Peaches and Cream (the names I gave them) came to me at age 15 after their person died. Cream lived 10 months, Peaches lived five years. Even though I’d only agreed to foster, I knew no one was going to adopt them. Often people object to adopting a senior because they feel their death is imminent and “it will hurt when I lose them.” It didn’t matter to me how long Peaches and Cream lived or if I was hurt when I lost them; it wasn’t about me. They were a joy, and I’ll never forget them. You can read about Peaches’s late-life career as a feline photographer as proof that they’ll go on to enjoy life to the last moment, and read the whole story of her five years with us that seemed like a lifetime in “Never Underestimate a Senior Kitty”.
I won’t tell Mimi and the kids they are all “senior cats” because they are all in their teens—in fact, Mimi will be 18 and the kids will be 14 next month! But most people are surprised to find they are that old because they are all active and friendly and look quite young, and I’m sure they have a lot of years left. That’s why I use them as an example when talking about adoption of senior cats.
Our pets’ lives are shorter than ours, and once their age is in the double digits the fear of their seemingly imminent loss can often outweigh the joy of their potential unconditional love. But we never have a guarantee at how long a pet will live even if we adopt it at just a few months old. The main objections to adopting senior cats are that they “don’t have enough time left” and they “aren’t active and playful”. I’ve lived with several who lived to be 20 and even older, and also lost Lucy at 15 months. I can tell you that Mimi chases Mariposa just for fun, and The Four Housecats of the Apocalypse mix it up with the young’ns daily.
When a kitten matures you never really know if you’ll get a cuddler, a player, a social butterfly, or a loner, or a kitty who loves to lie on your lap but not play. When you meet a senior cat, what you see is basically what you get. And really, a relationship with a companion animal isn’t all about “you” and how you feel, but remember how the kitty feels and how much it needs you to provide what it needs to make its life complete.
The fear of illnesses and veterinary costs for older pets is a real issue, but a kitten’s first year is also very expensive, and a healthy diet and regular play at any age improves health. We are able to give our pets assistance and support as they age so our sweet seniors can surprise us with their intelligence, sensitivity and longevity and live happily and in good health far more years than we expected. A pet whose age is in the double digits may still have a decade or more left to share with you.
Senior cats have often lost their humans
It’s not unusual that a senior pet is relinquished by a senior human either from the person’s illness or infirmity or even death. Losing their longtime person and home, often the only one they’ve ever known, can be a trauma in itself, but older pets can weather this with surprising patience and grace. Still, senior pets often languish in shelters, even longer than other adults, and in some shelters are not given a chance at adoption at all.
This June is American Humane’s 46th annual Adopt-A-Cat Month®, and Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month brought to you by Petfinder.com, along with hundreds of shelters and rescues around the country. Senior pets deserve homes just as much as younger pets, and I am here to tell you that adopting a senior pet is one of the best things you’ll ever do. A senior or even geriatric pet remembers a lifetime of having a home or homes, and while sitting in a shelter waiting to be adopted knows what they are missing in those final years. Our pets deserve to live as long as their natural lifespan allows. If any pet needs the loving support of a human, it’s a senior pet.
I think of all the cats who spent their lives with me into their late teens and early twenties—Kublai, Stanley, Moses, Sophie, Namir, Peaches, Cookie, Kelly, and even my fosters Lakota and Emeraude—and I think of them being homeless at that age and I know those older pets looking for homes right now are no different from the cats I loved. For all the kittens and playful juveniles and lovely adult cats whose photos I see every day looking for homes, it’s those seniors I’m the most moved to rescue and I wish I could do more. Aside from taking them all in, the best thing I can do is take what I can and encourage others.
What we expect when we adopt a pet
When we consider adopting a pet we usually think about what we expect from that pet, and it’s a good thing to go into this important relationship with a clear idea of what we expect. Often our ideal pet is one who is full of unconditional love and loyal to us, likes to cuddle and spend time with us, a pet we can spoil a little and they’ll really appreciate it.
But all relationships take two, and our needs are only half of that deal. Often younger pets have another agenda and take years to settle down to where we feel they are truly a companion. No pet fits this description of what most people are looking for in a pet better than a senior who is ready to just have a nice life for whatever time is left.
While we want a pet who will spend a lifetime with us, senior pets are looking for a human to spend the rest of their lifetime, and will be no less loyal and loving for having spent the first few years elsewhere. And if we think we will be sad when we lose them sooner than we want to and therefore won’t consider a senior pet, imagine how sad that pet is right now, at their age in a shelter with no home, and an uncertain future. Surely we can set aside our fear of loss to make an older pet very happy.
Peaches and her sister Cream came to me at 15. We enjoyed life with Creamy for ten months and I’m glad she had the time to adjust to having lost her human before passing. Peaches lived five years that were as complete and fulfilling as if she’d lived with me all of her 20 years—my portfolio of art and photos would be incomplete without her petite dilute calico sweetness, and I simply couldn’t imagine my household of felines without her.
Emeraude and Lakota came to me at age 19 and 20. While Lakota’s time was only measured in weeks, they were six great weeks wherein he had the chance to totally charm and conquer one more human in his lifetime. Emeraude was with us for only months but it was enough time for her to relax and really join our household, enjoy the company of other cats and know that she was special to me and the other household felines. They had the chance to live out their lives to their natural end.
How old is “senior”?
The newly revised feline life stages from the American Association of Feline Practitioners is much simpler than before. The age considered “senior” for a cat was only seven years old. Now the age is anything beyond 10 years.
But when you consider adopting, no matter the age, consider welcoming a senior cat into your home.
Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.
There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.
- Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
- Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
- Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
- Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
- Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.
If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.
Need to know more? Read Fostering for Your Shelter and Fostering Saves Lives.
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
The painting illustrates a moment in my kitchen that I treasure because it includes Peaches, plus my painted white wood table with the vintage Battenburg lace table cover, three painted white chairs I’d picked up over the years and a hand-made white-painted cabinet that carried a story all on its own, plus a bouquet of peony flowers a friend had stopped and dropped off because she thought I’d like them. The reflections, the wrinkles in the cloth, everything is the memory of a part of my life, but so I’ve found, also familiar to others. Read more Portraits of Animals
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
Subscribe to my e-newsletter
Subscribe to The Creative Cat Preview E-newsletter.
Weekly schedule of features:
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Thursday: New Merchandise
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!