It's Friday May 24, 2013
Harley is 22. He is not only Dr. Sherri Hicks’ oldest patient but the oldest cat she’s ever seen in Oriental or anywhere else. Cats usually have a lifespan of around 15-17 years, but Harley has beaten the odds by more than half a decade.Harley getting a routine checkup from Dr Sherri Hicks. Sherri has been taking care of Harley for almost a decade. On this visit, she confirmed Harley was “definitely my oldest patient” – for the past 4 years.
By the human-years-to-cat-years calculation, Harley would be a 105 year old human. “He’s like one of those people you see on TV,” says Dr. Hicks.
The Today Show has not called. But a bigger honor awaits. For being a survivor – in a foreign land, no less, Harley is Mister May… Pet of the Month.
That Harley exists at all comes as a surprise to many who come to the home he shares at TownDock.net headquarters with one of the town’s more well-known canines – Jack.
As a result, the first words Harley hears from many first-time visitors are, “You have a cat, too?” When they get over that surprise, the visitors’ next reaction is usually to laugh, because Harley is – there’s no delicate way to put this – Harley is one seriously scrawny feline.Harley’s slow gait.
He recently weighed in at all of 4 pounds. Harley’s people, Keith and Melinda, swear that they do in fact feed him. Often. His ability to command a feeding is finely honed.. (more about that in a moment.) For the record, Harley was never a large cat. He has simply shrunk since his prime.
He’s also slowed down. Gone are the days when he could trap a salamander on the deck, then tuck it under the dining room rug as part of a one-cat game of hide and seek. Also gone are the interpretive dances in which Harley pounced on reflected light on the floor. He stopped doing those about 2 years ago… at the ripe age of 20.
These days, instead of that silky feline pounce, his gait’s become a rolling stroll. His dragging hind claws click and clack on the hardwood floor as he slinks between food bowl and woodstove.Old Cat, New Tricks
That’s what he did in the winter. As spring arrived and the woodstove went cold, Harley’s taken to wedging between his foodbowl and the refrigerator. His humans debate whether he’s attracted to the fridge because the motor provides warmth and a comforting hum, or if he figures there’s no better place to remind the bipeds that if they are going to the fridge for food for themselves, they might as well drop another spoonful in his bowl while they’ve got the door open. (The latter theory is winning.)Harley as refrigerator sentry.
Harley is a testimony to adaptation. He’s pursued fewer activities in his old age, and eating has became more important to him, he’s developed a melancholy meow. (Harley puts the “cat” in caterwaul.) If he wants breakfast before the humans have risen, his laments can rouse his owners — a story above his feed bowl.
In the last few years, he’s also developed a habit of literally getting underfoot, causing humans to do a dance around him. Is it a well-thought out plan to get attention — and food? Or is it senescence? Perhaps both.A Cat’s Life
Harley was born in 1991 and was picked out of a box at a pet store in London, Ontario by 18-year-old Karin French, Keith’s niece. He wasn’t a high priced purebred. Just a kitten up for adoption. Karin took him home and, based on his loud purring, named him Harley.
A year later, Karin was returning home from a concert with five friends when the car they were in was hit by a truck. She was the only one to not survive.Old cat bliss. Harley catches some Oriental sun on an Oriental rug.
Karin’s mother, Jean, took over Harley’s care. When Jean moved to a condominium in Toronto, Karin’s cat had a warm south-facing exposure and a good view of the CN Tower. But what was then the Western hemisphere’s tallest structure didn’t provide nearly as much fascination to cat as did the shower in Jean’s bathroom.
Jean’s shower had a ledge which Harley enjoyed prowling while the water was running. This love of water – not being in it but being exposed to it, playing with it – would remain with him in the years and homes to come.
Harley’s days by that Toronto shower — and Toronto — were to come to a close. Jean had developed a violent allergy to cats and on doctor’s orders, Harley had to find a new home and soon. Jean’s brother, Keith, who’d come to consider Harley “a family member,” proposed a solution. He would give the cat a new home in the US.A Border To Cross
Armed with what he called a “kitty Quaalude” and a Samsonite pet travel case, Keith brought Harley across the border in a car. In Buffalo, Keith caught a plane to Atlanta with important piece of carry-on luggage. Keith wedged the Samsonite case and dozing cat under the seat in front of him. Midway through the flight, though, the medication wore off, and Harley started yowling. Removing cat from case to comfort him might’ve caused even more trouble, Keith says. There wasn’t much he could do, “I kept reading my paper and pretended like I didn’t know where the howling was coming from.”
Harley’s first American home was in a suburb of Atlanta, mixing in a household with the Nova Scotia Marsh Hound, Ceilidh. A peaceful coexistence ensued, punctuated by Harley climbing on to a chair and taking front paw swipes and jabs as the dog walked by.
In 2002, Harley and the rest of his crew moved to Oriental. Here he was an indoor and occasional outdoor cat (when he could escape). Harley came with no front claws, preventing an outdoor life. Keith says Harley did get in a fight or two when he escaped outside, managing to “win” fights due to his loud howling. “The other cat didn’t know Harley didn’t have any bullets in his gun. He backed off from Harley’s impressive howl.”Might may make right but in the House of Harley, the old cat eats first ….…followed by Jack. Jack may have the name recognition, but Harley rules the roost.
After a few years in Oriental, Harley was no longer the newest member of the household. In late 2005, Jack joined the menagerie. For half a decade, the three of them, the Canadian cat and the two American dogs lived under one roof, generally keeping out of each others food bowls, until Ceilidh’s death in 2010.
Jack had been terrified of Harley for about a year, convinced he’d get a good shredding from those theoretical cat claws. Then, one night Harley whacked Jack across the face with his clawless paw, and a Jack had a look of sudden wonderment… as if to say “Heyyyyyy. That didn’t hurt at all.”
Going forward, Jack decided Harley wasn’t so frightening. They have managed to get along just fine over the years.Adaptation
In the US, Harley’s fascination with water in the bathroom evolved from the shower ledge to the toilet bowl. Harley would stand on his back legs at the toilet bowl and with a front paw, swat the water. Keith says he went about it, “like a guy in a western bar. One elbow propped up on the bar. Staring out in to space. Every now and then, swirling the drink around with his paw. He liked to see the waves splash around…”
Perch, swat, watch. Perch, swat, watch. It kept Harley amused for hours.
In recent years, because he’s getting stiffer and standing on his back legs isn’t easy, Harley’s substituted his water dish for his porcelain reflecting pool.Water dish trance. Despite his almost decade and a half in America, Harley has not become a naturalized citizen. The old feline still has fans back in Canada – Keith says his nephew Chris often enquires about how Harley is doing.
When he’s not cheek by jowl with the refrigerator, Harley stalks sunny napping spots. His sense of smell remains strong — he can still detect an opened yogurt container at 30 feet. In recent months, he’s taken to sniffing out remnants of food left on dishes loaded in to the dishwasher. He has actually climbed up and right in. The family with the geriatric cat is ever on guard to not put him through a wash & rinse cycle.
Keith says that when he brought Harley to veterinarian Sherri Hicks for the first time, he explained that this was not just a cat, but a link to his late niece and his sister Jean – who passed away in 2005. “‘Harley represented family that was gone,’” he told the veterinarian “‘No pressure Sherri – but Harley has gotta go on living.’”
Years later, that has been the old cat’s new trick, renewed every day.
Celebrity Pet Most Resembles: George Burns
Favorite Hockey Player: Davey Keon
Favorite Tip About Cans of Cat Food: Can be used as hockey pucks.
Favorite Joke: “I’m still here.”
Fellow Traveling Dog He Has Most Empathy For: Seamus
Favorite Monohull: Cat boat
Favorite Multihull: Catamaran
How Vet Sherri Refers to Harley: “Keith’s skinny, one-eyed cat”
Favorite Comedy Routine: 2,000 Year Old Man
Know a pet that is a standout? Send in some details and a photo to email@example.com. Tell why that pet deserves the coveted TownDock.net Pet of the Month Prize Package --- accolades, a pat on the head (snakes excluded) and a box of Milk Bones ( or snack suitable for the species).
We regret that we cannot offer a college scholarship to Pet Of The Month winners.
Animals caught near the HarborCam attempting to suck up to the judges will be disqualified.