I didn't expect, way back in the summer of 1991, that the big beautiful black cat we brought home from the pound would still be with us after 6 homes, two human children, a puppy, a giant renovation job, a million trips down the biggest highway in the province, and almost eighteen years.
Assuming that he was born in 1990, Nigel the cat is 19 this year. For any cat, this is quite an accomplishment! Considering that he had some health issues, it's amazing. He had some chronic cystitis at about age 5, and was on medicated food for years. The vets warned us that his kidneys would be compromised by the medication, but I figured it was better to avoid that awful cystitis. I opted for quality of life rather than quantity. And look at him now.
Yeah, he's still here, but the years are really showing on him.
I bundled him up for a visit to the vet on Monday. I don't take him every year any more. I mean, why? He's a house cat. He's old. He doesn't like going to the vet. I'd rather leave him on the couch where he's happy. Well, after a little squeeze here and there, the vet told me that he's... old. His kidneys are pretty much shrivelled little prunes, which would explain why he drinks so much water and his litter box needs to be picked through twice a day. He's lost all his muscle tone, he's probably totally deaf, and his balance isn't good. Clearly, he hasn't got much longer with us.
We spent most of his check up discussing what to do WHEN. What if he expires during the night. What to do with his remains: the kids want to keep his ashes. Will I stay with him if he needs to be put down: damn right I will. If I have to make that decision, he's going out in my arms.
I got some advice on feeding him, like continue to mix up his food since he's become a picky eater in his old age. Add a bit of water to keep him hydrated. I was asked how his quality of life is, and I answered honestly that this guy has a pretty good life. He's the same guy he's always been... just a lot slower!
He fully deserves the best retirement I can give him. He has gotten me through some tough times. When I was newlywed, and lonely because my young husband was locked up in the recording studio for 72 hours straight, I had my big vigorous cat to talk to. He calmed me when I was the 20 year old married-chick college student, not sure exactly where my life was headed. When we moved twice a year for a couple of years, we dragged him along with us. When I was stuck in an apartment with no balcony and a nasty view of the dumpster in the parking lot, Nigel was my connection to nature and the animal world. He sprawled across my pregnant belly and purred two babies into the world. During our toddler years, he only scratched a kid once - and she learned real quick not to torment the cat!
He has definitely earned a peaceful life for his last years.
Giving him that good life in his old age has a whole new set of challenges.
Because of his little dehydration problems, we have to make sure he's always got water to drink. It requires constant vigilance, because the dog slurps up a fair amount as well. There's a double bowl upstairs in the dining room, plus another in the downstairs bathroom. He's got a bowl for wet food and one for dry kibble. The wet food is a mess. The kids hate spooning it into the dish for him.
He doesn't wash himself anymore. Jethro figures he decided he doesn't have to... because I'll do it for him. Yup, I will. He doesn't use his scratching post anymore, which means I have to trim his claws. He's also developed a strong aversion to having those claws trimmed. I suspect a bit of arthritis. I do one claw each day or so, and get it over with fast, preferably while he's snoozing. I don't want him to struggle and hurt himself.
He tracks cat litter all over the house. He isn't very agile anymore, which means that he often steps in the wet stuff on his way out of the box. Yep, it's disgusting. I sweep up litter every time I'm downstairs, and we've all learned to crush down our revulsion at finding litter-critters on the couches where he curled up for a nap after taking a wiz. I have a really hard time with the litter-critters. I hate finding it in my bed. So gross, so gross, so gross. But I love that cat, and he's still alive, so I brush all the litter crumbs away and wash my hands and tell myself that I put up with it to still have him.
At least once each day I have to pick wet litter clumps out of his paws. Yick. I seriously love this cat to do this!
He was never allowed to sleep under the bedsheets or on my pillow... until he got OLD. Now he sleeps right beside me, covered up, or on my pillow wrapped around my head.
Sometimes his body creaks when he walks. Last week I watched him turn around in the sunbeam to find a nap spot in front of the sliding doors, but instead of gliding into a nice lie-down like a cat does... he fell over. I felt awful. He sort of sprawled there for a few seconds, and then curled his tail over his back paws and pretended he meant to do that.
We handle him very cautiously now. I remember when Jethro and I would pat him by slapping him in the ribs repeatedly. He'd lean into it and purr! Can't imagine doing that now. All four of us pick him up gently and are constantly aware of his location to avoid stepping on him or bumping him.
He rewards us by being his wonderful sassy, demanding, superior self. Even though he's just fur and bones, he asserts himself and his need for attention when he feels it's necessary. We will always make room for him if he needs lap time. He lets us know when his dish is getting empty. The cat who wasn't allowed on the table now perches there, staring us down, when he needs something.
If he remembers, he jumps up on the Girl's bed and purrs her to sleep, just as he has for years. That purr used to be strong and constant, but has become squeaky and louder on the exhale. The content look on his face hasn't changed much though.
He is like the cat version of the little old man with his pants yanked up to his ribs. Slow, deaf, forgetful, and stubborn. He has his routine: bed, dish, water, box, couch. Repeat. He makes his way from one end of the house to the other, stopping for a loud howling meow ("What ya say there, sonny?") and navigating the stairs one... at... a... time, rather than jumping two at once like he did years ago. He always makes it to the box on time.
And when it's necessary, which it is quite often, he'll take the time to slap the dog across the face.
Ah... The Golden Years...