Caring for Elders? Make Sure to Check on Their Cats, Too


Sarah is a retired computer consultant. She lives on a farm in very rural south central Kentucky with her soul mate and their three white cats.

Six years ago my husband, Wayne, and I helped my father-in-law, 87-year-old Philip, and his 13-year-old cat, Lucifer (alias Lucy Fur), move from California to an independent retirement community in Tennessee. This was Lucifer’s second move. When I first met him, Lucy was an outdoor/indoor cat, adopted ten years before from Paws and Claws in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, who moved first to California.

Although I promised Lucy Fur that if he’d just take care of Philip in Tennessee, he’d eventually get to be an outdoor cat again, the move wasn’t easy. At the airport, the TSA staffer insisted that he had to be removed from his cat carrier, which resulted in a lot of loud oohs and ahhs from the people behind us along with a few choice words from Philip in his wheelchair, but fortunately Lucifer took it all in stride without making a mad dash for freedom.

When we arrived in Nashville, the temperature was 102 degrees, but a very kind Somalian flight attendant entranced Philip with the story of how he came to America while I went to get the car.

Philip and Lucy Fur soon settled in, and for several years it worked out well. We live in Kentucky and at that time worked as consultants in far-flung states, but we were able to visit Philip and Lucifer on a fairly regular basis.

The routine was simple: We’d arrive and share a hamburger and chocolate malt meal with Philip; give Lucy a brushing, catnip, treats, and toy play; then play cribbage with Philip. The brush had two sides, and Lucy meowed a different word for each side. Philip was amazed. He also insisted Lucifer never purred, but I suspect his hearing was diminished.

Once while we were playing cribbage, I suddenly felt something strange in my shoe. Lucy Fur had poked a paw in and was gently tickling the bottom of my foot with extended claws. Philip won that cribbage game.

During the last year, things drastically changed. Lucy gradually lost a great deal of weight. Once when we visited, he started begging me for part of my hamburger, which I gladly shared after I rinsed off the condiments.

The vet couldn’t find anything wrong except old age and recommended tests, which I was willing to pay for, but Philip refused.

Lucy continued to lose weight, so during visits I started buying Lucy his own plain hamburger and feeding it to him in bits, sans bun. He devoured it like he was starving. Philip complained that Lucy would throw up everything he fed him, but Lucy demanded and never threw up the hamburger.

On one of the last times we visited, Lucy was even more emaciated, and cat sick decorated the carpet. I had always served Lucy his hamburger noms on a folded paper towel, but my more meticulous other half insisted I use Lucy’s cat dish. PHEW! The food in the dish smelled so terrible I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat my own lunch.

Suddenly the light went on. Eighteen-year-old Lucy is a grazer, and at 93, Philip kept the temperature in his home above 80. Could spoiled food be making Lucy sick?

Philip was worried that he was hurting Lucifer, the world’s greatest cat. My husband immediately suggested that his father feed Lucy small meals five times a day instead of one or two big helpings. After that we called frequently and asked about Lucy Fur’s stomach. Guess what? Not a single cat sick. And Lucy gained some weight!

But there is more to this story. Soon after my husband’s advice, Philip decided he was no longer capable of taking care of Lucifer and asked my brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Cindy, to take Lucy Fur to their Pennsylvania home.

A week before they could get to Tennessee, Philip called us and said he didn’t feel well. He went into the VA Hospital in Nashville, who released him to my husband under hospice care for congestive heart failure.

My husband spent the weekend with him, and stayed until Charles and Cindy could get there and take Lucifer. Philip passed three days later.

Lucy Fur travelled well to Pennsylvania and immediately went to a vet, who diagnosed him with a thyroid problem. Charles and Cindy are taking great care of him, and he is doing better. At least, when I call and speak to him, he purrs.

Last week when skinny Lucifer went to the vet for his thyroid and weight check, he had gained almost a half pound. Nonetheless, the vet couldn’t conceal his reaction when he looked at Lucifer’s weight, considering his name. Lucifer weighed 6.66 pounds!

Lucifer is extremely fortunate. Philip loved the cats that Mary, his wife of 62 years, brought into their home, and so their sons loved cats as well.

If you have an elderly relative or neighbor who has an older cat who seems to be wasting away, don’t assume it’s because the cat is elderly. It might be because the owner is elderly. If the vet recommends tests and the owner refuses, please figure out some way to get those tests done and paid for.

Thanks to Charles and Cindy, Lucy Fur is living a good life in Pennsylvania. But please pay attention: The cat you save may be your own cat-in-law.

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