Sometimes, an elderly pet just needs a quiet place to live out its final days in comfort.
And, while it’s not for everyone, participating in “fospice” — fostering an elderly, dying and homeless pet during those last days – can be a rewarding, albeit bittersweet, experience for an animal lover.
You go into it knowing the animal is homeless likely because of some tragic circumstance, such as abandonment or death of its owners, and with the full knowledge that your time together will be just long enough to get attached before they go on to the great kitty box or doghouse in the sky.
At least, that’s what I assumed when I agreed to take on Reggie, Rusty Metal Farm’s current feline curmudgeon-in-residence.
About a year ago I was contacted by my veterinarian’s office and asked — since I had just lost my two cats of 16 years — whether I would be willing to fospice a 15-year-old cat who had been rescued from a situation where his so-called owner had never let him in the house and fed him only table scraps now and then.
I was told that, because of his age and background, Reggie had a host of issues, including enlarged internal organs that were likely to soon fail, a very sensitive stomach meaning a special diet was needed, he’d lost most of his teeth, his fur was falling out in patches and he was deaf.
How could I say no to all that?
When I picked him up from a local feline rescue organization, he certainly appeared to be on the tail end of his ninth life as he tottered up to me and agreebly got loaded into a cat carrier.
Once here on the farm, he was happy enough lounging in sunny spots on the floor and eating his costly, special diet food. And, as predicted within a short span of time I began to notice changes in his health, just not the changes anyone expected.
The first thing I noticed was his energy level picked up — so much so he had no problem leaping from the floor on to the kitchen counters to explore, knocking things over in the process.
I knew getting him or any cat to stop would be an exercise in futility, but the day he walked on top of the controls to my stove and turned on the broiler, I knew I had to take action. So, I figured when I was not around to supervise him or at night, Reggie could live in the vacant apartment attached to the house once occupied by my late father.
I mean, it would just be for a few months at the most, right?
Day by day, week by week Reggie’s health and activity level steadily improved. His hair grew back into a luxurious grey and white coat. He started going outside to follow me around as I did chores or walked Rusty Metal Farm’s tiny dog Chiclet to the pond and back. He went from that expensive special food to plain old kibble, and his tummy troubles for the most part cleared up.
A year later he’s the healthiest “dying” cat you’ve ever seen. It’s like he discovered some secret fountain of youth here on the farm.
These days, he is either napping in the sun snoring loudly, or following me everywhere and commenting in his elder-cat voice on every move I make.
“Tomcatsplaining,” if you will.
And then it struck me. Elderly, lacking teeth, deaf, plenty of opinions with no reticence in sharing them and snoring to beat the band — my father had come back to again occupy his apartment in the form of a stray cat.
Reggie has also developed some of his own, shall we say privileged, habits. Like the inclination to overeat. I now have to ration his food.
Undaunted, he has so far managed to breach every container I’ve used to keep the food away from him.
One day I found him with a bag wrapped around his midsection. It had contained empty cat food cans and, in an attempt to access what remnants were within, he’d managed to get stuck.
Stuck and unfazed that he was walking around wearing/dragging a clanking bag.
Another time he’d come across a mouse trap, tripped it and gotten it stuck on the fur of his underbelly. I have no idea how long he was wearing that particular accessory before I spotted and removed it.
Reggie may be on his last and ninth life, but at this point it appears it’s going to be a long and interesting one.
Things to consider before adopting a foster animal:
My friend Dawn has several fospice dogs. And while she would not trade the experiences she’s had and does have with them, there are some harsh realities.
— The expense. Some rescue groups will help with medications, but with some animals you can be looking at hundreds of dollars in veterinary bills to keep the animal comfortable.
— Special diets with pricey, specialized food that may need to be specially prepared according to individual pets’ needs.
— Fospice pets tend to have issues leading to stomach distress. This means you are likely going to be cleaning up messes on your floor when they can’t make it outside in time.
— Heartbreak. Your time with them may be short, but they will love you unconditionally, making those final goodbyes all the more difficult.
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