Sunday, December 14, 2014

The approaching twilight of the grand and glorious cat

Sometime this month we estimate that our older cat, Mickey, will turn ten.  When a pet gets into double-digit age, there's not much question anymore that your pet is a senior citizen.

Mickey in his role as my "thinking cat."

This March will mark ten years since Mickey joined us.  It wasn't a planned thing at the time.
We live in West Palm Beach at that point.  We were heading away for a few days and were boarding our dog, Miss Piggy (R.I.P.), with our vet, which also had a pretty sizable boarding facility.  Miss Piggy had already been checked in and was being led off to her boarding cubicle, happily following the vet tech as she was wont to do.  While she was off I was waiting for more paperwork to sign, but that left me a few moments to wander about in the lobby.
Besides the boarding facility, this vet office also had a couple of display windows.  A local rescue group would occasionally bring in kittens to the office who would spend a few days there, and would be on display in these very large display windows with food and litter box and toys, and even folks who didn't come into the office could see them and ooh and aww and be lured into adopting.  I had noticed the mostly black-and-white tabby with some more golden brown highlights in the window as I was bringing Miss Piggy in, but with a highly motivated dog straining at the leash to get in (yes, I know, most dogs don't want to get into the vet's office, but Miss Piggy was always a curious one that way) I hadn't stopped to look.  Now, with nothing else to do, I went over to take a peek.
It happened that Mickey (this was already his name) was being particularly cute at the time, rolling over on his back and swatting at some kind of mobile-type toy.  For a three-month-old kitten he was already a pretty substantially sized feline (six pounds, as it turned out), but he was still small enough to be kittenish.  So, I smiled, and it's possible I let out an "aww" or something like that.
To this day I have never figured out how the vet tech, who had juuust gone to take Miss Piggy, was suddenly over my shoulder saying "would you like to hold him?" I mean, she was not young and she was not small.  But even an NBA point guard or Olympic sprinter shouldn't have been able to move that quickly.  Not really waiting for me to answer, she reached into the window and lifted a surprised Mickey out and onto my shoulder.
At that point I was totally in the tank.
The tech suggested that Mickey and Miss Piggy have a little get-acquainted time when we returned from our trip -- not that I was all that worried, since Miss Piggy had shared our space with two cats for most of her time with us in Tallahassee.  We did it, and within five minutes Mickey was curled up on Miss Piggy's paws napping.  Mind you, every vet tech in the building crowded up to the windows of the exam room at some point to watch.  Clearly this cat was a charmer from the get-go.
So we made arrangements for adoption, and within a week my wife had picked the cat up from the vet's office and had him stretched out on her chest and shoulder by the time I got home from campus that Friday.
His early size was an accurate predictor; he is a large cat.  The preferred term, we have been repeatedly informed, is "grand and glorious."  This doesn't keep him from getting into, onto, over, under, or otherwise around anything he chooses, for the most part.  And it does give him the strength to knock over whatever he chooses in order to get our attention.  Most recently it was their primary cat bowls.  The best way to describe him is "barrel-chested."  This was never going to be a small cat by any stretch of the imagination, but even if he were a more normal weight he was always going to look big.  (I can sympathize, Mick.)  Pluto, on the other hand, is a very long cat, and therefore looks slim and sleek even though he's quite the monster himself.  It's not fair, Mickey, I know.
He's now outlasted Miss Piggy (that was more or less inevitable) and learned to tolerate our all-black Pluto.  He's generally been a healthy cat, despite his weight and occasional sneezing spells.  He has been, in all the ways that matter, the dominant personality in the house.
This isn't a "farewell" post, not by a long shot.  He's still an active and even frisky cat sometimes (to the degree that any adult cat can be called those things, given that the sleep anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of the day).  Still, one can just barely start to see that he's a senior cat indeed.  He isn't going gray (he still has the amusing gray spot on his muzzle that makes him look like he has a dirty face).  He might have lost a little bit of weight (Pluto actually weighs more now), but nothing so much as to cause alarm.
But he is a ten-year-old cat, and that's not nothing in cat years.  Every now and then his "little" brother actually manages to be the bully, a fact which annoys Mickey to no end.  Maybe he's a little more attention-hungry than he used to be.  He's a lot more likely to seek me out for use as a cat sofa than he used to be, not to mention the "thinking cat" perch he frequently takes if I'm in that recliner.  Like any cranky old person, he wants things his way; that cat fountain may be satisfactory for Pluto, but only the bathroom sink upstairs will do for Mickey.  And if there isn't anyone there to turn it on for him (he hasn't quite mastered that trick), he'll knock every pill bottle or cup into the sink until his demands are met.  He is less intolerant of belly rubs than he used to be, though they're still not his favorite (he really likes what might be called a full-face pet most of all).  In other words, he has both mellowed and gotten more cranky with age.
He's still a pretty fearless cat.  Nowadays if there's a stranger in the house Mickey is almost immediately out to investigate.  He's still ready to make a break for it if anyone leaves a door open too long.  And when he sets his mind to it, he'll still climb or otherwise get into whatever he can.  The leaping and climbing may not be quite as effective as they used to be, but he can still surprise us with where he manages to appear.
He may well be with us for another ten, for all we know.  But bitter experience has taught us that cats, or any pets or "animal companions" if you prefer, are no more guaranteed to last forever than we humans are.  And we also know from that bitter experience that whenever that day comes for Mickey, or Pluto, or any future feline family members, it will hurt in ways Hell cannot possibly imagine.
For now, he's still the big boy, even if his "little" brother has passed him.  He's still the dominant cat, and he's still first in line for attention and first in line for breakfast in the morning.  With any luck this will still be true for years to come.

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