Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Turning Another Corner

Todays tastes like sackcloth and ashes, of charred pork and wormwood, of the bitter cold of a snowless high desert winter.

We've turned another corner in Rodentia's journey.

Two years ago, we turned that first corner when I realized she was no longer late middle aged, but affirmatively old.

Cats have a funny-shaped life. After one year, they're teenagers--sexually mature and raising Hell. After three years, they're cats--furry little Republicans (can take care of themselves just fine, thanks, appreciate the perks they have [food, warm house, company] and pay for them [with companionship in return], and don't care much for change for the sake of change).

And then they stay cats for years and years and years, in a slow glide of easy middle age. Not bouncy kittens chasing anything that moves, not yet sleeping round the clock except for creaking over to the food bowl and litter box. Just living the blessed long middle age of a cat, as one vet I used to treat with referred to it.

Then the next corner is turned, and wham! The cat ages like a vampire in sunlight, all the years collapsing in at once.

Two years ago, I noticed we were in the middle of the end. Rodentia was less active, less likely to seek a high perch, less likely to hop up and run at the sound of a can opener. (Treats?? eyes wide and ears up, tail high and crooked at the tip)

But she still played with her toys, picking them up and carrying them about, setting them down and instructing them loudly, a fur-suited Il Duce on the balcony. She was interested in and engaged with the world, lying by the living room window or the back arcadia door, watching other cats on her lawn or porch.

In the last few weeks, that's changed.

She started hanging out in the vestibule of the master bathroom, the place where we groom her and keep the cat treats. One of her problems has always been her cotton candy fur, so fine and prone to clumping into mats. She has a lion's mane, including a ruff under her chin, so it was always hard for her to reach her back and sides--the ruff got in the way. So she'd give up in disgust, and the mats would grow worse and worse until we shaved off her fur.

Then the place where we took her stopped having cat grooming hours on the weekends, so I bought a beard trimmer and did it myself. I started brushing her out, and to make the job easier, started giving treats as I did so. One clump off, one treat. One limb done, three treats. Right at the limit of your patience--four treats, and one more if you don't run away as soon as I put you on the floor.

So I figured that she was hinting she'd like a treat. Or three. And it made it easier this last time, as she was already right there and willing. (We even washed her feet--she's gotten stiff enough that she can't wash them comfortably, and the long hair between her toes was picking up the clumping litter and scattering bits everywhere. Little clay booties on the pads of her feet, poor cat.)

Then she moved into the bathroom proper. Into a dark, enclosed space, where it's quiet most of the time. Where she could lie between the toilet and the wall, where there's just enough room for an old, skinny cat.

I noticed she'd still come and lie on the bathmat while Gareth and I showered. For years, we've put the mats away after we were done, as the cats would sometimes mistake the mat for an alternate litter box. You only have to step into a warm puddle on the mat once to realize something needs to be done about that.

But this weekend, Gareth was going to shower right after me, so I left the mat down, and Rodentia was sleeping the sleep of the just on the mat. I went to move the mat, and she didn't wake up. She didn't wake up until I picked her up to move the mat, and looked at me slowly, not sure where she was or how she got there.

Can a cat have Alzheimer's?

So I've left the mat down. If she misses the litter box on the mat, then I'll wash it. I am of the species with the big brain and opposable thumbs, after all. When the mat wears out from being washed twice a day, I'll get a new one. This one is ten years old; with the money we've saved from using this one, I think we can afford it.

Right now, that's all I can do. Make her corner of the world a little more comfortable while we wait for her last steps to come.

1 comment:

fillyjonk said...

That's a beautiful - and painful - description of how a cat ages.

My parents lost one (at 20) last summer; her final decline was much as you describe. They still have her sister, who is still perking along if considerably arthritic and not as perky as she used to be. (I admit every time they call me, I listen closely to their voices for the first few moments to detect any tone of sadness, or particularly in my mom's case, the thickness of recent tears, and when I don't hear that, I relax a little. But I know the day is coming when I'll get that phone call).

I hope Rodentia's passing, when it comes, is peaceful.

It really stinks that they don't live as long as we do.