As I sit here on a Sunday night, March 10, our old cat, Beamish, is five days away from turning 20 years old. I make the point that he has five days to go because he is definitely showing his age, and given that in cat years, that makes him close to 100 in human years. The calculators on-line offer anything from 84 to 97. 

That Beamish has hung around this long is rather astonishing. He was diagnosed with renal failure (kidney failure for the non-feline-owning readers) in fall 2005. In our experience with a couple of other aged fur-ball factories, that’s pretty much a death sentence. We’ve had that diagnosis twice before, and our little friends were in the great litter box in the sky within 12 to 18 months.

Not Beamish. But then, he has not been like any other cat we’ve had, and that count is up to about eight now. 


Not like other cats

Each of our cats was unique in his/her own right, but they were still cats, with most of a cat’s habits, good and bad.

Charlie, our Abyssinian, was like owning a monkey or a raccoon. He could get into more trouble than any cat we’ve seen. 

Our odd-eye, white cat, Miki, was a regular “Nervous Nelly,” given to stealing food, like an entire slice of pizza (she really did). 

Tabu, our second black cat, stomped around like a little samurai warrior, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind who owned our house, and that applied to our dog, as well.

Beamish’s brother, Guinness, who gave up his ninth life around age 14, would climb walls like a gecko to get to anything growing and green so he could eat it, then throw up a marvelous, little glop of green — I think it was supposed to be a present. Still, he did share some traits with his brother.

We adopted the two brothers when they were about 3 — beautiful Tonkinese that I guess were not of show-quality. We found them, neutered and huddled together in a cage at a cat show, along with a number of other cats that a nice couple from Tacoma was trying to place in a good home. The two brothers won us over at first sight.

We did worry a bit about what sort of personalities — and possibly bad habits — they might have, given that it sounded like they had spent a good deal of their young lives in cages. But it turned out we didn’t need to worry at all, with the possible exception of Guinness, who seemed to think he was a grazing animal. They were perfect houseguests from day one.

Guinness was a nervous cat, wary of every sound or strange person that entered his world. 

Beamish, on the other hand, seemed unfazed by anything, and remains so to this day. He was on our laps within 30 seconds of exiting the carrier on his arrival and has pretty much spent the last 17 years there. He barely blinks at loud noises or any other event that tends to make most cats blow up to about twice their size.

He and his brother had nothing but disdain for human food of any kind. Seriously, we could sit down with a plate of salmon, turkey, chicken…you name it, to watch TV, and they would take one sniff, jump down and leave the room. To say that was un-cat-like is putting it mildly. 

We’re not complaining, mind you. It’s nice to be able to enjoy a meal without the hair standing up on the back of your neck because you sense an animal about to pounce and poach your drumstick.


Like watching people age

These days, the old guy still loves his lap time, looks forward to a meal and can get pretty vocal when if he thinks we’re ignoring him. He’s been deaf as a fencepost for at least five years and seems to have made all the necessary adjustments to that.

He has become feeble. I should point out that, not being very cat-like, he never had great balance to begin with, and now, he’ll list sideways and run into a doorjamb or stumble when he jumps down from our lap to get a drink of water, but he shakes that off, regains his dignity and tries to remember what he was going to do.

Having a cat reach the ripe, old age of 97 or thereabouts is reminiscent of watching people age. His eyesight is failing a bit, as well. Cats can’t squint, I guess, but he does the equivalent of that when he sees us walking into a room from a distance of a dozen feet or so. You can see him trying to focus his eyes to make out who is walking toward him. Not that he’s going to do anything other than insist on a lap, some kisses and attention.

So, for those of you who have read about Beamish in the past, he’s still with us, still more laid-back and unexcitable than any cat we’ve seen. Maybe that’s why he’s living so long, and maybe we could all take a lesson from him about chilling a little, not getting angry or uptight about everything that happens. Go with the flow, as they used to say. Emulating our happy, old cat might be just the right medicine for our hectic society.

To comment on this column, write to