A few years ago Brandy toppled off the back of the couch.
In our old apartment in Hollywood, her favorite spot to watch the world was on top of our high-backed couch by the window. Always an explorer Kitty, she’d never had trouble getting into almost any spot — high, low, “off-limits” (whatever that means), or not.
I was at the kitchen table eating, or writing, or eating while pretending to write, when out of the corner of my eye I saw her leap from the floor for her usual perch on the couch back. I saw the leap, but instead of her usual inaudible landing then chatter at her bird-friends, I heard claws grab fabric, then the thunk-and-scuttle sound of a surprised and pissed off cat.
Huh. I was a bit surprised too. I had never seen Brandy fall quite like that. Sure, she’d lost her balance traversing the obstacle course of books and papers on my desk, and occasionally she’d misjudge the distance between the bathtub and the sink (one of the reasons we learned to keep the toilet lid down), but aside from these random instances, Brandy had always been quite an athletic kitty.
I followed her to my bed where I found her spread-eagle giving herself a bath.
“You okay, cat-face?”
“Mrrr,” she responded, which typically means, “I’m fine. I invite you to scratch my ass or mind your own business.”
So I scratched her ass and all seemed well. I figured Brandy’s spill was just a fluke.
But as the months passed, I began to notice that the jungle gym of our home wasn’t quite as easy for Brandy to navigate as it once was. Her high-wire act alighting from the kitchen table, to the counter, to the top of the fridge became a little unsteady and cautious. Eventually she took to staring at the fridge, tail twitching, contemplating the jump, but then she’d think better of it and hop down to the floor, all riled up with no place to go.
The high back of her couch became harder and harder for her to make in one leap. It became common place to hear her claws digging into the fabric as she made it mostly in one jump, but she had to claw her hind legs to the top. I casually put a pile of coffee table books by the couch so as to give her a little boost, while appearing as if I’d made a decorating choice. She graciously used the book booster, but we never spoke of it. A cat’s dignity must be preserved.
When jumping onto our bed got harder and harder, until finally she tumbled off backwards one night after trying to jump up, I had to give in to the niggling concern that was batting around in my head.
Brandy was getting old.
I don’t know why my cat’s aging came as any sort of surprise to me. When her acrobatics started becoming more labored, she was already more than 10. Our vet had been calling her a “senior kitt-izen” for a while. And while I made sure she got her joint supplements and paid closer attention to her diet, part of me believed that we’d sort of cheated aging.
She was so spry! So playful! So bossy! She would (and still does) tear around the apartment late at night for her Midnight Crazies!
Now I know older cats can do and be all of the above (I’m living it), but somewhere in my head I feared that old age would mean an end to the wry, vibrant character I’d shared my life with for so long. I feared that old age meant kitty wheelchairs, kitty walkers, and kitty marathons of Matlock. I was afraid to see Brandy decline.
I realize now I was overreacting. Five years, two moves across the Pacific, and zero episodes of Matlock later, Brandy just turned 15 (she’s a New Year’s kitten!) and while life is different I don’t think it is any lessened.
Brandy still goes where Brandy wants to go. The only difference now is that I’ve strategically placed “design elements” in our apartment (cubes, shelves, tables) so that Brandy has boosters up to her vantage points. We still don’t discuss it, but I take her use of them as a tacit thank you.
Cold days are harder on her, and she gets visibly distressed when she’s chilly. She’s developed a few ailments that have to be carefully monitored and controlled with diet and medication, and maintaining weight on her once zaftig frame is becoming more and more of a challenge. But her demanding nature hasn’t changed one bit, she still treats me like her moronic jester, and her toys are still her treasures.
Brandy’s aging has not been the traumatizing experience I feared, but rather a gradual adjustment that has brought me more in tune with her. In a way, it’s a blessing that I get to be with her as she ages. Isn’t that one of the greatest privileges one living creature can offer another?
However, I’d be lying if I said it’s always easy.
There are days I watch her now-slight frame wake up after a nap, stretch, and stiffly stalk over to me for our afternoon planning meetings (she tells me she plans to use the litter box, I tell her I plan to clean it shortly), that I wonder how many more of these afternoons I have with her.
When her facial tick occasionally gets really active and rouses her out of sleep, leaving her cranky and confused, my heart hurts a little.
I asked my fellow cat parent friends how they deal with their cats aging into their teens and even 20s (my mom has a Siamese-mix who is 21, and through sheer force of will, will outlive us all). The response is across the board. Some say they treat their cats oh-so-carefully, like delicate geriatrics. Others say they don’t change anything about the way they care for their senior cat — treat a cat young, and she stays young.
My mom, the queen of senior cats (almost all her 10-plus cats over the years have contentedly lived to 20), says she just gives her older cats what they need, when they need it, but never tells them they are old.
“Cats get old, they know that, we know that, but no need to rub it in their face. I take my cholesterol medication, and then go on with my day. Baby [that’s her 21-year-old cat] takes her medicine, eats her special food, and then goes on terrorizing everyone. Getting old isn’t bad, it’s just getting old. As soon as you tell someone it’s the end — a cat, a human, a horse — they act like it’s the end. Just be happy with your cat. That’s all they want, you know?”
My mother, ladies and gentlemen.
I’ve seen pets through old age before, but never have I had quite the history as I do with Brandy. I can’t quite pinpoint why she’s different, but the thick and thin we’ve been through and the miles we’ve traveled together has her claws that much deeper in my heart.
And while I still catch myself willing time to freeze when Brandy is being especially adorable with her catnip sushi toy, or when she licks my fingertips while we’re snuggling in bed, I’m trying to be cool and not overthink it — for her sake and mine.
I just want to be happy with my cat. That’s all she wants, you know?
How do you deal with your cat getting older? When did you realize your cat wasn’t as young as she used to be? Have you changed the way you look after your cat? Tell us in the comments!
Read more about life with Brandy by Louise Hung:
About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Yokohama, Japan, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela [at] gmail.com.