This past August, my cat Ted turned 17. He is – and has been for some years now – an Old Man Cat, although I prefer to think of him as a Distinguished Feline Gentleman.
The past year and a half have been his roughest. He’s endured dental surgery, two hospitalizations, multiple ultrasounds, countless trips to the vet, too many blood draws, and a months-long bladder disorder, resulting in anemia, weight loss and a very poor appetite. Early this year after having exhausted several rounds of painkillers and antibiotics, I began to resign myself to his passing. I did not think he would last the calendar year.
After all, Ted has a triple threat of a heart murmur, chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. His once robust 13 plus pound body is skinny and frail. Strength and athleticism have been replaced by ginger and sometimes stiff movements due to arthritis. He no longer jumps up onto anything. His explorations of the urban wilds of our yard are a thing of the past. He has become even grumpier and even more vocal, meowing loudly, persistently and obnoxiously when he wants something.
And yet. . .
His black coat remains plush and velvety. He keeps himself fastidiously clean and uses the litter box like a champ. He still enjoys getting baked on catnip. He plays briefly but intently with feathers, ribbons and his laser mouse. He is an expert at knowing exactly when and where the sun is shining into our home or our small deck, and basking there until he’s hot to the touch. His appetite is excellent. I even caught him a few times in recent weeks with paw raised, snarling a threat to Vinnie, my dog. And this year, Ted, never one to show or tolerate much physical affection, has become quite cuddly.
I keep my end of our unspoken deal – I feed him generously, make sure he gets regular vet check ups, stay on top of his daily medications, supplements, and Chinese herbs, play with him and keep his litter box clean. I have also made concessions due to his Distinguished Gentleman status.
Some are small, like a heated cat bed. (Why didn’t I think to get him that ages ago?!)
Other concessions are a bigger deal. Stress-laden trips to the vet are no more. Instead, he sees a wonderful holistic mobile vet, Dr. Araba Oglesby of Blue Sparrow Holistic, in the quiet comfort of our living room. Dr. Oglesby and her vet techs are experts at wrangling Ted gently and doing procedures like blood draws as quickly as possible. I credit Dr. Oglesby with the dramatic upswing in Ted’s health and with conquering his bladder disorder. Her services are pricier than vet clinics’ but the excellent range and quality of care is well worth it. And so is not chasing, corralling and stuffing my geriatric cat into a carrier. As he has grown older, Ted has come to fear trips to the vet more and more, and I hate putting him through the ordeal.
Over a year ago, I moved his food from the garage to the kitchen so he wouldn’t have to climb stairs every time he wants to eat. This may sound like a small thing, but it requires lots of patience and attention on my part. My dog Vinnie makes it his mission in life to eat Ted’s food whenever possible. The layout of my place doesn’t allow for a gated area for Ted’s exclusive use. And Ted is a grazer. This means I have to remember to take up the cat food to prevent Vinnie from getting it, and put it down when Ted is hungry. Let’s just say that Vinnie has scored lots of cat food in the process.
There’s more. The cost of Ted’s continuing vet care, medications, supplements, prescription wet food, and litter (which needs to be changed far more frequently than even just two years ago) — it all adds up. If I want to travel, I need to factor in the cost of hiring an experienced cat sitter to stay in my home with Ted.
No doubt about it, caring for a Distinguished Feline Gentleman – or any senior animal – can be expensive and a lot of work.
There’s also no doubt in my mind that all this is what I signed up for when I adopted kitten Ted, that he is worth it, and that every moment with him is a gift, and now at his age, a bonus.
He has wonderful quality of life. He is relaxed and happy. He enjoys his sun basking, a cuddle with me, his laser mouse and his catnip toys. Age has changed life for him, and life is still good.
Each day I wake to little Ted meowing at the top of his lungs, grumbling about why it is taking me so long to feed him breakfast. On mornings after too little sleep, the racket can be annoying to say the least. But I think, Another day, and he is well.
Each night I lift him onto the couch with me when he asks. I hold him close, scratching behind his ears or stroking under his chin, just the way he likes it. Usually he nuzzles into my neck, purring loudly. I hear his heart beating, feel the vibration of his purr. I feel blessed, grateful for the moment, full of love. And I think, Ah, my good friend. So much we have been through together. So much joy you have brought me. Let me love you up again, cherish you while I still can.