Over the span of our 20-year marriage we’ve rescued, adopted, fostered and found homes for numerous cats. Most of the cats we brought into our home to stay were young, arriving on our porch or backyard as vagabonds in search of food, water or safety from other animals.
When we rescued Mali in February of 2001, she was seated outside our front door shivering from the cold. The grayish domestic shorthair looked to be less than six months old. After she was warmed up and fed, Michael gently held the smallframed cat and examined her closely. She’s pregnant, and looks like she might deliver any day, he declared. Surely not, she’s just a baby herself, I protested. At the time I didn’t realize unspayed females can become pregnant as young as four months.
Mali’s queenly arrival threw our cat family of four—now five—into chaos. The other male residents had no use for this small but intimidating intruder. I had no experience with pregnant cats but Michael hastily cleared away the bottom of our bedroom closet and set up a makeshift birthing box lined with towels. He left the closet cracked open wide enough for her to slip in and inspect it. The male cats circled around, hissing their disproval, but Mali ignored them.
Apparently the birthing center met with her approval because two days later four kittens were born. Two we found homes for, and they were placed as soon as the kittens were weaned. We were left with two calicos who’d become very bonded. Michael wouldn’t hear of separating them, which made it harder to find them a home. As such, we jumped from four to seven cats, just like that.
Today, Mali is pushing 18 years. She outlived all of her babies, all of the males who were there when she arrived, and five other cats who became part of our family over the years and have since passed away. Her only feline company is two year-old Bernie, a fat, sassy tabby who delights in chasing Mali’s tail or leaping from behind the sofa to initiate play. Mali remains unimpressed.
In people years Mali is around 85-years-old. I have to remind myself of that fact because her sweet face doesn’t belie her age. Her frame is still small and trim, and she pads agilely throughout the house. Over the years Mali has mellowed with grace, and while at one time she didn’t enjoy being petted or picked up, she now seeks attention and affection. This often occurs with aging felines.
Living with a senior cat alongside a younger, rambunctious one can sometimes get hairy but the rewards cancel out any real difficulties. During the day Mali divides her time between a secluded comfy basket next to the chest freezer in the kitchen and several choice spots in my upstairs study. In the afternoon the sun splays across the carpet from two large windows near my desk. Mali finds just the right spot to stretch out her body and luxuriate in the sun’s warmth. Several times daily she patrols my desk, daintily avoiding the keyboard, craving a petting session. Though she doesn’t always indulge, I usually offer her some catnip.
I won’t deny kittens are a lot of fun, but there is something mysteriously attractive about the mature, confident cat. Like me, she is long over the extravagances of youth. Mali and I are minimalists in that we both enjoy life’s simple pleasures and avoid spaces that are cluttered. We’re not drawn to drama or adornment—we’re more drawn to “alonement,” if there is such a thing!
With senior cats, however, it’s important to remember age impacts them mentally and physically—as it does all of us. Older cats cherish predictability more so than youngsters, so sticking to a regular routine keeps them more comfortable. Some senior cats require more emotional support as they get older while others may become distant. Like humans, age also tends to slow down the once active and playful cat. And, as they mature they may sleep even more. They may put on or lose a few pounds, and they may have difficulty jumping up to their favorite spots. In addition, seniors between 13 and 15 may start to experience some loss of hearing and vision.
Every stage of our cats’ lives has been an educational experience. Each one has had its joys and challenges. But even with the limitations that often accompany old age, I do believe it is the senior stage I love best of all.
Contact Deborah Camp at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments or suggestions.