LEWISTON, Maine — Maddie is a cat who loves people, rubbing up against the glass when someone walks by her cage at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and purring when a volunteer scoops her up. She has long brown fur that she keeps immaculately groomed and she adores her pal Yoko, a little Siamese who shares her cage and shared her life long before the pair got dropped off at the shelter.
Maddie’s also 11. But she’s hardly in her twilight years.”
“Cats can live to be 20, 22 years old,” said Zach Black, operations manager. “They still have so much more time to give you.”
He would know.
While the humane society has seen its kitten population drop by half since last year, its older cat population has surged. Thirty of the 90 cats currently living at the shelter are 6 years old or older. A few more are in foster homes.
“People are out of work. People are having to move, sell their homes. So we’ve kind of seen a spike in the older cats that are coming in,” Black said. “Fortunately, they’re all coming in spayed and neutered, and they’ve been taken care of, so we’re not having to do that. But it’s just a large, large number.”
Older cats are also more likely to come in pairs — best friends bonded after a lifetime together. So when one family moves, the shelter can find itself with two new residents — like Maddie, 11, and Yoko, 10.
The shelter tries to find new homes for those cats together.
“Senior cats don’t need as much attention, don’t require as much maintenance. They love to cuddle,” Black said. “And the pairs keep each other company.”
The shelter has so many older cats that it’s turned a spare side room into a kind of elder kitty village. Four cats live there now, away from the stress of the main hall, with plenty of room to stretch out. Two of the room’s residents, Pooh, 10, and pal Squirt, 12, immediately greet visitors with purrs and head bumps. Squirt, the tubbier of the two, flops over for a belly rub.
“People come in here and they realize, ‘Oh, they’re so sweet,'” Black said.
In an effort to spur older cat adoptions, the shelter never charges adoption fees for cats over 5 years old. A shelter volunteer also made soft mats to go home with each senior cat adopted.
Some of the shelter’s older cats have special needs. Smokey, a 6-year-old long-haired black cat who came with 6-year-old short-haired black cat, Glori, has diabetes and requires insulin and special food. Stumps, a 6-year-old orange cat, has been at the shelter since February and is positive for feline immunodeficiency virus, though he has no symptoms.
But while some of the older cats might require extra care, most are as healthy as their younger counterparts — including the shelter’s oldest resident, 17-year-old Narla, a gray-and-white female who was dropped off in August because her family was moving.
The shelter encourages people to talk to their landlord about making an exception to a “no pets” rule if that’s why they’re giving up their older cat. Landlords may not want a big, rambunctious puppy tearing up the place, but they would be fine with an elderly cat — especially with references from a previous landlord.
“Maybe they’re a little bit flexible,” Black said.
But the humane society takes cats of any age and never euthanizes an animal just because it’s old. The shelter once found a home for a cat who was 18.
“We always tell people that senior cats are so much more experienced in life. They’re more social . . . a lot of times, they’ve lived with other dogs and cats and people and commotion, so there’s not as much of an adjustment when you adopt an older cat,” Black said. “We say they’re just at their prime.”