“Will you be doing some traveling?” a friend asked, after I casually mentioned that I was retiring from my job at the end of the school year.

“Not yet,” I said. “Right now, we’re running a kitty hospice.”

How did we end up with four senior cats? Clara, a tortoiseshell, is 19. Annie, a gray ball of fluff, is 17. Teddy, a Maine coon, is 15; and all-black Leo is now 12.

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time, more than a decade ago. Four was the limit, so if there was an opening, we filled it.

Cat overpopulation is a real problem. My husband, Paul, and I wanted to do our part.

Our Victorian farmhouse has many small rooms, so it’s not usually evident four cats are in residence. The full extent of our folly is on display at mealtime, when they converge upon the kitchen. This is also the hub of kitty hospice activities: the dispensation of medication.


It’s ironic — or something decidedly less literary — that we provided such excellent care to our pets that we now have a 19-year-old cat that has had thyroid and kidney disease for years, is as thin as a rail, can’t hear and sleeps about 20 hours a day.

Clara turns up for meals at weird times (like 10 a.m.), but has to be herded down from the farthest corner of the second floor when lunch is actually being served.

She’s showing amazing stamina. She’s always been a bossy, cantankerous gal, and I’m convinced that’s what keeps her going. For example, Clara knows when I’m making coffee and will get up on the kitchen table and screech at me until I put a little half-and-half in her bowl.

The brunt of hospice management falls onto Paul. I used to handle the meals and he took care of the litter boxes, but he had to take over the culinary side when I spent a week in the hospital last fall. He then realized it was unfair for me to have to run the cat cafeteria when I had to be at work at 7 a.m. and make supper at 5 p.m. (he’s been retired since 2008), so he’s now the man with a can.

An aside: Cats are supposed to be “easy.” They’re clean animals, people say. Paul, at 4 a.m., cleaning bile off the hallway floor, is having different thoughts. Clara may be a feat of nature, but her illnesses manifest themselves in very messy ways.

Annie, too, has thyroid and kidney disease (they often go paw-in-paw in cats), so litter box cleanup can be fierce.


But let’s not blame all the daily piles and puddles on old age and ill health. Ted has produced amazing hair balls for many years. He especially likes to cough one up if mealtime is five minutes later than expected. The seasonal time changes can be hellish in our house.

Luckily, all four cats have good appetites. But Annie and Clara get a thyroid pill, which must be secreted into a flavorful “pill pocket.” They — and Ted — also have a powder for their kidney disease, which must be added to their canned food. Although the Sheba brand is their favorite (and this is important, because the powder must go down), Paul jokes that he should use a pair of pliers to pry off the uncooperative lids.

Then the girl cats get yogurt and, at lunchtime, a quarter of a Pepcid.

Sometimes Annie won’t eat her pill pocket, so I come in and pop the contents down her throat.

For a brief period, we thought Leo also had a serious case of thyroid disease. But the medication apparently made the fur fall out on his neck. Since it later turned out he didn’t need to be treated, we discontinued the medication and he has been fine since.

Like Clara and Annie, Ted has thyroid disease, but when we medicated him, he lost his appetite and started sleeping more than usual. We took him off the meds, and after several days he bounced back. We are watching him carefully, but right now he’s doing well. In fact, he seems grateful we stopped the medication — he has become my constant companion, and not just when I’m making coffee. (He’s a big fan of half-and-half, too.)


When Paul is done serving the cats, and providing that no one immediately upchucks their meal and medications, it’s time for him to feed Martha.

Yes, we have a 13-year-old dog, too. Another senior. Mercifully, she is now on no medications, eats a simple bowl of kibble three times of day and gets a stuffed Kong twice a day. She runs across the living room and slams the couch into the wall as she awaits the Kong.

She’s not ready for the hospice yet, and would be quite offended if you suggested she were.

Meanwhile, the tending of our motley crew of elder cats goes on, punctuated by trips to the veterinary emergency clinic and seemingly endless blood tests. Paul and I may get exasperated, may yearn to take a trip somewhere, anywhere, but we love them to bits.

They’ve grown old with us, after all.

Liz Soares welcomes email at lizzie621@icloud.com.

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