Our sweet geriatricat Emma celebrated her 17th birthday today. Here she is, a couple of hours ago.
Emma wasn’t always so sweet, I have to admit. But her days of fierce independence have largely passed. No racing up the cherry tree to a branch twenty feet above the ground in the blink of an eye. No jumping onto the kitchen counter, or the desk. Just getting up onto the bed is chore enough. And ever since January, when we adopted Brooke’s suggestion of putting an electrically heated pad on the floor, there seems to be less reason to make the effort.
But Emma remains determined to get around. Last night, when we returned from the airport with our friends Tom and Carol, just in from Edinburgh, Emma came to the top of the upstairs staircase to greet us on the main floor below. A few minutes later, as we lingered in the basement guest bedroom after bringing the luggage down, Emma appeared—a rare trip to the basement—to make her presence known and be acknowledged. She’s a tough old gal.
The NYT published an article yesterday about Holly, the 4-year-old tortie who made it home to West Palm Beach two months after being separated from the couple she lives with when they were together at an RV rally two hundred miles away. Scientists can’t explain how she did it.
“I really believe these stories, but they’re just hard to explain,” said Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado. “Maybe being street-smart, maybe reading animal cues, maybe being able to read cars, maybe being a good hunter. I have no data for this.”
There is, in fact, little scientific dogma on cat navigation. Migratory animals like birds, turtles and insects have been studied more closely, and use magnetic fields, olfactory cues, or orientation by the sun.
I mention this story not because of its intrinsic interest, but because of my surprise on seeing last night that it had made its way to the top of the NYT list of most e-mailed articles. Tonight, it remains #1, and #4 under “Most Viewed.” Much as I enjoyed the story, I didn’t expect this. Are there really so many cat lovers out there, eager to spread the word about the wonders of the species?
Speaking of wondrous cats, our resident 16-3/4-year-old tortie Emma has not been doing well. At her annual physical 3 1/2 weeks ago, we were stunned to learn that her weight had fallen to six pounds, and her blood test suggested weakening kidneys. We’ve been experimenting with a variety of new foods since then. Last week she became listless, spending Thursday and Friday on her new heating mat without getting up to eat or drink. We brought her to the vet Saturday morning and she was down to five-and-a-half pounds. The vet recommended keeping her for the day so she could be hydrated, tested, and observed.
Tests showed that Emma’s white blood cell count was high, indicating an infection, perhaps a kidney infection, so she is now on antibiotics. We didn’t see any signs of improvement when she got home Saturday, or most of yesterday, but since last night she’s been eating again, moving around, behaving a bit like her usual self.
It looks like Emma has made it through. We have to continue with the antibiotics for another two weeks. Her nightly torture. They’re in liquid form, mixed with tuna juice by the pharmacist to make them more palatable. That’s the theory anyway. I’m not sure Emma got the message. At least she doesn’t claw us. In her prime, she would have made us pay. Now she’s much more tolerant of our ways.
Emma turns 16 tomorrow. There she is, above, just 10 minutes ago.
We have no big plans. None that I’m aware of anyway. We’ll spend the evening with her, maybe give her some treats, but that’s about it. Whatever we do, she’ll be content as long as we’re here. And as long as we let her sit by the open door, or maybe step out for a bit. Her needs these days are simple.
Happy Birthday, Emma.
We took Emma to the vet today for her annual checkup. (No, that’s not her. That’s a sheep. Emma’s a cat. I’ll explain the relevance of the photo in a bit.)
Emma is 15 years old now, 15 and 8 months, and today for a change the visit wasn’t a routine in and out. The time had come at last for a discussion of senior cats and their ailments. Emma has slowed down, of course. She’s not much given to running around the yard anymore. When I start up the stairs, she no longer bounds past me. She still manages to jump up on the bed, but isn’t too keen to get onto the desk when I’m working. And worse, she struggles when she jumps down.
We discussed all this with the vet, as well what appears to be the occasional difficulty Emma has walking. Her rear legs or hips look strained. Last year, Gail explained this to the vet, who examined Emma and saw little cause for alarm. This year, when she (the vet) palpated Emma’s hips, Emma complained. The vet suggested that we could consider an x-ray, and recommended some dental care: a cleaning and perhaps a tooth extraction. If we go through with the dental work, Emma will need to be anesthetized, which would provide the opportunity for an x-ray, should we wish.
I don’t imagine there’s much to do about Emma’s hips if we do find a problem. I’m more concerned with giving her pain relief. But, of course, it’s difficult to gauge what sort of pain a cat is in, an issue we also discussed with the vet.
All of which gave us much to think about, and served as perfect preparation for the article I found on the NYT home page when we returned home with Emma: What We Can Learn from Old Animals.
In an unusual project, Isa Leshko, a fine-art photographer who lives in Philadelphia, set out to capture glimpses of animals at a time when they rarely attract much admiration or media attention — in their twilight years. The photographs, part of “a series called Elderly Animals”, are intimate and at times gripping. In one, a thoroughbred horse named Handsome One, age 33, stands in a stable, his hair wispy and his frame showing signs of time. In another, a pair of Finn sheep at the advanced age of 12 embrace as an elderly couple on a park bench might. And in another, a geriatric chow mix named Red lies with his paw under his chin, the signs of glaucoma apparent in his onyx-colored eyes.
The Times has a slideshow of twelve of Leshko’s photos, and you can see more by following the link above to Leshko’s website. What’s striking is the dignity of the animals, a dignity Emma has acquired as well. As she ages, her feral ferocity turns to sweetness.
Duncan, the family cat back on Long Island, died today. He was a good cat, and he thrived for years, but he has not been well for much of the past year.
Duncan came into our family’s life unexpectedly over a decade ago. One of several kittens who appeared in the yard one summer, he was persistent after the others drifted away. Eventually, my family fed him. But with parakeets in the house, his coming in wasn’t an option. As the weather cooled in the fall, he moved into makeshift lodgings by the kitchen door. With bedding and a steady source of food, hewas content.
A year later, he moved again, into the house. The basement was his domain, a door separating him from the parakeets. He would come up to eat or to go outside, but otherwise spent much of his time downstairs sleeping.
Over the years, his domain continued to expand. He still liked his basement bed, but he established alternative sites upstairs. And he treated the parakeets like a gentleman. When one managed to get out of his cage last year and land on the dining room floor, Duncan was there to watch over him and meow until he could be rescued.
But Duncan had not been eating much in recent months, for whatever reason, and that began to take its toll. He remained friendly and affectionate, eager to get outside to keep up with the latest developments. However, it was only a matter of time. And that time came today.
We’ll miss him.
In my post a week ago about Spring Visitors, I mentioned in passing the Stellar’s Jays who have been spending a lot of time at our bird feeder. They’re lovely to look at, but since I mentioned them, they’ve shown their true colors. They’re pleasant enough when we’re around. But poor Emma. If she heads out the back door in mid-day, within seconds one of the jays flies down to our patio chairs or the low branches of the giant maple tree and squawks like crazy. The jay may fly from branch to chair to chair to table to chair to branch to branch, squawking incessantly. I keep telling the jay that Emma has rights too, but to no avail.
So what do you think? Are they nesting in the maple? I’m thinking so. It’s fascinating that they instantaneously identify Emma as a threat, but allow us to go about our business. They might have been right once, but now she’s just a slow-moving 15-year-old heading outside for sun, warmth, fresh air, and a taste of the old days. Her running, chasing, hunting days are past. The jays are most unkind.
Emma turned 15 last Sunday. We had some guests over to celebrate, though they might have thought they were here for Easter. She was content to avoid them, not coming downstairs even for a minute until they left.
I don’t want this milestone to pass without any mention here at Ron’s View. So, even though I’m six days late: Happy Birthday, Emma. You’re as pretty as ever. (See below, from 10 minutes ago.)
Things have been a little too quiet here at Ron’s View. Sorry about that. I had some grading to do this past week, and although that didn’t occupy every waking minute of my days, it did interfere with regular blog posting. At 4:00 PM yesterday, with just an hour to spare, I got my grades submitted. Time to relax!
Except it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Not yet. It didn’t help that I did something really dumb right after submitting the grades. I wanted to clean up both the physical and electronic documents for the course, clearing my real and virtual desktops in preparation for my course next quarter. My last step was to move my grading spreadsheet into the course folder on the computer. When I did so, I found that some strange file had appeared in the folder, and when I went to delete the unwanted file, I managed to delete the entire folder instead. That wasn’t good, all the more because I intended to use some of the now-deleted files as templates for next quarter’s course. After writing an embarrassing confession to our computer support staff, I headed home, imagining the worst. I never did relax last night and enjoy the quarter’s work being done.
At 7:00 this morning I opened my email to the happy news that the staff had restored the files. Time to relax at last. I thought. I let Emma (the cat) out, went about my business, looked forward to catching up on assorted tasks. Then, maybe an hour later, I heard outside the window that screeching cat sound that always makes me worry that Emma is being attacked. I opened the window, then the front door, then the back door, then ran upstairs to see if maybe Emma were actually sitting in her usual daytime locations, which she wasn’t, then came back down and opened the side door off the kitchen, then the garage door, then went out to look for her. Not in front. Not in the side yard where she sometimes hides if she’s uncomfortable. As I came around to the backyard, I saw two cats, seeming mirror images, facing off about three feet apart on our back patio. I couldn’t tell which one was Emma, whether the interloper was between her and the house or whether she was keeping the interloper away. As I approached, the cat farther from the house ran toward the bushes and the other (now revealed to be Emma) ran to the back door. When I came closer, she raced through the door, faster than I’ve seen her run in years. I followed her in and watched her disappear down the basement stairway. I reached the stairway and she was a few steps down looking up, but when she caught sight of me she turned and ran again, down I imagined to her usual remote safety zone, the guest bedroom.
Which brings me to the next part of the story. I need to note that a week ago we had some of the heaviest rains in decades here in Seattle, what’s called a Pineapple Express, when a warm weather system comes straight in from Hawaii and dumps inches of rain. I was afraid to go down to the basement, lest I discover some flooding. Not that there has been flooding lately. None since October 2003, the last and worst of our many basement floods, after which we finally re-did the whole drainage system outside, where the drainage contractor could. One area couldn’t be reached. But that’s okay. It was by the basement bedroom, which in 17 years has never flooded.
Well, when I finally did head down to look for water last week, with Joel beside me since I didn’t dare do it alone, I found no water in any of the old bad spots. The guest bedroom though I wasn’t sure about. No standing water or anything, but a sense of dampness. I told Gail, thought we’d check again on Friday when our contractor was going to swing by to deal with a different issue, but when Friday came I completely forgot.
So now it’s Tuesday morning, a week after the Pineapple Express, and Emma draws Gail and me down to the bedroom. The carpeting still didn’t feel obviously wet, but the odor suggested that it surely was. Two hours later, our friend Bert (longstanding employee of the contractor) came over from another job, pulled up some of the carpeting, and the pad was soaked. Another two hours later and two more members of the contractor team pulled out all the carpeting and pad. We have a pretty good guess where the water came in and why, but more diagnostic work needs to be done. A dehumidifier is hard at work. With the pad gone, the odor will disappear in due course.
Sigh. This isn’t how I wanted my break to begin. I don’t feel relaxed at all. And there are all the blog posts I have to write. Better get to work.
In my last post, on Thanksgiving morning, I presented the photo above and asked where it was taken. Readers could choose from a list of a dozen cities. It’s time to reveal the answer.
Those cats are Parisians. (They have that look, don’t they?) My sister took the photo Thursday morning on Avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondissement. If you know Paris even a little, you may be familiar with the Pont de l’Alma, the bridge across the Seine that connects the 7th and 8th arrondissements and is the departure point for the bateaux mouches. Were you to walk toward the Seine from the Champs-Elysées along Avenue George V, you would be led directly over the Pont de l’Alma. On reaching the other side, you would find that the road splits, with Avenue Bosquet heading south-southeast to the École Militaire metro stop and Avenue Rapp heading south-southwest to the Champs de Mars, just south of the Eiffel Tower.
When my sister and her family first moved to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand in 1983, they lived on a small street that runs between Avenues Bosquet and Rapp, just three blocks off the Seine. A few years later, they moved to the far side of Avenue Rapp, near the Champs de Mars. She finds herself walking on Avenue Rapp essentially daily, but she hadn’t seen the cats until Thursday. Once she sent the photo to me, I couldn’t resist posting it.
Below you can see a photo Gail took when we were in Paris a year ago of a famous building on Avenue Rapp.
I received the photo above from a regular correspondent and blog reader, who took it with her iPhone. When I showed the photo to Gail, she said you could tell that the cats were [some specific geographic identifier goes here] cats. I’m skeptical. She had the advantage of knowing who the photographer was and where the photo was taken, so she wasn’t guessing from the cats’ facial expressions or head shapes that they were from [some particular place]. Rather, she knew the place and was reading real-or-imagined geographic identifiers into the photo after the fact.
So let’s see if there really are visual clues identifying the place. Can you tell where this photo was taken? If you think so submit an answer to the poll below. Or just make a guess. For the more ambitious among you, use the comments to suggest a particular neighborhood within a city.