If you’ve been paying attention over the years, you’ll know that Mr. Muse and I have two cats remaining as house pets (well, we have tropical fish in the house, too). Our four-legged “kids” are 17 and 18 years (78 and 80 years in “cat” years) of age respectively, and to be honest, I was sure that our cat Alex would have passed away two winters ago.
But, he’s still here. Rue, our little Diva cat (and the younger of the two), is also here. Both of them will turn another year older in May, and I found myself reflecting upon the years we’ve had together, especially when it seems that shelters get flooded with elderly pets.
Growing up, I was often around “elderly” animals. My first pony was an early- to mid-20’s Shetland (Shetland Islands Shetland, not American Shetland) named Tommy, who came from my Uncle Tom’s farm. Tommy was a “shyster,” however, he was also a great babysitter. He also let me try out circus trick riding moves without concern – I recall being yelled at for trying to ride him backward, but he didn’t seem to mind.
My first horse was a late-teens model Arabian who we were told reared up all the time, but I could ride her with a halter and piece of baling twine. I will say, however, that her withers was so pointy that riding bareback was NOT recommended! She was a great horse that my sister and I rode in speed events* until she passed away from what we believe was a massive heart attack at about age 31. *There are stories…
We had a Smooth-Haired Fox Terrier/Rat Terrier mix who lived to be 17 years old. In his later years, he’d had a few strokes, and developed a penchant for seeking out my sister’s ballet tutu and wearing it. But, he was a good boy who alerted my brother to a hole in a rabbit cage by bringing him, very gently, all the baby bunnies who were falling out through the hole.
I would bore you all with the stories of elderly animals, pets or livestock-that-became-pets, which have accumulated through my nearly 41 years. To me, when you get a pet, unless there are life changes that cause trouble, you commit to that pet for life. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to make the tough decision to re-home a pet very often. Alex decided that harassing and attacking our budgies after years of having them was a good thing, and as much as I loved the cheerful little birds, we had to find them a cat-free home. I also had guinea pigs for a few years, but choosing to work full-time meant that they weren’t getting the attention that they needed, and they were found a new home as well. It was heartbreaking, and I hope that I never have to go through that again.
That said, our two cats have been fairly easy-care pets, and we joke around now that they have “earned their retirement.” When our last dog passed away, we decided that we were not going to get another dog until our cats had passed. It’s been about four years now, and while I miss having a dog, the cats don’t need to have the chaos of a new puppy.
Especially since a few years ago we had learned that Alex had developed Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) (fairly typical for a cat of his age). We changed his food to a prescription diet, eventually moved on to adding subcutaneous fluids every three days at home (I get to be the fluids administrator). And then last year, Rue also started towards CKD territory.
When you look at or bring home, that brand new puppy or kitten, you seldom think about what life will be like in that pet’s Golden Years. You’re laser-focused on this tiny bundle of energy and enthusiasm which is getting into everything and that you need to teach the house rules for manners. Admittedly, I have always found myself thinking of how much I enjoy the toddler stage of a new creature and forgetting that down the road, there will be medical issues or decision-making that will break your heart.
Alex started to lose a lot of weight. Honestly, I thought that he’d have passed away two winters ago, but he’s still here. He went from being a 14-pound cat to weighing less than six at his last weigh-in and blood work appointment (if you’re wondering, every three months he gets a blood draw, a urinalysis, and a weight-check). He had become wobbly and fragile, and I was feeling a bit defeated. We were doing all that we could, but he was still losing weight.
So, our veterinarian and I had a chat. What was the better choice? Continue exclusively feeding the prescription diet, which he ate but wasn’t enthusiastic about and watch him continue to lose weight, or feed him high-calorie food that was hard on his kidneys, but helped him gain weight? Since the weight-loss was causing his muscles to atrophy, which then caused his wobbliness, we made a choice to feed the high-calorie-bad-for-his-kidneys food.
Now, two months away from him turning 19 years of age, he’s starting to become more like he was as a middle-aged cat. He’s gained weight. He’s more active, relatively… he still sleeps a lot, which is normal for an elderly cat. He’s not wobbly and falling over nearly as much as he had been.
And Rue is getting a touch chunky – but she’s still her spunky self!
But, as I write, and I have Alex quietly snoring behind me on the back of the couch, I’m reminded about how this cute little bundle we christened “Alexander the Great” peered out from behind the recycling bin on my parent’s porch with his sister, Persia. Samantha, their mother and one of my favorite barn cats, brought them to the house for inspection. Persia didn’t survive kittenhood, and Alex went on to a new home. Through a crazy course of events, he settled back with the family – this time with my then-boyfriend Mr. Muse. Did we have any idea that nearly 20 years later, Alex would still be a part of our family? Not at all.
Through all of the moves, through all vet visits, nearly 20 years of history has built up. I know that one day we’ll find that he’s passed in the night, or we’ll need to make the decision to let him go peacefully, but I wouldn’t give any of it up for the world. That is the cost of companionship.
What pet or livestock-who-became-a-pet do you have the fondest memories of?
The Amusing Muse is a writer, blogger, and gardener who has had a steady supply of gardening catalogs arriving at her house since the first month of the year. She has, however, ordered all of her garden seeds.
NIce story Ms. Muse – we have a new pup in the household – a Brittany. I lost my last Britt almost 4 years ago and it took me that long to get my mind around the thought of another dog. Mora was a rescue – we think she was about 17 when we lost her – couldn’t walk very well but still wagged her tail when I walked in the room. Some would say that we kept her too long – but as long as that tail was going – I couldn’t make that faitful trip to the Vet.
Congratulations on your new puppy!
I worked some years for a vet clinic and was familiar with what the “too long” situations could be. They are different for everyone, but working at the clinic, I knew where my line was that I couldn’t cross: happiness. No matter the animal, they have to have a zest for life – once that is gone, it’s time. I had to put a horse down when they were 12 years old because they had pain issues. The pain was so bad that even the veterinarian advised that medication would require being given at the highest dose possible and it still wouldn’t knock out the pain. He was a young horse, but he was miserable. Nothing I could do would change that.
At the clinic I saw a client continue to bring in her 17+ yr old dog that was riddled with cancer and was rotting away (I wish I were kidding). She refused to euthanize the poor dog who could barely shuffle its feet, because “she still eats a little bit”. We would all just shake our heads in sadness (and spray a LOT of air freshener). That’s how I knew I had to make a personal rule about knowing when it was time to say goodbye.
Alex is still happy when he’s awake. He still plays with toys and shows interest in the laser pointer. He’s MORE than enthusiastic about food, takes fluids administration like a champ, and still retrieves mice caught in the traps in exchange for treats (if we’re home to do the exchange). LOL
He’s still hanging in there, he’s still in possession of a zest for life. 🙂
And I bet your new pup is, too!
My father-in-law had a farm and raised pigs and cows for food, which this city slicker did not know when she befriended, and named, Rocco the pig and Sectional the cow. I was devastated by the whole process.
I grew up with that, too, but we were told from the start that the animals were to be food. Naming them made it easier to refer to them in conversation and to work with them. I don’t think I found it traumatizing because it was very matter-of-fact that Hermie the steer was going to the butcher in the fall.
I have a friend whose parents told her every meat she ate was chicken or beef. They raised sheep and rabbits. She insisted she’d never eaten lamb or rabbit and her husband was the one who broke it to her that “your parents lied to you” about why that lamb or rabbit went missing – it was because it was butchered and eaten. He didn’t want her lying to their kids about what they were eating – especially as he’s an avid hunter. Their kids LOVE wild game because they know what they are eating and what to expect.
There was a time, as a result of the constant prodding of my three daughters, that my “cat colony” grew to seven in number, because every now and then one of the house cats had a litter and it was very hard to get the new arrivals a new home as said daughters always made a fuss about having to say goodbye to any of them. Needless to say we also had a dog and plenty of chickens so animals and other things were never in short supply. Heavens, you set me off here, but you get the idea. Hope all is good with you
Good Morning, Peter! LOL I can’t imagine what I’d do with seven cats in the house! Two is enough, and considering they started their lives in my parents barn – they have made GREAT house cats – I think they just appreciate having a much cushier life.
Every once in a while I threatened to bring another kitten home from my parents, but I never did. We’ve talked for years about getting a smaller parrot, but with working so much, it hasn’t been the right time – they are like toddlers and need the time with people. One day we’ll provide a home to a parrot, but not now.
I’m glad I could bring around some reminiscing. 😀