As my loving mother aged, she was essentially living alone. She lived independently at home, but my Dad passed away in 1992, leaving Mom and her sister together. Then Jeanne passed, and while we always lived close to each other, she lived by herself. With, of course, a dog.
Her last dog companion was quite lively and quite a handful. As mobility issues started to creep in, taking care of him was more and more difficult for her. Daily walks, taking him outside to do his business, trying to keep up with his idea of a busy lifestyle were all challenges that were more and more difficult for her. Finally, she made the difficult decision to give him up to a friend who was younger and better equipped to take care of him. She was then truly alone.
For years we prompted her to get a cat instead of a dog. Cats were smaller, mostly self-sufficient, but able to provide companionship, we told her. But Mom had always had dogs, mostly Boxers. I grew up these large, lovable “lap dogs” in the house. Later she opted for smaller breeds, even dachshunds, but in her late seventies, she no longer had a little life in the house for whom she could provide care.
Finally we introduced her to a little black-and-white kitty, and they became fast friends. They would sit together while Mom did her crafts, holding conversations about current events, and discuss the meaning of things in life. As Mom’s health worsened, the little creature stayed by her side, taking a place every night with her at the foot of her bed to watch over her – or make sure that she remembered that breakfast was first on the agenda in the morning. Either way, she was always there.
Mom was eventually hospitalized and diagnosed with a terminal disease. She went from the hospital to the rehab center, but she was most concerned about getting home to her feline friend. While away, we went to the house every day to make sure that the cat had food and water, but rarely did we see her – she hid from us. The food and cat box showed us that she was there, but she wanted nothing to do with us.
After several weeks we brought Mom home. As soon as we got into the house, the kitty came looking for the owner of that familiar voice – the first time we had seen her in weeks. The two of them were inseparable. The cat didn’t try to aggressively protect her, didn’t make a fuss, but only wanted to be by her friend’s side. Even when the home health care and eventually hospice care folks came to the house, the cat would carefully watch everything that was going on, seemingly trying to absorb it all so that she could be of assistance should it become necessary.
As the end neared, the little kitty snuggled up to Mom, never leaving her side. And even Mom confided that she never thought that a cat could be so loyal, so lovable, so much of a friend, so much a part of her family. They really loved each other.
We have had dogs in our family, but after becoming “empty nesters” ourselves we found that we had adopted two cats. They are both about the same age and have been with us for about fifteen years. The older one is Moxie, a black American Shorthair that we rescued from the local Humane Society. She has alway been a bit stand-off-ish, but in the last four or five years has been a bit more cuddly, always wanting to be around Barbara. She is also the “alpha” of the two, and she is referred to as being the “Queen.” She is large and in charge.
The other one is Poco, a part-Hemingway calico female. She came to us as a tiny kitten of about six weeks old, hence the name “Poco,” Spanish for “little.” She has huge feet, especially the back feet, with six toes on one side and seven toes on the other. Unlike Moxie, Poco is very vocal, greeting you with a little “meow” when you walk in the room. She likes being petted and brushed, especially since she has long, luxurious fur. She also enjoys the twice-a-year haircut to trim her fur back to a more manageable and much cooler level more compatible with Florida heat. Poco was essentially part of a stray litter and as such she has yet to realize that she has hit the “Stray Cat Lottery” ending up in our family. Poco bonded with me, and she is my best little feline friend.
But why cats? Dogs seemingly have so much personality, are known as “man’s best friend,” and are always a great addition to a family. Well, Moxie and Poco, and Mom’s little black-and-white friend, are all uncomplicated friends with their own loyalties and personalities. They give us someone to look after, care for, help when needed, worry about occasionally, and are dependent on us.
That last one is really important – they are dependent on us for their livelihood and care. They are there in the morning when we wake up – Poco is the one who reminds us verbally that it is time for breakfast while Moxie just waits in the shadows. (Being the Queen, Moxie allows Poco to be her “mouthpiece.”) And in the evening at ten minutes after ten every night, Poco comes to where we are watching TV, sits down and waits because, by golly, it’s time for bed! If we respond and get up to go to bed, she trots off to the bedroom to find her spot for the night. If not, she waits a couple of minutes and then retires to the bedroom alone. However, she is always there to remind us. She is, in her own little way, doing her part to take care of us.
So the conclusion – Why Cats? – is that as we age, we need someone or something to care for and likewise, to care for us. Dogs are more “labor intensive” than cats, generally speaking. When Mom needed a companion to care for, she actually found a companion to care for her. Mom’s cat helped make her final days more meaningful and a lot less alone.
I am indebted to that little kitty for helping Mom when she really needed a friend, and I thank Moxie and Poco every day for what they bring us.