The planned shelter visit didn’t go as expected.
I never thought that I’d adopt an older cat. And if someone had told me that I’ll pick the scruffiest, most challenged senior cat in the whole place, I’d have laughed. Yet, it’s exactly what happened.
To this day, I can’t even pick him up. He still hisses and scratches sometimes. He also sneezes everywhere, can’t groom properly, and slaps the other cats every opportunity he gets.
And we couldn’t possibly love him any more.
Why people overlook senior cats
Our favorite shelter had an open day that Saturday. Teddy was the only cat allowed out of his enclosure. He desperately needed to catch someone’s attention.
By that point, he’d been featured on the adoption priority list for months, but everyone just kept walking straight past him.
Not only was he a senior cat, but he was also FIV positive. At that point, he was battling chronic cold as a consequence of having caught the FIV virus through territory fights when he lived on the street.
On top of that, even though he desperately wanted to be friends with someone, he was still quite irritable and unpredictable. He was still under a firm grip of his deeply-rooted survival instincts.
As it turns out, cats like him often have a super difficult time competing for adoption with cute kittens and healthy young cats. Most people choose the youngsters.
I was no different. Our first two cats were brought in as tiny kittens, too.
But that day, I felt otherwise. Watching Teddy rediscover his social side again, I saw through his rough exterior. He wanted me to scratch under his chin and purred away when I did.
I thought it was incredibly unfair that he was left behind for so long, because of his condition. Wasn’t his condition supposed to be the very reason he’d stand out to someone?
On top of that, nobody at the shelter could tell us for sure how long he had left to live. Although cats with FIV can enjoy happy and long lives, it’s a pretty unpredictable condition nonetheless.
And that was the last drop. We took him home. 5 years later, I couldn’t be happier we gave him a chance.
Still unsure? I get it! I was, too.
Today I know all cats deserve a big fat chance, including the elderly. They make amazing companions especially to busy people. Here’s why:
1. They are eeeaseeeyyy
In a ‘been there, done that’ kind of way.
Mature cats have reached the point in their lives when they are too cool for anything besides eating, napping, and Netflix. If it seems too much work to go and raid the pantry, they will give it a pass.
Most of their precious energy is spent on finding some peace and quiet. They enjoy every snuggly corner and every warm sunny spot to the fullest, as they spend long blissful hours just watching the day go by. And one thing is for sure – they’ve earned it!
After the rough life he’s lived, Teddy is grateful for every carefree moment, and takes a lot of healing naps. Senior cats don’t ever say no to an extra-long power nap. You’re always welcome to join them!
2. They keep track of your daily schedule
They love routine so much, they actually keep track of time. Don’t ask me how – I have absolutely no idea.
When Teddy first joined us, for months we had to feed him first, and separately from the other cats. He went bonkers at the sight of food. Without supervision he prowled, and kept chasing the other cats away. Basically, he treated every dish as his very last meal.
The survival instincts were so strong that even though he grasped the concept of morning and evening mealtimes, when it came down to it he never believed he could actually rely on their repetition.
Thankfully he’s calmed down around food by now. But it seems to this day he can’t believe his luck.
So he likes to make sure things do happen exactly at their designated times.
I have absolutely no idea how he manages to know the time — but he does.
When I find myself in the zone and forget a mealtime, Teddy always comes to my desk at precisely either noon or 5pm, and starts meowing.
At noon, he lets me know it’s time for his lunchtime snack of kibble.
And at 5, and not a minute later, I should get up and light the fire in the wood burner for him to wait in front of, while I prepare everyone’s dinner. And I’m grateful for his alerts too, as they mean I never forget to eat lunch or end up working too late.
Cats are creatures of habit. Senior cats, even more so. They might even become your slightly less annoying alarm clock.
3. They understand you’re busy
At the end of the day, they won’t demand nearly as much of you as a moody youngster would. They won’t expect you to cure their boredom when you get home. (Young cats are always better off in pairs!)
Mature cats, on the other hand, are just that: mature, calm, and zen.
They free up your day by being incredibly easygoing and grateful for what they already have.
No walking all over your keyboard to get attention.
No constant demanding to play games by digging their claws into your foot every five minutes.
And definitely, no jumping on your shoulders from the sky-high cat shelf you’ve installed for them to hang out and give you space.
Literally all you need to do most days is to feed and water them, clean the litter box, and make sure they are warm (cats get arthritis, too!). Teddy loves the wood burner. We made a little cat sofa for him, and he stares dreamily into the fire for hours. After years of sleeping rough in the rain, he still can’t believe his luck.
Senior cats are astonishingly adaptable. They’re content with easy daily routines and perhaps a portion of amusement – as long as they don’t have to walk too far for it. And when they have a sense of safety and love, they’ll happily make themselves suit any busy day of yours.
And when you get home, they’ll always be there to hang out with you, and remind you of the importance of self-care.
4. They provide daily laughs
If you think kittens are funny, wait till you see a grandad cat go crazy. No matter how hard your day might have been, you’ll be in stitches.
Senior cats are hilarious to watch when they start playing. Especially cats who used to live outside are usually keen to pass some time stalking or teasing, at any age.
A toy that gets their hunting mode switched back on (even if it’s just for five minutes), will keep their brain alert and their mood lovely and light.
But they’re so incredibly clumsy! With their movement skills likely to be somewhat limited by now, it’s an amusing watch when they throw themselves at it regardless.
I always try and take my time encouraging Teddy to play whatever game he wants, as every exercise now counts, and is good for his stiff muscles and achy bones.
And despite these conditions, he enjoys his little outbursts enormously! It’s like he found his way back to being a cheerful little kitten. It’s the most heartwarming thing to witness.
Encouraging at least a little play each day is recommended. Aside from the all-important exercise, laughing together is always the best way to strenghten your bond and friendship.
5. You become their happyend
Senior cats come to shelters from all sorts of situations.
Like Teddy, they might be taken in from the street, where they suddenly struggle to survive. Most senior cats lose the ability to fetch for themselves with age. They aren’t as fast as they once used to be.
Street cats will have had various experiences with humans, too.
Cats who became stray after living as pets, usually remember what it’s like to share a home very quickly. And it’s wonderful to see their mindset return from always on edge, back to reassured and peaceful.
Cats born stray or feral who have neutral experience with humans, will be delighted to learn how kind a person you are. They’ll trust you more every day, with every meal served on a silver plate, again; and with every cosy movie-night next to you on the couch. They’ll only wish they had known about you sooner!
Cats who have had negative experiences with humans will need a ton of time and patience from you, to help overcome their fear. You might even be able to spot specific behaviors, giving you clues about what might have happened to them. Make sure to then be super gentle and patient in that area.
If the cat is scared of your loud stomping feet, likely there’s history behind that reaction. The best you can do is to put up with tiptoeing for a few weeks.
And when you accidentally do something that freaks them out, always reassure them that it was nothing. Make sure you show them they are safe now. Always be gentle. Yes, you do want them to know you give the best chin scratches, but let it come naturally and on their own terms.
When you respect the space they need to adapt, you prove to them you’re safe to be around. Your dynamic will change as they finally allow themselves to relax.
And when they discover how lovely you are, they won’t be able to get enough. Soon you’ll be spending your time with the most grateful, charming, and cuddly cat you’ve ever known.
Many grandcats sadly end up in shelters when their lifetime human companions pass away. In these cases your bonding will be especially precious, as you will be replacing the human love of their life!
These cats already know so much about living in a human home, they’ll get used to your space and routines easily and quickly. They will be beyond thrilled to belong again.
Ready for a change of perspective?
I certainly wasn’t.
And nothing could ever prepare me for how different things would be from what I expected.
Of course we faced challenges.
But it’s thanks to these challenges that our relationship with Teddy evolved to be so special.
A few months in, my boyfriend volunteered to deal with the worst task of all. And that’s trying to catch Teddy, a cat utterly desperate not to be caught, for vet visits.
You may laugh, but this was a cat who could only be touched on his head, and anything else made him mad.
He always got extremely stressed and scared. And he’d mobilize his biggest strength, speed, and determination to keep his freedom.
Our flat usually looked like a bomb site half an hour later; with everyone sitting on the floor disheveled, puzzled, and exhausted, and the cat carrier still empty. Teddy cowering behind the couch, and my man looking helpless with his skiing gloves on, and towel-wrapped arms.
And when we finally got hold of him, he screamed the loudest, most soul-crushing roars I’ve ever heard from a cat. It was totally heartbreaking.
Build a foundation of trust
Teddy soon learned that every one of the agonizing experiences of being trapped and taken, later ended back at home again. He could feel safe again. And we spoiled him rotten afterwards.
He started to realize that in fact he can trust us.
We had a final breaktrough when he’d had to spend 2 weeks at the shelter vet unit with a blocked bladder. He was more fragile than ever, and had to remain on the drip for days.
We visited him a lot. Each time he instantly perked up, purred loudly and pressed himself against our hands. By that point he knew we weren’t going to ever leave him behind.
And since then, he’s been the most wonderful, social, and loving cat ever.
These days Teddy jumps on my boyfriend’s lap and asks for cuddles. For all they’ve been through, he adores him endlessly. He knows he is safe with us for the rest of his life.
And we’ve learned a lot about life from this brave old fighter too.
Luckily, not all elderly cats carry emotional baggage or health issues. Most grandcats can remain perfectly healthy and just need some fine-tailored care.
They all have the same potential to become incredibly charming companions. You gain the most wonderful, loving, and unassuming friends in them.
So next time you’re in the shelter, look out for the old souls, watching you quietly from a corner. Ask to hear their stories.
Some of those stories will be heartbreaking.
But that’s exactly where you come in.
You know the cute kittens and youngsters are bound to find a home tomorrow, or next week.
The grandcats however, have been waiting for you.
They, too, just want love.
By now they’re probably aching for it.