Siouxsie Mew and her sister, Sin├®ad O’Kitty, came into my life in June of 1996.
I had intended to get one cat, but when I saw those two bonded black babies racing to see who could get to me first, that was it: they were both coming home. I was so excited to be a cat mom, to be entrusted with these two tiny, precious lives, who now sat curled in my lap purring in that particularly endearing way that only kittens can.
Seventeen years later, Sin├®ad is gone, the victim of a tragic coyote attack, but Siouxsie still graces my life.
I never imagined when I adopted Siouxsie as a rambunctious curtain-climbing 6-week-old kitten with a presence suited to her namesake, punk rock diva Siouxsie Sioux, that she would age into a queen of cats with a quiet and graceful energy.
While this evolution was happening, I didn’t really see it. I was so busy getting my act together — and saving my life in the process — that I hadn’t had the time to notice much of what was going on outside of me.
By the time I came through my own darkness, Siouxsie was there, a calm and steady companion who (mostly) gracefully accepted the new cats in her life. Her calm and unflappable demeanor, and her ability to maintain her own boundaries while allowing herself to love and be loved, has continued to teach me lessons about life and reminded me to stay fully present in every moment.
Yes, her body has aged. Although she’s remarkably healthy for a so-called geriatric cat, I’ve found myself happily making accommodations to suit her changing body.
Siouxsie still loves her "purry hugs" and shoulder rides, but these days instead of letting her jump the five feet from my head to the floor, I crouch down and let her use my back as a ramp so that she doesn’t experience the shock of pain when her arthritic limbs hit the ground.
I accept the fact that she doesn’t always get her poops into the litter box because her aching hips make it harder for her to assume the proper position, and I’m happy to clean up after her when accidents happen.
She’s got a lot fewer teeth than she used to have, so I now feed her a softer food that gives her the extra nutrition she needs and is easy on her digestive system.
When she cries out at night because she can’t see as well as she used to, I gently call her name and reassure her that all is well and I’m here.
I don’t mind when she wakes me up just before my alarm goes off, with epic head-bumps and drooly jaw-rubs. It just makes me love her even more.
Siouxsie spends a lot of time in quiet meditation, seated on comfortable pillows or gracing my lap with her warm and gentle purrs.
Most of the cats I’ve known have lived to age 17 or 18. I may not have much more time with her, and I know this. But I’m not going to check out, emotionally or spiritually. Knowing that her time is finite is making me enjoy every minute I have with her even more. And who knows: given how healthy she is, she may surprise me and live well into her 20s!
However much more time I have with her, I’m grateful. Siouxsie has also taught me to understand what it looks like to watch those you love age. For many of us, living with an aging cat prepares us to live with aging parents. It teaches us respect for an elder’s wisdom and compassion for elders’ changing abilities. It teaches us to honor the unique needs of our aging loved ones. And most of all, living with an aging cat is an important opportunity to process our feelings around aging and death, to break out of our denial of our parents’ — and our own — mortality.
I’m grateful to have my sweet and wise Siouxsie in my life: so much so, in fact, that I plan to adopt senior cats when there are future vacancies in my feline family. These elder kitties deserve to have a loving home full of soft cushions, gentle voices and people who love them unconditionally.
November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, and I would encourage you to provide an old kitty with a home of his or her own. Let this feline master teach you the joys of compassion and caring. You will touch that cat’s heart and that cat’s heart will touch yours in ways you never imagined.
Do you have a senior cat? Have you adopted a senior cat? What do you love about him or her? What would you tell people who are thinking about adopting an elder kitty? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.