Rental Cats

Cats tiptoe along the line between pleasure and self-preservation with grace and spontaneity. We never own cats; we only rent them for a few years.

By Janiss Garza | Posted: July 31, 2014, 11:00 a.m.

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Do you ever think about your cats dying, even when there is nothing wrong with them? I do.

Sparkle at 7 months.

Most of the time, I go along, behaving as if my cats will live forever and I will never be faced with their loss. It's the kind of benign denial that keeps life from being too depressing. But recently, I saw Sparkle's breeder at a cat show and found out her mother and her father were both 14 when they passed away. This bothered me a lot, because Sparkle is 12. Do her genes give her an expiration date of only two years away? You can see why I've been gloomy.

The truth is, all three of my cats have less future than they do past. Tortoiseshell cats seem to be especially hardy. When you hear about a cat dying at an advanced age, such as 20 or so, it's often a tortie. But Binga is 14, and even if she makes it to 20 or so, she has already lived at least two-thirds of her life. I know nothing of Boodie's parents or early life, but she is 13, so unless she is one of those record-breaking cats, she too has already lived far more than half her life.

Sparkle at 12 years.

I think about my own mortality too. I am coming to grips with the fact that like my cats, I have probably lived over half my life. I have no desire to survive to an advanced age. I don't want to celebrate my 100th birthday in a nursing home. I want to leave when I am still coherent and vital and involved in the world and its wonders. I don't want to decay into irrelevance, and these days I make my life choices based on that desire. I learn new things and take risks and enjoy what life has to offer, whether it is the healthiest choice or not. I'm going for quality over quantity.

And as I watch my cats daily, I see they do the same thing without thinking. They tiptoe along the line between pleasure and self-preservation with the grace and spontaneity I can't seem to muster up for myself. They bask in sun puddles, stalk cat toys and beetles and make flying leaps onto surfaces that are too high for them and make it. They don't know what tomorrow brings. In fact, they don't even know what tomorrow is and they don't care. And I shouldn't care either.

Binga playing.

The truth is we never own cats, or any other pets, we only rent them for a few years and then we have to give them back to whatever cosmic thing they came from. And the same thing is true for us humans. We're only here on rental and most of us don't know when the contract is going to run out. There really is no tomorrow, for my cats or myself. Why be sad for something that is not happening today? Enjoy the moment.

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Reader Comments

Raven    Boulder, CO

9/2/2014 4:41:30 PM

Thanks for this article--I loved what you had to say about the things our cats teach us about LIVING, not just about dying. I think with dread about losing my babies someday and my eyes fill with tears, but I know that, yes, we don't know when the time will come and that my job is to make all their todays the best I can make them. Just as they do for me. Funny that you said it's often torties who live to be very old; the one cat I've had who made it a couple weeks past her 20th birthday was a tortie!

Sue    St. Louis, MO

8/26/2014 4:37:59 PM

This article struck a nerve because I've had 7 cats since I moved out on my own 4 decades ago and now, only 1 of them is left. I've lived through the deaths of my entire family. What scares me the most about the future is: how do we decide whether or not it's "safe" to get more cats? Should we adopt only older ones if WE might only have 1 to 2 decades left on this planet? How can we be confident that WE will outlive them and therefore save them from going into shelters -- or worse -- when we die or have to move into a "facility"? My most recent cat passing was my tortie who was 3 weeks away from her 20th birthday. I don't know if being around 20 more years is something I can assume will happen for me. Does anyone else feel this anxiety?

L.    CC, CA

8/13/2014 4:18:17 PM

I really enjoyed this article. It is about something I think about daily so, you're right, we should live in the moment. Thanks for inspiring!

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