2001 Pulitzer nominee Body, House, Yard, Street

Shady Hill Rest Home Residents Thrive on Loving Care, Lick Bowls Clean

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 9 July 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Maybe it’s a happy circumstance for the hermit side of me, but my wife and I have become increasingly reluctant to entertain visitors. The house has taken an odor.

Yesterday, in the fresh air of the yard, I figured it out. Our house, Shady Hill, has become a rest home.

We are the nurses of and custodians for two elderly cats.

Like all nursing homes, two odors predominate: Bodily waste and disinfectant cleaners.

Maybe Shady Hill smells fine but for the weather. The slight stench took over in this past month of strong, daily rains. Cloud cover reduced the times that the air-conditioning cycled on. Smells settled in. The unpredictability of the rains forced us to keep windows shut, to keep the sills dry. Smells settled in.

Then again, Champagne turns 19 in August, and B.C. had her 16th birthday in late May.

We now live in the Shady Hill Rest Home.

Though older, my wife’s tabby, Champagne, is healthier than B.C. A tortoiseshell of medium-length fur, Champagne was a little heavy before marriage gained her a half-sister. B.C. (for Ben’s Cat) did not like company and chased Champagne around the house frequently. This gave both cats high stamina and renewed health. Champagne slimmed down.

B.C. doesn’t slap Champagne but about once a week now. Every couple of days they touch noses when their paths cross, without hissing. Progress.

Champagne had a setback in 1997. While we were reading in the living room, we heard a thud from the kitchen. Seconds later, Champagne carried a mouse to my wife’s closet, where she left the carcass as a token of love.

Champagne evidently leaped to surprise her prey. She quickly developed a limp that our veterinarian diagnosed as spondylolysis. The huntress had to be kept locked in a bathroom for days to restrict her movements. The limp went away after several months.

The only jumps she makes now are to our bed, but she uses a Rubbermaid footstool. She knows that two 12-inch hops are more comfortable than one giant leap for a good nap on a quilt.

Our Fayetteville vet has pronounced Champagne in remarkable physical health, like a cat years younger.

Mentally, she can’t always hit the top of a scratching post.

Always vocal, Champagne has a distinct lingering cry after Mommy goes to work. In the last year, Champagne howls several times a day — and night — when we are out of her line of sight.

If I hear the yowl, I walk around to where she can see me. She can’t hear so well. Champagne starts as if surprised then relaxes her ears as if, “Oh, there you are.”

Her other sign of aging is that she obviously believes that if all four paws are in the litter box, then the ensuing evacuation must fall into the box.


Fortunately, Shady Hill has plenty of old newspaper. B.C. hears fine but listens rarely; she still has all her wits. She loves high places and jumps almost as high as when a kitten. Though younger, B.C. has beat one illness. Blood tests indicated in 1998 that she needed a daily thyroid tablet.

In 1999, more tests proved her thyroid normal but an inactive pancreas was causing digestive problems. B.C. gets one Viokase tablet twice a day crushed in with a bit of smelly canned cat food to disguise the taste.

You can pill a cat for a week, but it cannot be done month in and month out. B.C. can regurgitate a pill, only slightly dissolved (due to the lack of pancreatic enzyme), a half-hour after pilling, according to scientific observation. It went all the way down and comes all the way up.

During her bad weeks, B.C. leaves, er, samples when either urge comes upon her too quickly to trot to a litter box. The only solution, and I’ve tried them all, has been to leave newspaper on the floor near her favorite places — by my writing desk and by the family computer.

While Champagne has become quite friendly when she gets to know you — it took me nearly two years of dating her mother — and is shy otherwise, B.C. is a traditionally aloof cat.

B.C. never has liked being held. For most of her life, she only would get on my lap when chilled. Yet, get on her level — floor, bed or shelf — and she is affectionate.

In recent weeks, however, B.C. has taken to following me like a puppy. When home I cannot be out of her sight. B.C. insists on being stroked. I now can brush her for much longer than three minutes, but that might irritate her skin so I don’t. She even jumps on my lap in summer.

At night, she climbs repeatedly on my chest and looks at my face, purring. After a few minutes she’ll resume her spot of 16 years between my ankles. If I mistakenly fall asleep on my stomach, she will nuzzle my face, waking me up enough to turn so she can rest her forepaws on my front.

I love the attention.

But what if B.C. is telling me something?


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