Gillian Jones: The Jones Bunch: Mom and six cats

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NORTH ADAMS — It's embarrassing to admit how many cats I live with. It was nothing I ever expected to happen, but as households meld, my mom's and mine, our combined feline population moved to one location and my crazy cat lady story begins.

It can best be described by comparison to "The Brady Bunch" TV series. My mom, her three cats, my dog, three cats and me.

Shortly after my cat population doubled, I noticed a huge sign along West Main Street in North Adams which read something like, "Grandma put in nursing home. Need to find homes for her cats." I wished I had stopped to take a photo of the sign, and unfortunately when I went back it was gone. Perhaps the cats found homes?

I grew up with felines most of my life. But for nearly 20 years, I lived completely cat-free. I only got a cat, Beatrice, after my beloved dog Dante died. One of my former students thought Beatrice should have a friend, so she gave me Lucy, and then Mr. Cat needed a home, and by that time, I couldn't say no.

I should have known that my mom's three cats would have to be figured into the equation at some point, but honestly I wasn't even thinking about it.

It was in January of 2017 my 84-year-old mother, and her three cats moved in with me while her home was being renovated. We coexisted for about six weeks and by that time, I found myself very attached to them.

The cats remained with me while mom resided in a nursing home for nearly a year. When she moved back in with me in early 2018, the cats had already become quite comfortable in my home. Now I can hardly imagine my home without them.

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While many have said I should have tried to "rehome" the cats or put them up for adoption, I couldn't imagine doing that. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if they were destroyed, instead of adopted. It's just wasn't an option. There are so many senior cats in shelters already. They are hard to find homes for. Everyone wants a kitten. The same goes for dogs too.

To say having six cats and a dog is a challenge is an understatement. Vet bills, food, medications and complicated relationships especially between all the animals is a just a fraction of the fun. From a half a dozen litter boxes that have to be cleaned daily to cat food dishes on the floor and vomit! More than anything, it has really cramped my travel as finding care for the cats for more than a couple of nights is difficult.

But truly the best part of living with cats is my mom's interaction with them. She reacts to them, talks to them, smiles and laughs. They bring her comfort and I have seen her anxiety be relieved with their presence. They also take turns sleeping with her at night.

When she resided in the nursing home, each one of her cats visited her there, in addition to my dog. The facility allowed pets to visit and I saw the positive effect the animals had, not only my mother but on the other residents. Honestly it brought a tear to my eye and joy to my heart.

As for pets and the elderly, the debate over whether a cat or dog is better continues.

"Cats are helpful for companionship without affecting the limited mobility some of the seniors have. We are finding that some of the housing that seniors are in, like apartments and condos, are more open to cats than dogs," says Susan Kurowski, the Pets for the Elderly Foundation general manager. "Cats are easy to hold on your lap and so many people, especially those who live alone, need the touch and cuddling provided by cats who need to be cuddled."

From where I stand, my cats have a pretty good life and they are strictly indoor cats. They seem to spend most of their days lounging around, snuggling with one another and sleeping. If reincarnation is real, then I'd like to definitely come back as a lucky house cat.

Gillian Jones is an Eagle digital visual journalist who is writing an ongoing series of opinion page pieces on caregiving. Her email is gjones@berkshireeagle.com.


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