It was a long time ago, 1987, when the veterinarian referred to my then-cat as “elderly.” I was shocked.
“He's only ten.” I said. “I've known lots of cats who live to be 19 or 20 and I've read of cats who live even longer.”
“That doesn't mean they aren't elderly,” said my vet.
I mention this today because my current cat and best friend Oliver, better known as Ollie, is celebrating his tenth birthday. Here is what he looked like at about 11 weeks soon after I brought him to his new home in Greenwich Village from Philadelphia where he was born.
He is a well-traveled cat who has also lived in Portland, Maine, before moving to Lake Oswego, Oregon, with me four years ago.
Ollie is a Savannah cat, a hybrid. He is about 15 percent serval - a medium-sized wild cat native to central Africa; the rest of him is Serengetti and Bengal, two other hybrids. (I don't believe that hybrid domestics are a particularly good idea but that's a story for another day.)
So, to celebrate this decade with my furry friend, here is a post about him from seven years ago when he was three. It was fun to write and produce and maybe even readers who have been here for that long will enjoy seeing it again.
It is titled How Ollie the Cat Lost His Outdoor Privileges.
This tale of Ollie the cat begins in mid-2006, when he and his housemate, Ronni, moved from Greenwich Village to a new home in Portland, Maine.
The Maine apartment is much bigger than their New York City home – specifically, much longer with lots of room for a young cat to gallop from one end to the other (when he is not snoozing).
For an entire year, Ollie the cat lived inside this house and took pleasure, when windows were open, in ka-ka-ka-ing at the birds and squirrels who hang out on the electric lines in front of the house.
During that first year, Ronni did not allow Ollie on the deck because cats are known to get distracted while stalking birds and bees and butterflies. Who knows, he might forget himself and take a flying leap off the second-floor deck.
It was a distraction when Ronni, on a beautiful day, took lunch or dinner among her flowers and plants or read a book lying on the chaise longue, purchased just for that purpose, while Ollie screamed through the screen door demanding to join her. But Ronni has lived with cats all her life and knows their wandering ways. So Ollie was deprived of the one thing he wanted most – to be outdoors.
It wasn’t easy keeping Ollie in the house. Cats are born experts at whisking between human feet when they want to get somewhere they are not allowed. Especially when Ronni was carrying dirty clothes through the kitchen door and back hall to the laundry room or was hauling the big watering can to the deck, Ollie sometimes escaped, but not for long. Ronni is practiced at catching errant cats.
Still, it was tiring for Ronni to keep constant watch on Ollie when doors were opened and closed and she did feel sorry for the little fellow who desperately wanted to frolic in the fresh air and take in the heady aromas that only cats and dogs can smell. And so, when the snows had melted and spring arrived, Ronni relented.
At first, she stayed with Ollie when he played on the deck so she would be there to grab him if his interest in a bug took him too close to the edge. But humans – or, at least, Ronni – are more easily bored with bug stalking than cats and in time, Ollie was allowed on the deck alone.
In fact, when Ollie altered their morning routine by yelling to have the kitchen door opened before breakfast and even, sometimes, before sunrise, Ronni left all the doors open on good weather days so Ollie could come and go at his whim. And all was well - or close enough, if you don’t count regurgitated dead bugs on the rug.
When it wasn’t raining, Ollie spent most of his summer days on the deck chasing bugs or snoozing on his favorite outdoor chair. It was his habit to check in with Ronni at her desk a couple of times in the afternoon or, on hot, humid days, to loll around indoors stretched out on the cool porcelain of the bathtub. And on a few occasions, he spent the night sleeping on the chaise. Ronni tried that one time herself and understood the attraction on a cool summer night.
Ollie likes to eat at about 5:30PM and if Ronni hasn’t filled his bowl by then, he tracks her down and taps her on the arm in a certain way that means, “Hey, it’s dinner time. You don’t expect me to eat those leftover crumbs from breakfast, do you?”
Several days ago, Ronni looked up from her laptop and realized it was an hour past Ollie’s dinner time. He had not reminded her and she had not seen him since early afternoon. Where could he be? She checked the deck. No Ollie.
Ronni called his name from the kitchen - he usually comes – but no Ollie. She checked behind the sofa…
No Ollie. She checked his cupboard hidey-hole…
No Ollie. She checked the guest room closet…
Still no Ollie. She looked under the bed. There were some lost cat toys, but…
…no cat. She hadn’t done laundry that day, but just in case, she checked the washer and dryer…
They were empty - of a cat, anyway. She checked behind Ollie’s favorite deck chair where garden equipment is kept.
No Ollie. The cat was gone, gone, gone. How could that be? wondered Ronni. Then it struck her in all its horror - perhaps Ollie had fallen off the deck. You see, there is a six-inch lip of flooring beyond the fence of the deck. Ronni could never watch when Ollie patrolled out there.
Heart pounding, Ronni grabbed a flashlight – dusk was settling in – and ran downstairs to the small back yard. She looked behind every bush and flower and weed. With great relief, Ronni found no dead or injured cat. She looked up at her deck – it was a long way down.
Back upstairs and again on the deck, Ronni pondered this mystery of the disappearing cat and softly called his name. Was that a meow she heard? She called again. Yes, yes, it WAS a meow. But where was it coming from? The adjoining laundry room? No cat there.
Ronni called to Ollie again from the deck. There was no doubt this time; it was Ollie’s voice – coming from the yard.
Ronni raced downstairs to find Ollie peering out from under some plants behind the birdbath.
Even after several hours on the loose, Ollie wasn’t ready to come home and he nearly evaded Ronni's grasp. But cats sometimes forget humans are bigger and stronger than they are.
He yowled as Ronni caught him by the tail, but what’s a little pain, thought Ronni, compared to being squashed beneath a car’s tire or torn apart by the rumscullion cats who prowl the yard at night. Nevertheless, he fought her all the way upstairs.
How did Ollie get to the yard? Did he fall by accident and just happen not to hurt himself? Did he forget where he was and leap after a bug? Or did he carefully calculate the distance and deliberately jump to the ground from the second floor?
We will never know. But two mornings after Ollie’s escape, Ronni woke to a dream image of him sailing off the deck with all the magnificent grace of feline gazelle.
And that is the tale of how Ollie the cat lost his outdoor deck privileges. Ronni is certain she lost a few weeks off the end of her life due to stress and fear.
When she recovered, she was angry with Ollie. So angry, in fact, she is publishing this formerly secret, inelegant photo of him in the chair where he will undoubtedly spend more time now.
After all that and because the web is such a cat-crazy environment, let's just wallow in it today and tell each all our best cat stories. (If you happen to be a dog person, there's nothing wrong with a good dog story too.)
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Maureen Browing: Beware of Loose Gravel