I recently woke on a Saturday morning to find the telltale signs that my feline needed medical attention pronto. I'll spare you the details, but rest assured, I've been there before and I knew what I was looking at. I called our veterinary office and explained the situation, not failing to mention that our cat is nearly twenty years old (yes, you read that right, 2-0), and needed immediate attention. This is akin to alerting the doctor that your mother is ninety-five years old (or in that neighborhood), the result being that I was quickly offered an immediate appointment which is practically unheard of on a weekend. They are not easily impressed at this office: when I brought her in a few years ago and remarked that she was getting on in years (she was sixteen at the time), the vet assured me that in relative cat years, that wasn't so old. This time around however, after correcting her medical record (which mistakenly listed her as only eighteen and a half) she seemed to be finally getting her due. The doctor checked her all over and declared that despite the infection she had contracted, she had the constitution of a cat ten years younger. Ha! This cat s a bit high strung to say the least. Friends and family have often remarked on how she hisses at one and all (except me and my husband) although it hasn't kept hapless visitors who consider themselves "cat people" from trying to gain her favor. Her egregious behavior at various vet offices has resulted in wearily delivered suggestions including "Please sedate her before you bring her in next time" and "You might want to have someone take care of her at your house next time you are away: she wasn't very happy" (I can only surmise what went on in that instance), not to mention the orderly who handed her over in her brand new carrier with the door ripped off and when I inquired, he snapped "You try putting your hand in there!"
I once alarmed a cheerful young doctor by asking her "Aren't you going to put on the gloves?" and she looked appalled until she actually tried handling her (she ended up using the X-ray mittens).
After my children came along, they soon longed to touch her and play with her, but she kept them at a safe distance. As years went by, I placated them with the somewhat morbid promise that after she was gone, we would get another pet (they want a dog) despite the guilty feeling that by encouraging their wishes I was hastening her demise. But something strange and pleasant has happened in the past few years: she has mellowed. She has stopped hissing and allows my kids to pet her. She even voluntarily comes out in the open when there are people in the house. The last time my mother stayed with us she marveled at the change in demeanor after all these years.
So as I was standing in the vet's office giving permission for them to keep her for two nights, tears suddenly sprang to my eyes as I realized just how long she has been a part of my life and how incredibly bereft I was going to be when her time finally comes. She has never been particularly affectionate, but she and I have an understanding and I have always appreciated her independence. She was once accidentally locked in a neighbor's garage for several days and I hunted the neighborhood, heartbroken and calling her name until she was discovered. Although I have complained about it many times, I knew I would actually miss her furry back in my face while I slept during the nights she was away. I had a terrible feeling I would never see her again.
Now that she's home and well and once again up to her sometimes unsavory old tricks (again, I'll spare you), I find I have a new respect for her very advanced age and the special role she plays in our lives. I had to confess to my husband that we probably wouldn't be getting a new dog anytime soon, regardless, and I took pains to explain to the kids that we should appreciate the unique nature of such a long-lived creature. I'm making extra effort to make sure she's happy and comfortable with the rationale that since she's made it this far, she deserves a little extra pampering in her dotage. With her disposition she'll probably live to be a hundred.