Happiness is a cat: Partnering Seniors and Cats
Seniors and cats make a perfect pairing
Sherbet, a female orange tabby cat, stretches out on Martha’s sofa.
“She’s truly a miniature lion,” says Martha. “When she lounges on my furniture, I recall the lions I saw when my husband and I visited Kenya years ago. We made a day-trip to a game preserve, and saw a pride of lions resting in the shade. When Sherbet gets comfortable, she looks just like those lions. You needn’t look too hard to see the resemblance—the feline attitude and strength in repose.”
Martha’s husband died several years ago. She acquired Sherbet from an acquaintance at a Vancouver, BC seniors’ centre. The acquaintance already had several cats, and decided to give Sherbet to somebody reliable, such as Martha. Sherbet settled into Martha’s apartment with no difficulty.
“She marched into my front room and jumped up on the sofa,” says Martha. “She gave me a look that told me that she accepted her new home, and then she stretched out and fell asleep.”
She was a lonely widow, and when Sherbet arrived in her life Martha wanted to shower her with affection.
A VET’S ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME OWNERS
Martha had never owned a cat, and realized that she needed to learn how to care for Sherbet. Martha took her to a local vet for a checkup, and asked for advice regarding feline nutrition and a proper feeding routine. Fortunately Sherbet was up-to-date with her vaccinations and, aside from a few fleas, she was problem-free.
The vet advised Martha not to over-feed Sherbet.
“He told me that new cat owners can love their animals too much, and stuff them with goodies. I promised that I’d do no such thing, but in the beginning I did. I loved Sherbet from the first moment I saw her. It was so tempting to give her treats.”
But when Sherbet put on weight, Martha disciplined herself and followed the prescribed feeding routine. It was hard at first. She was a lonely widow, and when Sherbet arrived in her life Martha wanted to shower her with affection. Luckily Martha realized that the best way to keep Sherbet from becoming obese was to feed her properly.
SOURCES ON THE SHELVES
Another good source of information was the local library. Martha had been a regular patron for decades, but she had never investigated the library’s collection of cat care materials. The reference librarian directed her to shelves containing books on cat psychology, behaviour, and health. Martha also learned how to access a plethora of websites concerning cats.
“I relied on the library for an education on cat ownership,” says Martha. “For a senior like me on a limited budget, the library is a godsend. I learned how to recognize when Sherbet needed the vet’s care, and when she could get by without it. I confess that one time I saw Sherbet sneeze, and took her to the vet later that day. He was very diplomatic, and assured me that Sherbet was as healthy as ever. One sneeze was no indication of a fatal disease.”
ADVANTAGES FOR SENIORS
Seniors such as Martha report a number of advantages of owning cats. First, the presence of a cat can reduce loneliness and isolation—serious threats to a senior’s happiness. When one’s spouse and many friends have moved on or died, a cat can provide welcome company.
“I talk to Sherbet a lot,” says Martha. “Everybody needs human contact, but I get enough at the seniors’ centre, and it’s nice to come home to Sherbet and tell her what I’ve been up to. And I can gossip with her all I want, and not cause my human friends any grief. Sherbet knows how to keep a secret.”
Second, for seniors with physical limitations, a cat can be easier to care for than other animals. Martha does not need to take Sherbet for a walk, or store heavy bags of food for her. It’s not difficult to groom Sherbet and clean her litter box.
“She doesn’t get in the way or under my feet,” says Martha. “She seems to know how to share our space. We both know where we stand with each other, literally and figuratively. Sherbet has enriched my life in so many ways, and I recommend cat ownership to many of my old and older friends. Remember that ad about putting a tiger in your tank? Well, consider putting a little lion in your life.”
Guy Robertson is an Instructor in the Library and Information Technology Program at Langara College in Vancouver, BC.