When something gets old — your shoes, your couch, your car — you get rid of it and get a new one. This is the norm in our society.
Unfortunately, many people apply this same maxim to their pets. In Philadelphia, an elderly black cat named Babette was found in a trashcan alongside someone’s unwanted stuff from a move. Her former family treated her like a broken blender or torn socks — they decided they no longer needed her, so they tossed her in the garbage and went on their way.
Luckily, a kindhearted individual brought Babette to a shelter in Philadelphia. Babette was suffering — she was skin and bones, covered in fleas, and had injuries to one of her back legs and eyes. The shelter would have been forced to euthanize her if not for the Grannie Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing and rehoming senior pets.
The Grannie Project gave Babette a second chance. According to founder Amanda Cox, the emergency vet wasn’t sure Babette would pull through the night -ÔÇô she had severe anemia from the fleas, and she required a blood transfusion.
"You never quite forget the first time you have to ask how much cat blood costs," Cox says.
But thanks to the incredible support of the Grannie Project’s Facebook followers (join them here), Cox was able to raise the funds for Babette’s care. Amazingly, the cat recovered and is now in foster care. Looking at her bright eyes and sleek, black coat, you’d never guess that this beautiful senior was once so sick, or abandoned so carelessly.
"In the end, little Babette got to keep her eye, her leg, and her life," Cox says, "after being thrown out and left for dead in the trash."
Cox founded the Grannie Project in March of 2011 after she adopted Kate and Juliet, two 20-year-old sisters, from a high-kill shelter in New York City. The two cats ended up at the shelter after their former owner passed away. Due to their age, they were almost guaranteed a death sentence.
"It broke my heart that these sweet old girls, who had been a part of someone’s life for so long, were going to meet an untimely end for lack of space and lack of people interested in an older pet," Cox says. "As I drove away from the shelter that day with as many animals as my car — and my marriage — could take, I vowed to do something about senior pets in shelters."
Through the Grannie Project, Cox has certainly done something. Since 2011, the group has rescued more than 70 senior pets, primarily from high-kill shelters, and given them the chance to live out their golden years surrounded by comfort and love. The best part: Adopting senior kitties is as beneficial for humans as it is for animals.
According to Cox, spending time with senior pets has taught her valuable lessons about aging and how to do it gracefully. Just like humans, cats who have had regular checkups and dental care tend to be in better shape than those who have not. Cox recommends taking senior kitties to the vet every six months, if possible, to catch any health problems before they become serious.
Cox also suggests taking a cue from senior kitties, who notoriously sleep the vast majority of the day, and stepping away from that to-do list to chill out sometimes.
"As we get older, it’s okay to take some time for ourselves -ÔÇô to enjoy that sunny day, the fresh breeze," Cox says. "Just last night I had a million things to do, and one of my fosters, a gorgeous, diabetic chocolate point Siamese, fell asleep on my lap. And the next thing I knew, I was asleep with him. I used to beat myself up over things like that, but neither of us is going to be around forever, so it was a nice moment."
But instead of causing some people to seize the moment, the fear of death — and the related medical expenses — prevents them from adopting senior pets. But Cox says it’s all relative — when you adopt a kitten, you’ll be paying for her senior care someday. Also, with regular veterinary care, many health concerns are manageable — and as with any pet regardless of age, the rewards outweigh the challenges.
"I think the single most amazing thing about senior kitties is the gratitude," Cox says. "I — and many others — feel as if they KNOW they’ve been rescued, almost as if they have an understanding of life that younger cats don’t. They also seem grateful for their small comforts — fluffing their pillow, warming their food, even just an extra brushing because you know they maybe can’t groom themselves like they used to."
In addition to helping senior pets find loving homes, the Grannie Project also aims to educate people on the importance of planning ahead for their pets’ senior years. This means paying attention to the little things, like ensuring elder kitties have soft, warm beds to ease creaky joints, elevated food bowls, and help getting onto the bed or the couch (I keep a stepstool by my bed for my 11-year-old tabby, Bubba Lee Kinsey).
Then there are the bigger items, like saving money for veterinary care and having a plan for your pets in your will. Cox says many people overlook this step, and it is a big reason many elderly cats end up in shelters.
"A big part of what we hope to do with the Grannie Project is educate pet owners about the potential longevity of their pets and to have proper plans for downsizing, relocating, and, most especially, some sort of plans for their pets in their wills," she says. "You would be shocked at the amount of people who don’t consider what will happen to their pets if something happens to them. In that way, pets are somewhat like children, except they can’t help themselves."
Even if you are unable to adopt a senior pet, Cox says there are still plenty of things everyone can do to help improve the lives of seniors and ensure their golden years are filled with comfort and dignity.
"If you can’t adopt, foster," she says. "If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, donate. If you can’t donate, advocate. It can be something so simple, like donating a dollar (it all adds up) or clicking that ‘share’ button on Facebook. Sometimes the smallest actions have the biggest impact. And if we can all do something small, together, we can help save senior pets."
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