unruffled by the changes time has brought.
And there have been some changes.
My sweet old man spends more time napping these days, curled up like a croissant on a blanket or pillow. I’m less inclined to make the bed or fold up the fleece throw on the couch – seeing that little soot sprite of a cat in dreamy bliss is reason enough to allow that bit of untidiness.
For several months now, Sirius has had episodes of a vertigo-like dizziness, marked visibly by a wiggle in his eyes called nystagmus. Feline vestibular disease, as it is known to do, hit him without warning. Thankfully, we have the symptoms largely controlled and Sirius continues to be his happy, hungry* self. He will get a bit confused and meow loudly for someone to come and give him some attention; a few reassuring pets, and all is well again.
Although there is a little wobble in his gait, Sirius will still hunt for the elusive red dot; he still unleashes a merciless beating upon the little mouse toy that squeaks when tapped – even though he can’t hear it. He still knows what time I set my alarm clock for and is sure to wake me up 20 minutes early, smushing his front paw into my face until I get out of bed and give him a fresh bowl of his favorite gushy wet food.
Old age, you have no power here. Sirius marches on, all sweetness, and food-obsessed as he always has been. Despite the loss of his hearing, the slow decline in his vision, the increasing creeping of arthritis, he marches on.
Marching alongside Sirius, curled up on the heated pad atop her kitty tree, is ancient, elderly Patches. At 20 1/2 years old, she’s the 85 year old lady still roaring around town in a Mustang. Patches is the oldest current Tabby’s Place cat; I am lucky enough to be her servant have her live with me for whatever years she stays on this Earth.
So far, it looks like it could be several years.
From the age that I bought her home – 18 – to now, halfway to the age at which humans in the United States can legally drink – Patches remains largely unchanged. She keeps beauty secrets that only she knows, flaunting her gorgeousness with those huge gemstone eyes and soft fur coat.
Like a retired Hollywood star, Patches lounges in luxury every day. The kitchen boasts a flowing fountain of water for her to drink from; there are never fewer than three kibble options for her to browse. Of all of the kitty hammocks, hidey-holes, and fluffed beds, her favorite place remains the heated pad at the top of the tree. She snoozes, back legs outstretched, pink-and-black toes a tease for a touch.
Old age, pack your bags.
When I visit Tabby’s Place, I will always stop in to see the kittens. Their little faces hold a promise to a future family of love, shenanigans, play, companionship; until they go to their forever homes – almost all ultimately do – I help socialize them to ensure their readiness.
Then I go hang with my favorite crowd.
I say hello to Mango, who sings me the song of his people. I give some head skritches to Cypress, who decided over the last year or so that humans are kinda okay. I give treats to Tinkerbell, who recently found a forever family. I turn the faucet on for Felix, who gives me a gracious, wet headbutt of gratitude in return.
Old cats have developed their personalities and their quirks. Sometimes they are crusty or wobbly or just plain weird, and I love them for all of it. They don’t despair over old age like humans often do, whether it’s the fine lines around the eyes, the streaks of silver hair sprouting up like weeds, or the sag of body parts that were once, er, unsaggy. Cats don’t care about this stuff.
Old cats want what younger cats want… just more of it. A warm lap, for one. The magic of a sunbeam. Crinkly paper to play in. A long, gentle pet. A seat at your table. A handful of treats. A book to lay on while you try to read it. (Seriously, got any books to read?) Your love, your love, your love.
They deserve it.
*He is not starving. He does not have worms. He just loves the first few bites of a fresh can of wet food!