Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Ageing of America

There has been a dramatic life expectancy increase in America which no one ever talks about. Pets are living longer and longer, and consequently are running into many of the same problems as the ageing human population. I got interested in this when I read an article about the Japanese opening up old age homes for pets. While this may not happen next week in America, it will happen soon. Your Federal government funds a number of old age homes for chimps, complete with plentiful outdoor activity (one assumes tires swinging from trees) proper nutrition and VCR facilities in the common room. As of now, I don’t think that the chimps are getting televisions in their bedrooms, but if the Democrats win the white House next year, who knows ?


But back to household pets, and this is astounding, cats have increased their life expectancy since 1988 from between four to five years to fifteen years. That is amazing. Think of what that would mean to a human. Twenty years ago you died at 75, today you would live to be almost 300. One article I saw gave the primary impetus to the increased lifespan as “nutrition”. Perhaps it is time to add “Little Frisky’s” to the dinner time menu for all of us.


I think about ageing pets because I live with two of them. An 11 year old dog and a 12 year old cat. The last thing I do before I go to bed every night is try to coax the dog in from her last trip to the backyard. This almost always takes a bribe of a “treat” of some sort. Once I’m in bed, I spend many evenings trying to move the cat from the middle of my back over to a place where I will be able to sleep. This is harder than it sounds for two reasons, the cat is very stubborn and I am a wimp. In an earlier day, the concept of “kicking the cat” was not even considered animal cruelty. Farmers would often gather up a bag full of new born kittens and go drown them. But things have changed. Such action would be a crime today. In California, the legal concept of “pets” has passed away. Animals that live with humans out there are legally “companions”. Here in Austin, we allegedly have an animal control system that will not exterminate animals. I recently talked to a volunteer who works with the animals in Austin that are exterminated. Huh ? She explained to me that they still exterminate “non-adoptable” pets. So just about as many pups and kitties get the gas as ever, but no one in town knows it. It is as if workers at orphanages went through the wards and picked our all the older, fatter and less attractive kids and put them down.


The Japanese probably have the right idea. One of my law partners told he that the Social Security System had been a great boon to this country because “it got the smell of death out of the house”. Back in the 1930s, pretty much everyone died in a back room of their home, or, a home that used to be theirs, but was now run by their ungrateful progeny. Sometimes these folks would linger for years. Social Security gave the old folks enough cash to where the kids did not feel so guilty about kicking them out and putting them in a home for the aged. No muss, no fuss, call  me when Granny kicks in. Well the way my “companions” are behaving. Leads me to believe that this is not such a bad model to follow. I spend hours a week doing things for my “companions” that are directly related to the ageing (if not dementia) process. The dog wakes me up every morning, sometimes at 4:00 a.m. by putting its nose on my hand and pushing. This is her sign that she wants to go downstairs and stare out the window of the front door. She does not need any help from me to do this, she just does not wish to do it without my being down there. Once I reach the first floor, I am greeted by the cat who meows at me until I turn on the water in the kitchen bathroom sink and lift him onto the sink so that he can drink water. He has all the water he needs in a bowl, but prefers, indeed insists on, moving water. Then the cat meows at me for a few more minutes until I lift him up on the counter and feed him. He has taken to doing this several times a day, at all hours. Over the last year , the cat has taken to finishing his breakfast and then coming over to the couch and chasing his tale for several minutes, in a way which can only be described as manic. The dog, who used to go outside two to three times a day, now  insists on going our eight to ten times a day, most of those times after I get home from work. In these animals, I see the same crotchety behavior that I see in most humans over the age of about 70. They are impatient, demanding and, often abrasive. I’m sure that they see me as impatient, self centered and uninterested in their lives. I have been down this road before.


The thing that no one will talk about is the possibility that the cat lifetime will continue to increase, with the dog not far behind. If the cat increases its life expectancy at the same rate it did over the last twenty years, we are all going to be living with a bunch of senile, 60 year old cats. I guess this was the plan all along. Dogs and cats “mans best friends” have always been the “Uncle Toms” of the animal kingdom. While virtually all animals avoided domestication , dogs and cats took to it like gold fish to a gold fish bowl. They could not wait to do their little “Step n’ Fetchit” routines in order to ingratiate themselves with and finally, move in with the humans. We have been feeding and pampering these species for thousands of years now. Soon, they will be outliving us ! Their sneaky little take over plan will be complete. It took awhile, but soon every dog (and cat) will not only have its “day” but everything else it wants.


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