The circumstances which brought the old man to the Animal Protection Center this October aren’t important. The relevant facts are these: after 20 years the old man, a brownish black Maine Coon mix cat, found himself a resident guest of the APCSM. Unwilling to cram his old body into a cat cage the staff decided to allow him to roam the offices, first mine and then Kim H. and Trisha’s. He quickly proved that despite his age he was a sweet and affectionate kitty provided no one accidentally jarred the extremely arthritic base of his tail.  In fact he was so affectionate that Kim and Trisha found it hard to get work done as he would shove his head underneath their hands for affection as they tried to type and then climb unashamedly into their laps while they worked.  This loving disruption plus the every-day stresses caused by barking dogs, people coming in and out, and the unpredictability of shelter life are what ultimately led me to make the decision to bring the old man home for a trial period of “two weeks”. If my husband of 15 years remembered that when we were discussing marriage and decided to move in together to see how things would work it was also for a trial period of “two weeks”, he pretended not to notice.  This is how the old man came to my house last Friday afternoon.

Besides my patient, long-suffering husband and two tween children our house belongs to three resident cats and a dog. Over time the four of them have developed a sort of unofficial rank and file system. Little Bit, a 15 pound Cavalier King Charles who thinks she’s a cat, is not only the most spoiled animal on the planet but the undisputed omega in our animal hierarchy. When we have foster kittens, they out rank Little Bit. There’s no challenge there. The next rung up the ladder is Floof, an 18-pound year old Maine Coon boy kitty who could take over the world if he weren’t so lazy. Six-year-old Charlie is next and he is the spitting image of the old man barring the 15 year age difference. If time travel possible I would think the old man was Charlie from the future.  Charlie runs the household and every morning when I leave I remind him to, “hold the fort” as I walk out the door. The final member of our resident animal family is Bella, a 7 pound torti who we call The Khaleesi Of The Little Grass Sea. Capitals intended.  An indoor/outdoor cat that we adopted as an adult she tends to focus on terrorizing everything outside the house and doesn’t really care about what goes on within the walls.  This was the clouder that the old man would need to find a place in.

To help move things along in the right direction I decided that the old man would spend the first night in the bathroom, the door blocked by a baby gate that would allow everyone to see and smell each other but not interact beyond that.  The old man quickly found that by retreating behind the bathroom door he could spy on the activity in the kitchen through the crack that ran between the door hinge side and the wall without being easily observed by the resident cats, who would stop stock-still on their way through the kitchen, sniff the air, then cautiously creep towards the baby gate, peering into the bathroom for a glimpse of the intruder.  Floof even went so far as to flop over on his side and half go to sleep in front of the bathroom, as if he wanted to be there in case the old man emerged but didn’t really care to make much effort over it.

After a couple of hours I let myself into the bathroom, bent down to pet him for a few minutes and then sat down on the lid of the toilet and waited.  After a brief pause he strolled out from behind the door with a distinct, “I wasn’t hiding” look, gave me a loud and plaintive meow, and butted my hand with his head.   Floof looked on with disinterest.  The old man turned his head and hissed him but that didn’t seem to make him any more interesting to the sluggish boy kitty, who just stretched out to his full length of way-to-long-for-a-cat across the tile and yawned.  We did the petting thing for a while and I talked to him all about the people in the family, told him that he was safe and loved and a good old man.  I hadn’t realized yet that he’s deaf, not that it would have mattered.  I told him I would see him in the morning and that the blanket and food were all for him.  Then I went upstairs.

Sometime during that first night at home the old man decided to go exploring.  He nudged the baby gate keeping him in the bathroom and separated from the other resident cats out of the way and wandered out to take a look at his new digs. He made it all the way to the top of the stairs before he encountered Charlie.  I woke up to a low pitched yet no less intense growl-based conversation between the two occasionally peppered with hisses that seemed to be surprisingly translatable from the original cat as 4-letter words.  I jumped out of bed and stopped at the door to our bedroom to watch as Charlie and the old man, about 4 feet from each other in the upstairs hallway, worked out the terms of their new co-existence.  I don’t claim to be fluent in cat but I think it went something like this:

“I could take you whipper-snapper, but I’m old and not looking for a fight.”

“Well, I could take you old man, but it’s 3am and I don’t really feel like it either.”

“Want to just growl for a little while and then walk away?”

“Yeah, ok.”

The old man turned and unhurriedly made his way back down the stairs.  Charlie sank into what we call his “meatloaf” position and watched him.  I went back to bed.  “What happened?” Steve mumbled at me from under the blanket.  “I think the old man’s going to fit in just fine.” I replied. “Bella?” he asked.  “She’s outside tonight terrorizing the Little Grass Sea.  We’ll deal with her tomorrow.”


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