Henry is in the house

Posted 6/5/24

Furry companions add a great deal to a positive aging attitude. They exhibit unconditional love and they’re always glad to see you. Also, they can take you out of negative chatter with their …

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Henry is in the house


Furry companions add a great deal to a positive aging attitude. They exhibit unconditional love and they’re always glad to see you. Also, they can take you out of negative chatter with their uncanny insight, snippets of humor, playfulness, and inborn ability to demonstrate living in the present moment.

I’ve written many essays about my pets. Two of my cat stories were published in Chicken Soup for the Soup books — a real treat even for a seasoned scribe. While my current writing concentration is on good aging, today’s senior-focused column includes critters, and I’m a happy camper.

I wasn’t allowed to have pets as a child. Mother feigned allergies, but she really wanted nothing to do with fur on the furniture. Once out on my own, animals became part of my life and getting older hasn’t changed that scenario. The older I get the more I consider it a benefit to give a home to a needy cat or dog. It’s a win-win for all; a living being has a loving, safe refuge and in turn they keep me active, youthful, and in good spirits.

But every now and then a little dude comes along who adds challenged to that list of attributes. This old girl has a new and daunting project. Henry is in the house.

When I adopt a new pet I look for a sign from the animal that says, “Take me home.” In the past kitty Cooshie tapped my shoulder, William meowed loudly in my face, and Dusty dog snuggled into my lap on our first meeting. They all adjusted quickly to their new surroundings. Henry, who had been very shy toward shelter staff, walked right up to me and offered a head bump, but trust hasn’t come easy and working with him as a senior gal has brought a new level of body awareness.

A two-year-old gray tabby, Henry arrived at the shelter as a stray with no history. Not knowing his background was a bit troubling. Had he been on his own in the woods? Had he been mistreated by humans? Would he adapt to being an indoor guy? Would there be hissing and biting? His head bump had eased my concerns, but we were both in for a formidable ride.

Although Henry ate heartily and used his litter box regularly, most of the time he hid. He could be found under the bed, or the table, or my nightstand. Being an avid researcher, I dove into every article on shy, frightened cats. And I followed the suggestions faithfully. Offering treats, speaking softly, touching gently, blinking slowly were grand concepts to establish, but they came with major issues.

Oh, how my knees ached when I got down on all fours to commune with my scaredy cat. The arthritis had been getting worse lately and meeting Henry on his level wasn’t helping. It made me realize I needed to get back to doing my yoga exercises. Then there was the problem of getting back up that required holding on to something to steady myself. I wobbled because I had stopped my balance routine. Arms and shoulders didn’t feel so great either. Perhaps revisiting light weight training would be a good idea.

So, Henry and I had work to do. He had to learn to trust, and I had to learn that if I wanted to mature in good shape, I couldn’t ignore the groans of an aging bod. In my opinion, the cat had the easier task.

I dragged out the yoga mat and hand weights and committed to a three day a week program; must admit it felt good to be back. My strength, balance, and overall well-being improved greatly. Approaching Henry’s hideouts with treats and soft conversation became easier for me and helped him with his social skills.

Growing old can be tough, but it’s also a privilege. If we’re given that opportunity, we must do our best with the gift. For me, honoring aging requires caring for critters and creaks. Today I’m a healthier person with Henry in the house.

“He who feeds a hungry animal feeds his own soul.” Charlie Chaplin

Carole Marshall is a former columnist and feature writer for a national magazine. Her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She’s written two novels and one fitness book. cmkstudio2@gmail.com