Old Cat Ollie, and the Price of Compassion

Last year my cat Jadzia went missing, and I searched everywhere for her. No body in the surrounding areas, no cat, nothing. She just disappeared. (Yes, she is chipped.)

My search for Jadzia involved repeated visits to many of the area animal shelters, especially the one in Berkeley California, my hometown. (We never found her. She’s still missing more than a year later.) There were two cats who were always there when I went to visit this shelter in Berkeley. They were always in a larger kennel with several other cats. One was a big black cat with a white “beard” who always looked as if he were scowling. The other was a slim and small tabby.

The volunteers told me they had both been there for months, having come in at the same time. Many cats had been adopted since they had gotten there, but they were both still there.

After seeing them still there again and again, I decided maybe it was time to help them out. I visited them in their kennel, and they were both very nice cats. The little tabby, who would eventually be named Sparky, was very friendly and playful. The big black guy, later to be named Ollie, was an older cat. They estimated that he was around fifteen years old. He was affectionate and liked to be petted, but it was obvious he was an elderly cat. He had a few health problems, which was not surprising given his age, but we decided to adopt him anyways.

Ollie was an active cat, and a gentle giant. He liked to lay on top of people. (Oof! He was a big cat.) At first he was kept inside, but gradually he got to go outside. Our house is in the Berkeley hills next to a creek bed, and there are plenty of places for a wandering cat to go an be entertained, and lots of places for cats to flop out in the sun. The people at the shelter told us about both cats: Sparky had been abandoned in an apartment. The landlord found him there after some tennants had moved out. But Ollie’s owners had passed away, and had apparently spoiled him. They had rigged up an elaborate series of mesh tunnels, netted areas, and tents so he could go outside of the house without wandering too far away. The animal control officer who had picked him up said he was quite impressed. He said the entire contraption was quite elaborate, and must have cost at least a grand to build.


Ollie in a basket. Yes, the house is a mess.

We didn’t have an elaborate series of mesh tunnels and tents or anything, but we did let him go outside after awhile. He wouldn’t go very far, sticking close to the house. He liked to lay in the sun or on the brick porch. It got to the point where he got to go outside regularly. (At least in the daytime. We kept the cats inside at night because our area has coyotes.)

A few months ago Ollie started developing problems. He was slowing down and losing weight, and then he started retaining fluids. The vet said it was his heart, and they prescribed a series of medications which kept Ollie going for awhile, but they were not optimistic, and for good reason. Ollie passed away this past week, only ten months after we adopted him.

Ollie had technically passed on because of congestive heart failure, but he was simply an old cat and it was his time. He obviously was very spoiled by his previous owners, both of whom did not manage to outlive their beloved cat. It is quite likely that if I had not gotten Ollie out of the shelter he may have spent the rest of his life there. I use to be a volunteer at a shelter. Adult cats are hard to adopt out. Elderly cats even more so. Kittens fly out the door, you can’t keep kittens around, but the older the cat the less likely they are to be adopted.

It was hard to see him go, but we knew what we were getting into. He was not long for this world, but instead of being cooped up inside a kennel at the shelter he got to go outside, lay on top of people, get lots of pettings, and be with his buddy from the shelter. As we laid him down to rest, I wondered what his previous owners would have thought of his fate, that someone had gotten their cat out of the shelter and managed to spoil him in his last year here on Earth. I hope that they would be happy to know how he got to live out his last year without them.

It’s an emotional toll, to lose a pet. Every passing takes a little piece out of you and makes the world look a little different. Ollie was no exception to that rule. But we did it. We set a big friendly cat free and let him really live, even though we knew the price would be an all-too quick heartbreak. It’s a burden, and it’s hard to ask other people to take on that kind of burden, but I really believe more people need to do things like this. Get the kittens for sure, but pick up an older guy if you can, and get him out of that shelter and let an old cat enjoy the rest of its time.


Ollie hanging out in the yard. He really liked
warm days when he could bask in the sun.

Author: termberkden

I am a writer, a software engineer, and a refugee from the punk/metal/new wave/my-God-what-did-we-do-last-night daze of 1980's and early 90's San Francisco scene. I write, I run, I actually stop and smell the roses, I meow back at cats, and I pet strange yet friendly dogs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *