November is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month. Despite their gentle nature and good manners, senior pets are usually the last ones adopted and the first ones euthanized at animal shelters.
Recently I spoke to a friend who was considering adopting a kitten as a companion for her rowdy Chihuahua-mix because she thought the kitten would adapt to the dog easier than an older cat. I pointed out that kittens would be more fragile and fearful, and instead suggested she bring home a senior cat who had lived around dogs. She was shocked; she’d never considered an older pet.
I confess I have a special place in my heart for homeless elder pets. One March afternoon a couple of years ago, Connor, the teenager next door, picked up a cat he found standing in the middle of the street. Fearing the cat belonged to someone, Connor’s mother instructed him return her to area where he found her. Instead, the pair waited in my front yard for me to return from a feline behavior class.
As Connor recounted the story, I studied the calico’s vacant golden eyes. She stared off unresponsively. She moved so tentatively Connor was able to restrain her with just an occasional touch.
Oh my God! This cat was not only older than dirt, she was blind. She felt as light as a potato chip, and when I stroked her, beneath her dense winter fur every bone jutted through. The poor creature was starving to death.
“Good job,” I told Connor as I took the calico inside.
Connor was a hero. Had not picked up the old kitty, her misery would have ended quickly by the paws of one of the coyotes who regularly patrols my neighborhood. If she’d made it until night, the frail feline would have succumbed when the temperature plunged into the 40s.
I named the little old lady MethuseLeah, a feminine version of Methuselah, the oldest person to ever live. In my upstairs bathroom that also served as my orphan kitten ICU, I examined her. She was in much worse shape than I first thought. MethuseLeah weighed under five pounds. She was so dehydrated when I tented her fur, her skin didn’t return to her muscle. All eight of her front claws had grown into her toe pads. Each step must have been agony. No wonder she couldn’t move out of the road. Between starvation, dehydration and painful feet, she could barely stand. She definitely wasn’t a runaway.
Naturally it was Saturday afternoon and the vet clinics were closed, so I provided immediate care myself. When she refused to eat cat food, I offered her turkey baby food on my finger. She humored me by licking a few dollops, then stopped, exhausted. The old girl hadn’t given up, yet. I gave her fluids under the skin and a shot of B-12.
Then I had to take care of those ingrown claws. I steeled myself. I had watched my vet trim ingrowing claws on an aging rescue several years ago; if she cooperated, I could take care of it. She sat patiently while I worked on her feet. Even though I didn’t quick her nails, her pads bled when I removed the claws from them. Poor little Leah.
After her pedicure, she seemed a more interested in baby food. She took the next five blobs with a little more enthusiasm. By the end of the evening the elderly little fighter had consumed the entire jar.
Leah kept mum about her past, but I’ve been involved in rescue long enough to recognize conditions common to certain situations. Leah is, what I call, a little-old-lady-cat. Elderly humans are notorious for letting kitty nail care slide as memory and dexterity wane. I believe her person passed away, and the family kicked Leah to the curb like used cat litter. This old kitty could barely take two steps; there was no way she had escaped.
On Monday, my vet, Dr. Cassie, DVM, confirmed what I already suspected; Leah’s kidneys were starting to fail. The old kitty would need to receive fluids under her skin a couple of times a week for the rest of her life. Cassie wouldn’t guess Leah’s age, but said she expected the kitty to live only a few months at the most. What did I want to do?
No one would adopt such a decrepit creature. Do I euthanize her now or let her live out her life at my home? Cassie gave me care instructions, and replenished my fluids and the old kitty returned home with me.
Back in her bathroom, Leah transformed the linen cabinet into own her private residence. She’d emerge whenever she was hungry or whenever she wanted company. At first the presence of our own cats inspired a hiss or a growl, but she soon learned that they weren’t interested in her or her food. Before long, the Gang could hang out in the bathroom without inspiring too much ire, as long as they stayed out of her private cabinet.
She was my bathroom buddy, coming out to see me whenever I brushed my teeth or cleaned up. She endured her semi-weekly fluids with indignantly slanted ears. But she didn’t like leaving her territory. If we brought her downstairs to visit, the blind old kitty would navigate her way back upstairs up to her private suite.
Then one day I noticed she didn’t want to eat. She simply sniffed her favorite food, then walked away. She began to vocalize. She made it clear, she was done. Her body could no longer support her larger-than-life soul. I took her to the vet and released her. At least someone cried at her passing.
I have taken in several unwanted super seniors, and even a few younger seniors who we had for many healthy years. I simply don’t understand; if you loved the person, why can’t you love the pet in their absence? This little antique should have been an extension of the family’s love for their silver citizen.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with someone else’s cat, but I did. It’s been nearly three years since her passing. I still miss her when I brush my teeth. At least Leah no longer pines for her lady. Something tells me they are together again, both young and pain-free. Her mom is calling her by her real name, Fluffy or Lucky or Gracie. I believe I’ll see her again. I hope her little old lady won’t mind if we spend some time together. Until then, sleep well, old girl. I wish I could have known you in your younger days.