Over the decades, I have watched many of my beloveds become elderly. Of course, when I was young and vital, much of what it meant to live in an aging body was beyond my understanding and empathy. Although my love for the animals was always there, I must admit that some of their attractiveness as individual cats wore off as they grew old, less interactive, and scruffier-looking. The fact that they sometimes became less tolerant of physical contact, less successful at using litterboxes, and a lot pickier about their diets didn’t exactly enhance their appeal, either. But age will do that to a body. I know that now. BOY, do I ever know that now.
Not surprisingly, the older and achier I get, not only the more tolerant I become of my geriatric felines, but the more appreciative, as well. I respect their graceful acceptance of all it means to grow older, as I struggle to gain some modicum of that same acceptance myself. I love the way they embrace a drowsy lifestyle and envy the way they spend most of their time cuddled in a pile of warm bodies on the couch. I am in awe of how hard they fight for every last minute of physical existence, sometimes in the face of overwhelming illness.
Do I wish that my old cats would still fly joyfully across the room after a ping pong ball? Not really. That’s what kittens are for. Do I wish that they would reliably use a litterbox and stop vomiting on my carpet? Well, sure, but I understand the age-induced physical limitations and conditions that sometimes cause these issues.
Beyond understanding, though, I have become somewhat of a geriatric Mommy-Nurse specialist. I gladly accept the responsibility and challenge of keeping my elderly cats as healthy and happy as possible. How could I do any less for the animals who have been there to lend their loving support and companionship no matter how foul my mood or flawed my being. They have, in fact, had to be every bit as tolerant of me over the decades as I have ever had to be of them.
An unintended side effect of spending one’s life with companion animals is that one observes the aging process time and time again, long before necessarily becoming physically acquainted with the ramifications of age on one’s own body. When living with an elderly feline, the effects of age and its often accompanying infirmity become uncomfortably unavoidable. The inevitability of the end of life lies purring on one’s lap day after day. I believe that this may explain why so many people are mistakenly inclined to abandon companion animals in their twilight years. It isn’t necessarily that pet owners can’t tolerate the extra work involved in caring for aged animals. It’s that they can’t tolerate the constant reminder of their own mortality.
Mortality be damned. Give me the purr of a wise old cat, and I’m happy.