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Clementine: A Heartwarming Case Study in Risk Taking

This post originally appeared on our Tumblr, where we frequently answer reader questions and sometimes post random unrelated things. This is one of those random posts, but it got quite a lot of positive feedback—so we’re posting it in full again here on the blog.

I just got a cat.

When New Cat is named and fully acclimated, she will def join the dogs, guinea pigs, and chickens as a Tumblr/Instagram regular.

But I have… mixed feelings.

My last cat died six months ago. We didn’t get another cat to replace her—c’est impossible, she was irreplaceable. Rather, we did it because we know two things:

  1. A house that’s had a cat in it will always feel empty without a cat in it.
  2. We have money and space and time and patience and love, and shelters are full of cats who don’t got none of those things.

Still, I’ve been thinking about my last cat Clementine a lot. And I think it would be healing to me to share a few photos of her.

A slow start

This was Clementine. We adopted her when she was 14 years old. That’s old. If she were human, she would’ve been in her early seventies. Her previous owner had moved into a nursing home. She was lucky to land in one of the few no-kill shelters with enough resources to accept a cat of her age. Many don’t.

Clementine was terribly stressed out being in the shelter after so many years in one person’s home. Her fur started to fall out, and she refused to eat. She hid all the time and hissed if approached. No one applied for her.

We saw a lot of great cats at the shelter. For some reason, she was the one my partner and I both couldn’t stop thinking about. We talked about it, and decided we had the patience, emotional maturity, and financial stability needed to address the realities of adopting a shy geriatric cat. So we took her home and released her under the bed.

“We might never see this cat,” I told my partner. “We might just know she’s here by periodic dips in the level of the food bowl.”

“I’d be okay with that,” he said.

“I would too.”

We didn’t see her for thirty-six hours.

Then, I heard a little sound while I was sitting in bed—not a meow, but a chirp. I looked down, and she was sitting there, looking up at me. She chirped again. I patted the blanket. She sprang up beside me and started purring. Surprised, I took this blurry, crappy photo.

Within a week, she was climbing into our laps and kneading us with rapturous abandon. Sometimes she would start to drool out of pure joy.

Now, one complication was our dog. Clementine had never met a dog before, and I’d intended to introduce them very slowly and carefully. When she caught her first glimpse of our dog Brother, I was focused wholly on him, making sure he didn’t lunge or startle her. She darted past me, and ran to rub her face against him.

She was sleeping on top him by the end of the week.

Clementine the dog whisperer

To our complete surprise, Clementine was not scared of dogs.

Clementine loved dogs.

All dogs. Any dogs.

We foster dogs, and every new one that came home got the same treatment. She ran to them like an old lover, chirping her barely-audible chirps, paws warming up to give them a deep tissue massage the moment they sat down.

She put in an application to adopt Sunny, a red heeler mix who was our our thirteenth or fourteenth foster. We accepted her application and made him our second dog.

In the course of her four-year career, she cat-trained over a dozen dogs, making each of them infinitely more adoptable. Many went on to permanent homes with cats.

I was always hovering around her and the dogs, incredibly nervous that one might injure her. She’d been declawed by her first owner; she was defenseless.

But she knew exactly how to handle each one. She sat calmly and accepted sloppy licks from overly-affectionate dogs. She hid from excitable, high-energy dogs until after their playtime. We had one that was so afraid of cats she was borderline aggressive towards them, but Clementine was absolutely determined. That dog was sleeping peacefully next to her after a month of relentless displays of patient friendliness.

Pushy healing energy

Clem was the Nurse Joy of the house. She always knew if someone was hurting, emotionally or physically.

In this photo, our older dog Brother was suddenly deathly sick. Underneath the blanket he’s swaddled in more blankets and many layers of towels, because he was uncontrollably oozing blood. When we brought him home from the emergency vet, Clementine immediately crouched on top of his head, purring and kneading so intensely that it felt like she was in some kind of trance. He recovered fully.

When a (human) friend of ours was recovering from a horrible trauma, Clementine parked herself on her chest and refused to budge.

“But… but… I don’t like cats…” our friend said, a last feeble protest before submitting to Clementine’s healing ministrations.

The best possible outcome

We had four glorious years with Clementine. She made it to 18—a great age for a cat. She died peacefully, without pain, and is buried on our property, underneath a her favorite catnip plant.

I don’t know what her life was like before we met, but I know she was happy in those four years. She showed it to us every single day.

I’m so glad we took a chance on a shy senior. There were a lot of risks and a lot of unknowns. We were so focused on accepting those that we weren’t prepared for what we got: the best outcome of all possible outcomes.

That’s all I wanted to say, really! Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.

New Cat is fourteen, the same age Clementine was when we adopted her. She’s in the early stages of renal disease, but we’re hoping she has a few good years left. I’m excited to get to know New Cat. I’m looking forward to posting pictures of her as she finds her place in our house.

I wrote an article soon after Clementine died about why I think senior pets are totally worth it. You can read it here:

And here are a few more of our pet-related articles:

Update (12/3/18)

My original tag on this Tumblr post was “sad posts that are secretly super happy posts.” I stand by that assessment!

In my view, there isn’t a kernel or crumb of sadness in her story. Clem’s life was longer and happier than any of us could ask for. And let’s be real: she had a greater sense of purpose than 85% of human adults. Clementine is now where she deserves to be: in Dog Heaven with All of the Dogs.

When I posted this to Tumblr, I got so many nice responses from people, telling me about their awesome senior pets. Please keep them coming in the comments below—each and every one makes me smile.

Thinking about the lessons I personally learned… a whole lot of our advice boils down to one basic truism: hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I am really good at the latter part and really bad at the former—and I bet I’m not alone!

Many people who crave security—of a financial variety or otherwise—are risk-averse. With a lifetime of Precious Recession Memories to choose from, we’ve seen the way that unnecessary risks knock people off their feet like a rogue wave. All choices come with known and unknown risks, and it’s overwhelming to consider the full range of choices we have at any given time.

That’s why I think it’s important to celebrate the times when everything worked better than you could’ve expected. Especially when you put yourself out there for someone—or something—else who really needs your help.

Also, New Cat has been officially named Clover and you can see photos and videos of her on my Instagram, @BGRKitty.

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13 thoughts to “Clementine: A Heartwarming Case Study in Risk Taking”

  1. I love this so very much. What a sweet kitty Clementine was and all her good work in this world loving up the pups and people. I had an 18 year old, myself, Angelo and he loved to jam his head in your armpit and drool up a storm, or jam his nose in your eye (my husband said to see if I was ripe yet) and drool up a storm. I understand the drooling love massages of oldies. I hope your Clovercat is an awesome friend to your pups. I am so glad for yall and Clementine that she mind melded yall and you had to bring her home, whether she was a cat under the couch or not! Thank you for my warm heart today!!

  2. Love this story. Clementine was lucky to find you and it sounds like you were lucky to find her!

    I have a senior cat, Marie, that I have had since she was a wee kitten. She’s 19.5 years old now and has slowed way, way down. She’s got renal disease, arthritis and a bum thyroid and takes cat meds every day. She’s also got very particular with her food in old age. Oh, and we got custom made stairs so she can still get up on the bed. Quite the princess.

    But she still gets around and she LOVES SNUGGLES! Her favorite thing is to sit so high on my husband’s chest that she’s almost sitting on his face. I hope we will have a bit more good time with her. I’ll be heartbroken when her time comes.

  3. Your lovely Clover looks a lot like my family’s senior adopted kitty- Bartleby. Bartleby was a tuxedo cat with the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen in my life- set in a damn weird looking face. You know those drawings of animals done by medieval monks who give them bizarre human faces? That was Bartleby.

    In addition to this, he had nubbins instead of full ears, was incredibly deaf, had missing teeth, and walked crooked because of metal pins in his shoulders. He was estimated to be about 12 when we got him. Bartleby was the biggest love bug, to the point of physical aggression. Once he got on your lap, he would keep himself there with violence- digging his claws into your legs and becoming as solid as a brick if you tried to get up (all while purring like a generator). If you stopped petting him, he gnawed on your hand until you resumed. We had him for only 3 years before he passed, but we were so happy he had a good home in his last days. I know Clover will be well loved by you and the doggos <3

  4. Cool cool, I thought I was taking a break from work to read blogs and now I’m here crying, ha ha! What a sweetie!!!! I am a petsitter and I 110% agree that senior pets are the BEST pets!

  5. Nice blog! I started a blog 6 months ago at 67 and am looking for blogs that I can learn from. This is certainly one. I know it is hard work and often frustrating.

  6. Thanks for sharing Clementine’s story! I love it. You’re a phenomenal person for doing the fostering, and for adopting senior pets. One of our cats developed renal failure around age 15 and the funny thing was, it turned her into a badass! She’d been afraid of our dogs prior to that, but the health issues made her decide to no longer give a fuck! She’d steal their food right out of their bowls while they were eating. We loved that and she became our inspiration for the IDGAF lifestyle.

    A lesson I’m gonna take from this post is that maybe my husband and I should retire earlier than planned. I keep running scenarios on Firecalc and I get worried if it doesn’t tell me that there’s a 100% chance of success. I need to realize that some risks are worth taking! Thanks for your most excellent blog. It’s one of the best out there, in any genre.

  7. This is an absolutely beautiful story. I am so very grateful to you for taking the risk on an older cat. They get overlooked so very, very often because people think they want a kitten. My very first cat was 8 years old and he was my world. Unfortunately, I lost him after a few short years together, but they were life-changing for me. We have no guarantees for how long our babies will be with us, but of course we want as many as possible. Even so, you can be profoundly touched by a cat you’ve only known a few hours. Time has nothing to do with it.
    Shelters are where you see an animal at their absolute worst. Most of the time they’re scared, lonely, upset, and sometimes grieving the loss of their prior owner. It isn’t until you get them home and let it settle in for them that their real personality. Just like your beautiful lady, Clementine. Your time together and your life together sounds so incredible and filled with love. All your descriptions make it clear that she was an absolute delight and a treasure to meet. You guys were her angels, you know. She felt abandoned and forgotten in the shelter until you looked past all that and gave her a new life. You gave her back her joy and happiness and love. Which she clearly wanted to express to you in as many ways as she could.
    There’s no such thing as replacing a cat. Each one leaves their own piece in our hearts that build out like puzzle pieces. It’s how we’re able to adopt another cat after we lose them. We don’t love them less; we love them differently. Clementine has her puzzle piece and now Clover is crafting her own to add to the puzzle too. And trust me, Clementine is going to come check on you. You’ll swear you saw her or heard her or felt her, and you’ll be right. She’s going to consider it her new job to be your personal guardian angel. From what I read of how seriously she took her jobs as a dog-trainer and a bedside nurse, she’ll be the most amazing guardian angel.
    Thank you so, so much for looking past their age and adopting cats who need love and a home just as much as every other cat. And sometimes more. You’re doing a wonderful, beautiful thing. You don’t need me to tell you how much you’ll get back because you’re living it. I just want you to know that you’re getting just as much adoration and gratitude from the humans around you who fight for the lives of senior cats. Perhaps now we’ll start praying to the soul of Nurse Clementine whenever we find a senior kitty in need of someone to look past their age and give them a new home. <3 <3 <3

  8. Yes yes yes ❤️❤️❤️ We got our cat Leia 2 years ago “shy not good with kids and 10 years old”
    She is a JOY. And I keep sharing your senior pets article.
    Merci merci merrrrrrci
    And you made me cry with this post. Happy tears but still.

  9. Love this story! Thank you so much for sharing it. 16 years ago we adopted 2 kittens from the same litter and a Calico and Tortoiseshell. Unknown to us, they tend to have health or mental issues. Our Calico had it all. It took years and lots of trial and error, to learn she had a lot of anxiety and allergies. She had litter box issues. 🙁 Sad to say we had to put her down about 2 months ago. She was such a wonderful kitty. Just a love! Her sister the Torti, is doing well, but missing her some, I think. She is also such a loving sweet kitty. Great posts on senior pets. I never would have thought about a senior pet in the future just because of our litter box issues we had but maybe we will reconsider in the future. Thank you for sharing!

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