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Training an Old Cat

Momo and I met when he was a tiny kitten and lived with Jodi and her kids. She had gotten Momo partly for company for the family, but also as a vermin killer, a task at which he was an unabashed expert.

When we moved into a house together, Momo came too, and he and my cat Madeleine did their best to avoid each other. Momo was the mostly outdoor cat and Madeleine was the boss of the house. Right after we moved in, a neighbor asked us if we could either keep Momo in the house or contain him to the front yard because he was killing birds at their house. I glanced over at their yard and noticed the eye-level bird feeder with the chair beneath it. I said I would try. After that, we kept Momo in during the day and let him roam free at night. For the next 10 years, Momo owned that neighborhood. When we moved recently, a different neighbor—one who kept a food and water dish outside for Momo—cried when she thought about him leaving.

Like me, Momo is a tad bit slower in his movements these days, but interested in everything that

flits past him.

The move has been harder than any of us imagined, partly because we are older now and much more set in our ways. Momo and I have each stumbled several times in our efforts to adjust to our new lives. When we first set him up in the guestroom in the house, he just hid under the bed. By the second or third day, he was on top of the bed and it was clear he had eaten, drunk water and used his cat box. Still, he had that glazed look in his eye, the one I get when someone asks me to do something I consider ridiculous. When we expanded Momo's range to the whole house, he explored, stared with disdain at the dogs, and always ended up at night back on the guest room bed. Nearly three months later, though, he is back to be being a mostly outdoor cat and there is ample evidence in the backyard to indicate he is still the hunter he always was.

Although Momo recognizes me only as the person who opens the sliding glass door for him whenever he wants to be in or out, I have been observing him in these last few months as a tangible example of how I feel in my life. Most obviously, both Momo and I are in transition. We’re aging creatures making peace with our new lives—Momo’s existence on the back porch of our new house and mine as I figure out, once again, how to be a retired person. When I take a break for a cup of coffee and pass the sliding glass door, I can tell if Momo is having a good day or not. When he’s feeling grounded and in himself, he’s usually spread out on the chaise lounge, watching for critters, or dozing. When it's a tougher day for him, he stays near the door, alternately looking in and then out—clearly not sure what he is supposed to do next. He and I are finding our routines now, I think, as I head back to another hour or so of writing.

On our less settled days, I have a hard time focusing. If I’m not distracted by “Words With Friends,” I’m up a million times in an hour, compelled to do laundry or start dinner. That’s when I see Momo standing at the door, wanting in. By the time I’m through marinating the chicken, he wants out. Nothing feels quite right. We don’t ask much, Momo and I. We’re just hoping to feel a little more comfortable in our own skin.

Last week, when I should have been working, I decided instead to take the dogs out to explore the front yard while I was checking the mail. I left the front door open and, suddenly, there was Momo. I don’t worry that he will run off, but I would like him to focus on the back yard as long as possible. From the front, he can easily access the nearby canal, home not only to many of the creatures that make their way to our back yard, but also to lovely ducks and geese. And, although the canal is surrounded by a chain link fence, I’d just as soon Momo not perfect his fence-scaling in time for the spring births of chicks and ducklings. When I saw him crouching his way to the lawn, I was cautious. I knew if I approached him quickly, he’d take off, so I just watched him.

Like me, Momo is a tad bit slower in his movements these days, but interested in everything that flits past him. When he became mesmerized momentarily with a blade of grass that was moving ever so gently, I snatched him up and hugged him. He purred immediately and I took him into the house. When I came back to my computer, he was at the back door again, anxious to get out. I knew we were both having the same kind of afternoon.

I find myself trying to train Momo to adjust, not just to our new life, but to being a bit of a senior citizen. Admittedly, I may be projecting, but I feel a certain anxiety when I see him staring out the window or distracted by every gnat that flies by. I want him to feel more settled, more at ease with himself. I know it will come, and that change takes time, but I’m impatient. Momo and I are lucky that we have each other in this transition, I think. I expect only I know that, but I hope that maybe somewhere in him he does, too.

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