26 September 2008

Senior Moments

My sweet little baby boy cat is 16. That makes him an approximately ninety year old man. So, for that, he's been remarkably well. Three years ago he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, a slow but incurable degeneration of the kidneys. It seemed like the beginning of the end. But minding his diet has kept his blood values reasonably stable. We lost Mango so unexpectedly to cancer before his condition began to change at all. The equivalent of fifteen years has passed for him since then and now is taking a little bit more of him away from me every day.

But life with a senior cat is quiet and gentle. He doesn't break things anymore. I do worry about him breaking a hip. He doesn't chew things up, but I wouldn't mind if he ate more. He sleeps even longer than young cats do, waking up to adjust his old bones or to go out and inspect the balcony, to sit in the sun. His little walnut brain is getting tired, too. He stops between rooms as though he's forgotten where he was going. He wants to be near me more than he used to. When he wakes up and I'm in another room, he calls out and comes looking for me. Any tender touch moves him to purring. He used to be more reserved. The aging process and a low protein diet are causing the flesh to melt from his frame. He's just a fur bag of bones and "Meh!" now. Until a few weeks ago, his movement and activity were unaffected. But his footing is less sure today ~the marble floors are a toss-up between becoming more difficult for him to get about on and a breeze for me to clean up the increasingly frequent urp~ and his jumps are more often a close call than an over-shoot anymore.

I am accustomed to my little old man, his occasional play, his serenity. Young cats look fat and crazy in their antics. I can't imagine a kitten in the house. They require so much supervision, so much guidance, so much vigilance. Exhausting. Sure, we get up in the middle of the night if he's hungry for meaty food and have a drowsy few minutes in the dim kitchen light, but then we're both back to sleep. No nocturnal rampages, bouncing off walls and tearing around. Maybe my sleep is lighter for keeping one ear open for the tell-tale sounds that I should immediately set him to the floor, but I remember the years of sleeping with that same ear open for little chewing sounds at the computer wires. It's very satisfying to provide a warm, safe place for a once-homeless cat to spend his retirement.

Right, everyone loves kittens, but providing love and comfort for a creature's declining years is that much the greater kindness. I've considered, for that time in the
future when my life again has a cat-shaped hole in it, adoption of a senior citizen. To take someone out of a shelter and provide a real home at last, what a benevolence. But now that I am once more watching a loved one walking toward the Rainbow Bridge, I don't know how I'll get through it, let alone ask to fall in love again, knowing it won't be for long. Even now it doesn't seem so long ago when he was new and we had his whole life together in front of us. It's been a good life, more interesting than I ever expected it would be. But that has brought us so far from everything I know about veterinary medicine and I fear taking him in that he might catch something worse in the office. Yet, in two months, I will have to leave him for six weeks. Taking him with us on Home Leave is out of the question. It would do him in for certain. But how do I ask someone to take care of a cat near the end of his 9th life? Every time I leave, I promise him that I always come back. How can I risk breaking that promise, to not come back soon enough?

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