When our beloved family members start “getting up there in age,” birthdays become bittersweet celebrations. You’re excited, of course. But you also start noticing that tally of infirmities. Where does that balance come out? I mean, I’m tickled pink Firefly hit the milestone of 14 years yesterday. But our handsome little gentleman is also the biggest lemon in the family. And that makes FOURTEEN sound incredibly fragile.
14 Years to the Day
It’s always felt like a positive omen that Firefly (and his brother, Smoke) arrived on National Kitten Day.
I’m the furthest thing from a morning person, but I didn’t mind waking to high-pitched squeaks from under my bed before dawn. (Not that I was thrilled Panda chose to nest THERE instead of the cozy denning box set up for her) The two tiny striped jellybeans were adorable and precious.
And demonstrated NO indication of the impressive cats they would grow into. (Both boys topped 16 pounds at their largest!)
Considering I’m a firm rescuer/adopter, I don’t usually get to know the official birthdays of my furry family members. So Firefly has always had a special place in my heart, arriving around 4:00 AM on July 10th. I’ve never had to estimate his age or throw a dart at the calendar. (And I’ve earned the right to get fussy when people enter it wrong on records)
That’s the thing about the best cats and dogs, though: They suck you in before your common sense has a chance to speak up.
Of course, when you’re hanging over the side of the bed, staring in awe at kittens, you have no idea of the trouble you’re in for over the next 14 years. (At the time, those mewing nuggets weren’t even supposed to STAY a part of the family)
Thyroids and Pancreases and Eyeballs – Oh, My!
Chasing around after two exuberant kittens, I never imagined I was allowing a future medical lemon to worm his way into my life. I only saw the novelty of a cat who wanted to fetch catnip mice, curl on my lap while I read, and perch in fascination on my shoulder while I cleaned the rats’ cage. Of course, if troublemakers came with warnings – well, life wouldn’t be complicated, would it?
Firefly’s first pebble didn’t show itself until 2013. (I know – five years with smooth sailing? Who am I to complain?) But that diagnosis of diabetes was enough to start the avalanche:
- Feline oral resorptive lesions (FORL) leading to full-mouth extractions
- Sequestrum and corneal ulcer
Any ONE of those is enough for a cat to cope with. For ONE cat to shoulder ALL of them is asking a lot – and remain good-natured? (If I were a cat, I wouldn’t)
And this marker of 14 years has been rough. We kicked things off with a nasty bout of pancreatitis. If you’ve never experienced the inflammation yourself – or nursed a pet through one – suffice it to say it SUCKS. (No one wants an organ to digest itself) But it’s harder on a diabetic because the pancreas controls insulin. He was a miserable cat for a solid week, and we weren’t sure if he was going to pull through.
His IBS has also stepped up. The handsome boy he used to tip the scales is now a skinny boy. We’ve gone through a few diet changes to find what works for him. And we crossed our fingers through an endoscope to check for cancer (that was clean).
It’s rough looking back through photos when he was young, plump, and shiny. But then he’ll deliver his favorite rat toy onto the bed to let us know he still feels fine.
And you can’t argue with THAT.
14 Years Isn’t THAT Long
Animals don’t live as long as humans. (I’m not the only person who hates that fact)
Mischief was 16 when her diabetes won; Tali was 16 when her kidneys failed. They’re the oldest cats I’ve yet owned. It’s a number that dances in the back of my mind all. The. Time. When Firefly wants to sit in my lap while I work, I feel the decrease in his weight. I look down into his eyes and see the corneal graft where his beautiful green eyes used to look back (and the increasing cataracts).
And then he meows at me to demand attention or delivers a mouse at my feet. “Come on, Mom, I want to play.”
People have pets who live into their 20s, even 30s. And I can either focus on 14 years as a number or look over how much Firefly’s come through. Not to mention the sheer determination he shows to overcome everything the universe throws him.
With much more grace than I demonstrate.
Yeah, he’s a bit of a lemon. But he’s an astounding lemon. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.