Rescue Story: Never Underestimate a Senior Kitty
I’VE MENTIONED PEACHES frequently, the little kitty who arrived at age 15 and lived to be 20, and who had a profound effect on my household and on my portfolio of sketches, paintings and photos, including a favorite, Peaches and Peonies. Through the month of May I not only remember and celebrate Peaches and my adoption by her—I was thinking “foster”, she was thinking “home”—but I also encourage others to take a second look at senior cats who deserve loving homes for their final years.
So here is an introduction to sisters Rosebud and Angel, who became Peaches and Cream, and above is the very first photo I saw of them, the one given to me by the person caring for them to convince me I needed to help rescue them. Who could resist? And, yes, it is on my list of images that I love; read more at the bottom, along with comments from the Fantastic Four who loved their little big sister, and from the birthday girl herself. Less adoptable? Everyone missed out on a couple of great cats.
. . . . . . .
May, 2005: I saw a friend and animal lover catch sight of me from across the room, give a big wave and make a beeline for me, weaving through the crowd at the gathering we were both attending while digging in her purse. I had no idea what was coming.
“I know of two cats who desperately need a home,” Betsy said before she even reached me, waving a photo. “They’re going to be put to sleep if someone doesn’t take them!”
Now, among those of us who are known for rescuing cats and dogs and other things, how many times have we heard that?
I will always listen to the story, though. This woman was, first, an animal lover but not a cat person and not one of those constantly sending communiqués about cats about to be euthanized, and was also, though retired, a former architect and an almost Spock-like logical person, and a respected board member and supporter of various organizations I also supported—in short, not the type to make idle threats and not someone who’d ever appealed to me to rescue an animal before then. I decided whatever story she had to tell was probably completely accurate down to the last fact, and there was a reason in addition to the two cats being homeless that she was desperate to find them a home.
And then she showed me the photo, above, which is lovely in its own right, but I also knew those two gorgeous calico cats in that photo were looking at someone they loved very much and waited to hear more.
Left behind when an owner died, a common story
As it turned out, her good friend and long-time next-door neighbor had died, leaving behind her two 15-year-old cats with no instructions for care. Betsy was distraught at losing her friend and neighbor of many years. Because the woman had no family in town, only a son in Chicago who could only stop by infrequently, Betsy had undertaken to clean out the woman’s house and care for her cats as a last act of friendship and respect for the things her friend had loved so much. Betsy had dogs and couldn’t take the cats but was in the house frequently enough to be able to feed and water and look after them until she could figure out what to do.
She and the son had initially discussed a few options, and he had decided to take them to their veterinarian to see what he thought and to likely have them put to sleep. He couldn’t take them and the last thing he wanted to wanted to do with his mother’s beloved cats was to take them to a shelter and drop them off, knowing what is usually the fate of old cats in a shelter.
Apparently the veterinarian told him they were healthy for their age and friendly and advised him, if they had someone to care for them in place, to just keep them in the house until the cats needed to leave the house. A little more time wouldn’t hurt.
So back they went, and for about two months Betsy kept an eye on them while she visited the house daily and cleaned and sorted and organized things for the estate sale and realtor visits. When the house was up for sale, the realtor advised to remove the cats, and that’s when Betsy magically saw me, and knew she could appeal to me.
I already had four senior cats
At that time I was holding at seven cats, including four in their teens, Stanley over 20 and in chronic renal failure, Moses at 19 dipping into and out of renal failure and Namir with mysterious chronic urinary issues and I was determined not to add to the household knowing somehow the senior health issues would be mounting. I loved each of these cats intensely, and I really wasn’t interested in taking in two 15-year-old cats, no matter how nice they were.
Sometimes I can steel myself against the knowledge that a cat who needs a home may not meet a good end if someone doesn’t help it along somehow with a temporary home; I realized long ago that I cannot save them all, and overburdening my own household would serve neither me nor the cats any good purpose. Although I normally had about nine cats and when they were younger often…many more than that with spring kittens, with the extra care for senior cats seven was about my physical, financial and emotional limit and that usually reinforced my decision to not take more cats into my home. But when Betsy called and said they had to leave the house and were bound for a shelter, I knew she was serious…and something told me to give them a chance.
Back up to nine cats, my magic number.
But I had always had some luck placing cats, even adults, so I planned on fostering until I could find a home.
Their own little marketing campaign
My little June kitties came in with different names; Peaches was “Rosebud” and Cream was “Angel”. Cream was mostly white with a few clear black or orange spots, one resembling the AC Delco logo on her shoulder blades, interchangeable orange ears and a detachable mostly black tail—this last a reference I always made to cats whose extremities were colored as if intentionally setting them off. Peaches was petite and looked as if someone had draped large sections of peach and gray fur across the top of her head and back as her chest, belly and legs were all creamy white.
I know Betsy would have been diligent in feeding and providing water, but possibly they didn’t care for the food and water provided in the self-feeding and self-watering containers that arrived with them, and the needs of senior cats are quite different from younger felines, because they were both a little dehydrated and had a few bowel issues when they arrived. I was already dosing Stanley with sub-Q fluids and watching for other symptoms of renal failure, so I just added them to the list under the direction of my veterinarian. Peaches responded right away, brightening up, but Creamy needed fluids every few weeks and then more often and always seemed to be a little tired no matter what I did for her.
Well, I’ve been in advertising and marketing long enough to know that I needed a really catchy name to get attention for two 15-year-olds who should be kept together, and “Peaches and Cream” came to mind and stayed there.
Both were nice cats, very friendly and social and actually mingling pretty well with my household, though Creamy decided right away she owned me and chased everyone away, which didn’t do well when I had to keep an eye on my two oldest, Stanley and Moses. So Peaches and Cream had the run of the house during the day, but stayed in the spare cat room overnight.
At the time my mother lived in a small private personal care home very near me that housed only women, a homey place that was a big old farm house with additions and home-cooked meals from a big country kitchen. Many of the ladies had had to give up their kitties when they moved there, and Cream was so friendly that I began taking her with me to visit the ladies. I visited in the evening hoping to tire my mother out and help her relax and sleep so while she and I talked out on the porch or in the dining room, Cream would wander around the living room as everyone watched TV, choosing one woman and then another to rub her face against and curl upon and purr.
I also had a little retail space at the time and had an open house so people could meet them, and I wrote about them in my weekly emailed website update (no blog yet) and contacted everyone I knew who might possibly be interested in the two, or even one of them.
The biggest objection
The biggest objection to adoption of either one or both was, very simplified, “they are old, they’ll die soon, and that will hurt.”
I could hardly argue with that. We can never know how long they’ll be with us, and it hurts no matter. That didn’t change the fact that, for however long they were alive, they needed a home, and perhaps one where they’d get more attention than in mine.
And we did lose Creamy the following March to kidney failure. She was trying to hold on, even to the point where her skin would leak from previous treatments when I gave her a dose of fluids. I could see the determination in her eyes; she was holding on for her person who I’m sure she always thought would come back. I remember her looking at me in those last few days, knowing she had no intention of giving me the sign she was ready to go though I knew she was beginning to suffer, and having a very hard time balancing between my logical understanding of a cat who had reduced from ten pounds to four, who was not eating or drinking and was in fact subsisting on subcutaneous fluids and hope, and her clear desire to maintain.
Oddly enough it was trying to decide what to do with her remains after she died, knowing she wouldn’t be happy in my yard or home with the cremains of my others, that helped me and her make the decision. Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation suggested I find her person’s grave and scatter her cremains there. I was immediately put at ease with the thought, told it to Creamy and she did accept, relaxing and letting go over the next few hours, and I had her put to sleep the next day.
I had lost my 19-year-old Moses just a month before; Creamy was the second older cat of the four I lost in the space of one year. In addition, the previous August just after they arrived, Namir went into congestive heart failure for the first time, and though Creamy’s time with us was brief she will always be a part of the beginning of these events, inextricably interwoven into my household.
Peaches goes on
Peaches, on the other hand, seemed to find a new youth, and five years later still looked like a young cat, her 5.5 pound figure unchanged, her clearly patched peach and gray and white fur soft and shiny, green eyes clear and round, and very little unsteadiness to her gait. When people came to visit she was one of the favorites with her petite good looks, quiet friendly face rub and round-eyed welcoming expression, and her curiosity never ceased to surprise me when she went exploring a bag or a box or the newly-renovated bathroom.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Peaches was only with me for five years, and came to me at age 15—it seems as if she was always with me. I had the feeling that Cream, much bigger and bolder, had always dominated tiny submissive Peaches from what Betsy had told me and from what I saw in life and in photos, Cream always out front or on top.
One morning in the autumn after they’d arrived, while Cream was still with us, I opened the door to the spare cat room and Peaches purposefully walked out as if she’d been waiting. I intuitively closed the door behind her. Peaches looked around the landing and into the two other rooms, then looked directly up at me and I could tell that was the moment she accepted the loss of her other person, decided she was staying here and accepted me as her new person, even though it meant leaving Cream behind, literally and figuratively. Such courage in such a tiny cat.
We packed a lifetime into those years, beginning on that day as a senior foster when she decided to start a new life and became, from what I hear, a completely different kitty from the timid and elusive kitty she had been. In this, too, it was as if she’d always been part of my feline family. There was never a hiss or growl or disagreement, she was simply accepted at mealtime and bedtime and all through the day.
My household changed over constantly from the moment she arrived, and she went along with all of it, letting others have the attention when they needed it. When Mimi joined us Peaches accepted her as if she’d always been here and a few months later, though I was concerned at her delicate size, Peaches didn’t let four boisterous kittens bother her, and in fact they loved their older sister very much. At age 17 she ignored their silly games and found them quite useful in the winter when she could snuggle in among them, and she and Giuseppe developed a nurturing May-December relationship.
While she was friendly with every cat she encountered, she found a sweet friend in Kelly who absolutely adored her; Kelly had grown up the youngest and had always seemed most comfortable with older cats, and took to Peaches right away. Kelly had lost her most comforting older sister Moses about the time Peaches decided to join the household, and then two years later lost her soul mate Namir, and having Peaches to care for and cuddle with made her life complete.
Not only did Peaches settle firmly in the household, but she also settled firmly on the internet! She corresponded with others through our blog and on Facebook, and she even applied for a job as an office assistant finding a best friend, Eva, and regularly corresponded with her!
And it never even occurred to her I might not love her to pieces, which I did and still do. Her little silent meows, hopeful looks, prompts for dinner and slight weight sleeping on me when I awakened all became a part of my life. I guess it’s really not hard to fit another cat into the household or into your heart; you’d think I already knew this.
Where would my portfolio be without her?
I’ve always painted and photographed my cats, but nearly as soon as Peaches entered my house she became one of my most regular subjects. Perhaps because I’d been working with the others for so long and she was new and very different from all the others, but she continued to be one of my favorite subjects, and still is.
I painted “Peaches and Peonies” in 2008 from photos I’d taken in 2007. Some cats have to wait a lifetime before their portrait gets done, and I still have a few waiting!
Too bad for those who wouldn’t adopt her
So even though Peaches has gone into memory, I still celebrate her every day. Her portrait hangs over my work table in my studio and I often look up and study it, remember that moment in spring, and remember what a sweet and courageous senior kitty Peaches actually was. I’m glad she ended up staying with me for all she gave to me and all I could give to her. Anyone who chose not to adopt her lost out on a great kitty with just a few little issues.
Don’t let fear of loss stop you from adopting
But I hope this is a lesson for anyone uncertain about adopting an older or senior cat. Even though they don’t have a full lifetime with you, you never really know how long a lifetime will be. Right after I lost my fourth senior cat in that awful year, my Stanley at about 25, I lost a kitten I’d fostered who had not been adopted, my Lucy, to FIP at 15 months. In 2013 I took in Lakota at 20 and Emeraude at 19 and knew our time would be brief and it was, but it was enough, for them at least.
Still, in Lucy’s 15 months, and Stanley’s 25 years and Peaches’ five with me, Lakota’s six weeks and Emeraude’s 8 months, we’d shared enough to last a lifetime. The moment you love, it’s forever.
What the Fantastic Four had to say…
We can’t believe no one would want to adopt our little big sister! Even though Peaches was really old, older than anyone in the world, she was the BEST. She let us curl up with her and use her as a pillow even though she was smaller than any of us by the time we were allowed to be out in the house, and we let her curl up in the middle of all of us because we knew, somehow, she needed our warmth and softness. We learned a lot from little Peaches, and were very gentle with her because we saw our Mama Mimi giving her a gentle bath just like she did to us. We all took good care of her until she left us, and we wish she could have stayed with us forever, especially Giuseppe.
Calico and tortoiseshell cats seem to be the beauty queens (99% of the time, anyway) of the feline image world. I always say it’s because the human eye loves pattern and color, and these cats certainly deliver! The first photo of Peaches and Cream in the window has long been an image I’ve wanted to work with, but I have so many ideas and I’ve been undecided in what seemed best. I don’t want to over use it in whatever I choose, a greeting card or painting or decorative item. It also works equally well as a photo as it would as a painting, and often that is my deciding point in creating a painting—much as I love to paint, if it’s a good photo and I can’t add anything to it by creating a painting I’ll stay with it. Still, my fingers itch to study and render their faces and spots as well as the delicate shadings on the window frame and the reflections of the trees in the glass. So I remain undecided!
A little more…
Peaches filled my heart in the short time she was with me and continues to inspire me even today as you’ve no doubt seen her photos to illustrate stories and articles I’ve written as well as just photos of her because she was so pretty. I will always have a fondness for dilute calico kitties after Peaches. Read more about the painting which she inspired.
Read more of my stories from decades of rescuing and fostering cats, with a few from other rescuers mixed in: Rescue Stories.
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!
4 thoughts on “Rescue Story: Never Underestimate a Senior Kitty”
love this story B and could read it a dozen times…..
when are you going to put together a book of all your posts…..
hint hint hint hint…hint……..hint…hint ~~
ps glad mimi is doing well ~~~~~ ♥
I just LOVE Peaches and mean to buy her picture from your shop one of these days. I have 3 old kitties now – as I have gotten older I have been conscious of not leaving kitties behind to have to find a new home. What a blessing that you have been there to care for all of yours. And, so happy that Mimi is better.
What a lovely story and a great reason to love older cats.
We humans would not like to live our old age being shut away
with younger people thinking we are too old. Cats are the same.
They also deserve love and attention and care in the last years of their life.
Yes saying goodbye hurts, but you are all the richer for the memories you have 🙂
Nancy and the kitties
Georgia and Julie, it’s a test of what we expect from a relationship with a pet and learning it’s not all about our needs.