This is a paean to old pets, a love song for the creaky, ancient, bony, moth-eaten critters with whom we’ve spent large chunks of our lives.
I got my cat Ike in 1993, at the MSPCA shelter in Jamaica Plain. I had graduated from college the year before, moved out into my own (shared) house that fall, and finally felt grown-up enough to be responsible for someone else’s life besides my own.
Ike was about four months old– at that gangly, all-legs stage that is my favorite part of kittenhood. Forget those 8-week-old fluffballs, I like a string-bean kitty with some personality. I remember that Saturday was busy at the shelter; they were letting us into the room with the adoptable cats in twos and threes, and I only got Ike away from that other woman who wanted her because I’d gotten into the room first. It was like a battle over wedding dresses at the Filene’s Basement annual sale. You non-Bostonians will just have to take my word for what that’s like (think “Food fight!” with a side of Vikings).
Ike immediately made herself right at home. We had colored magnetic letters on our freezer door, which my roommates and I would use to spell out silly messages to each other. Ike used to leap up to the freezer door like Michael Jordan and bat those letters right down to the ground. She loved bread; after finding several mostly-chewed loaves on the counter, we had to keep the bread on the way top of the fridge because it was the only place she couldn’t get to.
One morning I heard a mysteriously familiar meow that seemed to be coming from outside. Since Ike was a strictly indoor cat, this made no sense. I soon discovered that she had gotten onto our roof through my roommate’s window, and couldn’t figure out how to get back. I got out on the front porch roof with a towel, and after several hair-raising false starts (“I’m going to jump into your arms! No, wait, I’m going to jump two stories down and go splat! No, I’m going to jump into your arms! No, splat!”) she finally somehow decided to take the plunge and leapt 10 feet down into my makeshift towel hammock. I was trembling for an hour afterwards; she was looking for breakfast.
She came with me from that first on-my-own place to the apartment I shared with my boyfriend in vet school, to the cabin we rented in New Hampshire for my first job out of school, to our house on Liberty Street for our first year of married life in Montpelier, and finally to the house we now live in, the one we bought ten years ago. She has (mostly) gracefully accepted the addition of a dog (a DOG?!) and a kid (a KID!!?!) to our family, and has outlasted by years the other two cats we once had. Late in life she learned to love the outdoors, now that we live in a safer place, and she even became a pretty good mouser for awhile.
Her fur is clumpy. She isn’t very good at grooming anymore. She has been creaky and arthritic for years. Her irises are so holey from old age that you can see the tapetum, the reflective membrane at the back of her eyes, through them. When she is not wandering the house yowling randomly at invisible mice, she spends most of her time asleep in the sunroom; I believe she thinks we built that room for her. For some reason, the time she most wants my company is first thing in the morning, sometime between 4:30 and 6. Sometimes she poops on the rug, but mostly she makes it to the litterbox, for which I am extremely grateful.
Many of my patients are older animals; they are the ones who get tired of going to the vet clinic, or who are just too stiff to get into and out of the car anymore. I love their frosty whiskers, their cloudy eyes, their lumps and bumps. They come with many great stories, some of which I know firsthand. (Remember when he ate that tennis ball / negligee / three loaves of pumpkin bread? Remember when you had to take out his spleen? Remember when you convinced me to amputate her leg? I thought it would be awful, but she’s had three good years since then.)
I hope they all live forever, but I know they won’t. This is why I tolerate being woken up hours before I would otherwise set my alarm, day after day after day. Oh well. I had some paperwork to catch up on anyway.