This morning, as can happen, reality came dancing right up into my face in a startling way. Our kitty Aliza is getting old. As in old. Not that I wasn’t aware of this, but for some reason today, I have a lump in my throat about it.
And so, this post is long and contain lots of pictures. (You’ve been warned!)
Little things have been happening gradually, so you don’t really notice right away that your pet is aging. Know what I mean? Aliza never was a good jumper, and today we have all manner of kitty steps and low stools set up for her to climb up onto our bed, or to get into her own favorite cat bed on top of the dresser. She also has a bed on the floor, but of course that’s not the one she favors even though it would be so much easier for her.
|Aliza snoozing in her favorite cat bed on our dresser.
Now that Aliza is deaf, she doesn’t hear me approaching with my camera!
Aliza’s hearing is basically gone. She once had the tiniest “mews” and also what we called her “silent meows” where she would open her mouth and just air would come out. So cute, because she was so timid. Once her hearing began going, she began mewing louder – I think to hear herself more than anything. Now it is loud meYOWs, almost desperate-sounding at times.
Aliza was a feral cat. She spent the early part of her life on the craggy rocks at the water’s edge in a feral cat colony at Boston’s Logan Airport. She and most of the colony were trapped and vet-checked and put up for adoption by a caring rescue organization. I already had two Ragdoll cats at the time: Matisse, aka Mr. Boober, and his little sister and sidekick Lulu. For many reasons, it was time for me to get another cat. Yucky reasons which I won’t get into, but let’s just say I was ready to be a crazy cat lady and give all of my love to my cats, so why not get another?
My dear friend Penny offered to help me look through countless photos on PetFinder, as I wanted a rescue this time around. (My Ragdolls are purebreds I got from a breeder in New England.) I wanted a rescue because I needed to be rescued. Didn’t know it at the time. So I woke up one morning to find an email from Penny with links to 50 different photos of cats she found in the Boston area (where I then lived). The first photo I opened up was of Aliza, looking scared inside of a cage, and her description intrigued me: a formerly feral cat, now socialized, 4 years old, needing a furrever home.
I looked at several of the photos Penny had found for me. But I kept going back to that very first photo. I couldn’t get the cat named Aliza out of my mind. Maybe I was projecting, but she looked like she needed to be rescued. I wasn’t sure about a formerly feral cat, but the rescue organization said Aliza was socialized. She was only 4-ish years young, the same age as Lulu at the time. I thought Aliza might be a great playmate for Lulu, giving Mr. Boober – who both loved, played, and tolerated his little sister – a much-needed break at times.
|Aliza watching me work, back in 2004. Check out her huge double paws!|
I contacted the rescue shelter and learned that Aliza had been there about 6 months and had been easily socialized during that time. She had double paws, and because some of them were a bit strange-looking, people supposedly passed her up for adoption. Made me want her All. The. More. I’m such a sucker for that.
The rescue group brought Aliza to my apartment in a large cardboard box. Tipping the box at a sharp angle, out tumbled a scrawny cat who was clawing for dear life onto the inside of that box. She scooted underneath a chair in my tiny patio room, and there she huddled.
That was ok, because I had a french door that closed off that room, so she could be safe while Boober and Lulu could watch her through the glass and get used to the idea that Mommy disrupted our little family brought a sweet kitty into the fold.
|First picture of Aliza in my apartment. She was terrified.
I had no idea she wasn’t socialized and was fearful of humans.
|Aliza eventually left the safety of the patio room, and I found her curled up
in the litter box. The poor thing, she was looking for a safe spot.
|I bought this cube and stuck it in my bedroom closet, which I kept open for her. She found
it and tucked herself in! I got used to only seeing half of her face, as she peeked out at me.
I could write for hours about Aliza. But here’s the key points about her…
She didn’t seem to be socialized. At all. What I initially thought was her being scared was actually her being petrified of humans. I wasn’t going to take her back. That wasn’t an option. She was interested in the other cats. She looked at them longingly all the time.
|Matisse, Lulu, and Aliza hanging out, sort of. Aliza had been with us for 2 weeks so far in this photo.|
I rescued her and somehow I would socialize her. Somehow. And it’s taken quite some time – it will be the 10th anniversary of adopting her this coming July 4th weekend – her own Independence Day. It took about 7 years until she would let me pet her. But during that time she had become practically glued to Mr. Boober.
It wasn’t what I had envisioned, as that sweet boy needed a break, but what can you do? And Boober ended up being the glue that held that little threesome of kitties together. You can read about him, and just how brave he was as he succumbed to lymphoma, in this post I wrote last year: Our cat was a pansy. Here’s why.
Aliza was timid, she was definitely the low cat on the totem pole in her former feral cat colony, you could just tell by how she interacted with the cats. But she also could play by herself, which was heartwarming to watch. After being in my apartment only about two weeks, one day I watched her go over to the cats’ toy bin and pull out a felt toy that the cats had never played with. That became her favorite toy and she played with it until it was in shreds. The cat nobody wanted chose the toy nobody wanted. To this day, she plays with the toys that the other cats aren’t interested in.
|Aliza, the first time she played with a felt toy she picked out of the toy bin.
As I watched her play, and took this pic, I felt like she was starting to let her guard down.
She was not 4 years old. She got horribly sick about 4 months after I adopted her, and I rushed her to the well-known Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. They couldn’t determine what had happened, but gave her fluids and she seemed to stabilize. (She was even more scared to death there. During the exam, she actually burrowed her head into me – me who she was scared of – while the vet examined her.) And that’s when I found out she was most likely around 11 years of age and had been a mommy at least once. The vet actually chuckled when I said she was only 4 years old. He showed me her “mommy sack” hanging from her belly, her aging teeth, and other signs which helped him determine her more realistic age.
|We used this bed to hold all the cat toys. She chose to sit on them and play that way!|
No wonder she was scared of humans. Who knows how long she had been feral! And I wondered if Aliza being feral was the real reason people were passing her up for adoption. I imagined her trying to take care of her kittens, probably foraging for fast-food remnants that the airport employees might have left behind during their shifts. I imagine she tasted little bits of coffee. I imagine she had a hard life. And I imagine that she was a good mommy.
So now I had a huge challenge on my hands: an 11-ish year old still-sort-of-feral kitty. And it was at that same time that my now-husband came into our lives. I wasn’t destined to be a crazy cat lady afterall! Both of us worked with Aliza and didn’t push things, letting her develop trust and a comfort level with us over time.
We were so happy she was in love with Boober, even though it was definitely an unrequited love.
|Aliza always stuck close by Boober’s side. She probably loved his gentle nature.
(apologies for this not being such a clear pic!)
Boober was such a sweetheart that he tolerated her constant need to snuggle, just as he tolerated Lulu’s constant need to wrestle with him.
|Lulu bopping Boober w/ a soft right paw! These two loved to wrestle!|
We moved three times, lived in three different states, and now reside at our own furrever home in New Jersey. Aliza’s safe place is our bedroom. She can hide under the bed if she gets spooked.
|Aliza, when we first moved into our furrever home. She’d wait patiently like this…
|And once Lulu was done hanging out with Boober, only then would Aliza take her turn!
(Lulu has always been the alpha: even her big brother listened to her!)
But now we can pet her! If we are standing up, it has to be with our left hand only and while standing to the right of her. Otherwise? No deal, no pets. Trial and error and many years taught us that one.
|Aliza sharing some love with me, while she lounges on her pink blanket
on our bed. You can see all the snags in the blanket from her large claws.
Every night she comes up onto the bed, making her way slowly up those kitty stairs, and sits on my lap to get pets and snuggles and scroochies and rubbies and all manner of affection from me. That began when Mr. Boober passed away 3.5 years ago. I think Aliza quickly realized her companion was gone, and she needed affection from somewhere, and chose me. Just as I chose her for affection so many years ago.
Aliza is possibly how old? If she was 11-ish years old when I adopted her, and that was 10 years ago, could she honestly be around 21 years of age? That sounds crazy. I keep telling people she’s around 18 or 19 years of age. I’ve been saying that for years. I’ve never had the blessing of experiencing a cat living into old age. My first kitty Sinéad died when she was only 11 years old of cancer, which seemed cruel to me, after she helped me get through my own bout of cervical cancer. And Mr. Boober passed away at age 10, after bravely battling lymphoma for two years. Lulu will be 13 this month, although she still seems like a playful young kitten.
|Aliza never left Boober’s side towards the end. I captured this moment just
days before we had to say goodbye. He was blind by then, and both girls
helped him navigate his way around. It was amazing to watch.
I find myself paying close attention to things that may or may not be signs of Aliza slowing down. Sometimes she drinks water too fast, and then glurts it right out. Silly girl. And sometimes she doesn’t quite get enough of a running start walking start to hoist herself up onto the stools to climb up into her favorite bed. She’s a plumpy girl, no idea how much she weighs as I still can’t pick her up.
I used to have to trap her – literally – just to get her to the vet. When Boober was alive, all we had to do was put him into a larger cat carrier and she would run right in and snuggle next to him for safety. Easy peasy. (Lulu always had her own carrier. She’s the alpha around here.) And when Hurricane Sandy happened last year, and the police knocked on our door and waited for us to evacuate? Well, having to quickly trap Aliza meant there was poop and pee everywhere. She is truly a scaredy cat. And she literally gets scared sh*tless, as the phrase goes. It isn’t pretty, but luckily rarely happens too.
Aliza and Lulu get along, but not like they each got along with Boober.
|Aliza wants to snuggle with Lulu. Lulu wants to wrestle instead.
I wish they could do both with each other.
Aliza wants to snuggle with Lulu. Lulu will respond by giving her some licks, but that’s where Lulu draws the line. Lulu will then usually try to jump Aliza to get her to play wrestle. Aliza freaks out and runs trots walks away quickly, as she doesn’t understand Lulu is trying to play with her.
|I walked into our bedroom and was shocked to see the girls sitting together.
I was able to snap this quickly before they broke up the party. It gave me hope!
It’s those times when I get a lump in my throat because it makes me wish Boober was still with us to complete the picture. And yes, every day I tell my husband that I want another boy kitty. But I know in my heart that what I want is to have my Boober back.
We don’t know how old Aliza is, and maybe that’s a good thing. Because no matter what her age, nobody can predict how long or short her life will be. And that’s true for people too, obviously. Treat every day as special, as a gift, and all of those sentiments. But how do I shake this new lump in my throat? The one that is forming when I see her struggle a bit more to climb onto the bed? Or when I’m not sure she can even hear me anymore?
Aliza has been a challenging kitty to take care of because of her formerly feral life, mainly her skittishness around humans. But she has also been one of the biggest blessings that I am so thankful for each and every day. She just wants to be loved. And to snuggle. And to purr out her contentment loudly. And at the end of the day – literally – when she climbs into my lap? Who could ask for anything more?