Gus was growing old. His once-shiny dark gray fur had faded to the color of a tarnished nickel. He paused before jumping onto the bed so he could decide if his arthritic legs would be able to meet the challenge. He also spent more time curled up under his blanket. His appetite had always been hearty, but now I had to entice him to eat by augmenting his food with goodies. A CT scan confirmed my suspicions of a nasal tumor, and he got used to having steroid tablets popped down his throat every day.
Gus was my first Cornish Rex, a cat breed with a short, curly coat; a lithe greyhound-like stature; and a fun-loving, energetic personality. They’re known as the clowns of the cat world, but he never quite fit the breed’s paradigm. Playing was never his thing; he preferred to sit at the window and watch squirrels frolicking in the trees. He was a tolerant fellow. I occasionally found him tightly swaddled in a blanket in a baby doll stroller, sound asleep, or in drag, wearing American Girl Doll clothing, the handiwork of my young daughter.
I realized his days were numbered, and a feeling of melancholy gripped my heart. The thought of eventually being without a pet saddened me. Although I loved the old-age version of Gus, I also began to yearn for a young and energetic kitty, a feeling probably intensified by the fact that my daughter had headed off to her first year of college.
Is it fair to our elderly pets if we bring a youngster into the home? That is the same question many of my clients worry about. What if the new pet bullies the senior pet: steals his food, knocks him over, or just generally annoys the heck out of him? I pondered those possibilities, then took the plunge.
A five-month-old Cornish Rex named Hogan arrived at our house and gave Gus’s life a jolt. Hogan was a whole lot of crazy fun, and Gus despised him. The kitten just wanted a friend, but his attempts at play were usually met with a hiss and a swat.
Then something interesting began to happen: Gus’s enthusiasm for life was reawakened. He began to follow the kitten and watch him play. His appetite and activity level improved. Occasionally he would even take a whack at an enticing cat toy. The two cats were often found entwined in Gus’s favorite cozy sleeping spots. Gus never really loved the new kitten, but he grudgingly shared the last year of his life with him, and his life was thus enriched.
I’ve heard many similar stories over the years. I’m not saying that it’s always a great idea to bring an energetic youngster into the fold when you have a senior pet at home, especially if your current pet is sick, unsteady on his feet, or otherwise frail; common sense should prevail! But I think dog and cat owners sometimes focus too much on how many years are in their pet’s life. Better to focus on how much life they have in their years, and adding a new pet might just be the perfect antidote for old age.