Caring for a parent: The grumpy cat and my mom

Adults with aging parents often come to a time when they need to help their parents with decisions and basic day-to-day tasks. While few cherish that role reversal, many can get through the challenges with patience, and a good dose of humor.

Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP
A feral cat sits under a bench on in Flint, Mich., on Wednesday, July 16.

There comes a time when we transition from parenting our kids to doing the same for our parents. Yesterday, when I had to help my mother, age 84, avoid possible jail time over a cat-related incident, I realized that my time has come.

Mom, who has always been sharp as a tack and in great physical condition, lives very independently in New Jersey. I live in Norfolk, Virginia with my husband, four sons, two adopted cats, and a very big dog.

Because I tend to take in stray animals at the drop of a cat, my sons often tell me that I am doomed to become a batty old “cat lady” in my later years.

Mom, on the other hand, has been diagnosed as allergic to anything with fur or feathers, including mohair sweaters and pillows.

Unfortunately, 2 years ago my younger brother, unable to care for his cat, dropped it off at her door.

Mom kept the cat, hoping my brother would return for it. Also, she didn’t want to upset him by giving his cat away.

The cat is a recluse that only comes out to feed at night or to scratch Mom if she’s nearby.

Around Christmas last year, mom finally decided to begin calling local animal welfare groups in her area to ask for help.

At least once a week for months Mom has called me to chronicle her discussions with local animal control, trappers, and humane organizations, each resulting in her being told of fees she couldn’t hope to pay on a fixed income.

“They told me to make an appointment, bring the cat in myself and pay them $200 to take it,” Mom explained over the phone last week after her monthly plea to the SPCA. “I told them there’s no way. That cat’s impossible to predict. I asked for help but they said they will only do this their way.”

She even tried to navigate the web site to contact Jackson Galaxy of the Animal Planet TV show “My Cat from Hell” but failed to make contact.  

Therefore, for over a year, Mom has had a cat carrier sitting open with food inside, hoping the cat would volunteer for relocation.

Yesterday was the day, that the cat finally went into the carrier, ate, and fell asleep.


Mom told me later that she closed the carrier door and swiftly gathered cat comfort items to go with the cat to his new home.

Here comes the judgment call she made that is more worthy of my teen years than my historically level-headed mother.

Apparently she was so stoked at the capture that she hopped in the car and was pulling out of the driveway when she realized she didn’t have a plan and it was 6a.m.

Apparently, she just couldn’t wait for regular office hours. It had to be now!

Perhaps, in fear of high fees and being told to keep the cat, she passed on the SPCA in favor of the local animal hospital.

She wrote an anonymous note of explanation and left cat, carrier, blankets, and kitty toys at the vet’s doorstep.

Her wild-eyed plan might have succeeded – were it not for the fact that the cat is has an identifying microchip with my brother’s name. As is his way, my brother had listed Mom’s address on the chip.

The next thing Mom knew the animal welfare police were at the door.

The next thing I knew I was hearing the small, frightened, confused, and penitent voice of my mother, asking for help in coping with the consequences of her actions.

I realized this was the turning point between mother and daughter when I was becoming the caregiver.

Having grown up with Mom, her mother, and her grandmother under one roof, I have seen this torch passed before.

I realized it has been the ability of the women in my family to focus on any speck of humor that could be mined from the moment, that has helped take the sting out of the transition process.

For instance, decades ago, when ducks stole some cheese my Polish grandmother had curing in the yard (that’s a completely different story), she sought revenge on the thieving fowl by trying to catch the now “fat” duck to eat for dinner. Grandma stopped her by shooing the birds away.

“Who stole my cheese” has an entirely different meaning in my family as a result.

Years later, my mom would stop Grandma from eating a box of fancy dog treats she insisted were gourmet cookies.

All our aging adventures seem to revolve around animals.

Now, I was on the phone trying to convince a nice lady from what I will call “the cat police” not to fine my mom $1,000 or send her to jail for 6 months.

“The bad news is you have to say ‘Sorry’ for leaving the cat and arrange a payment plan for the $200 surrender fee,” I told mom over the phone. “The good news is that you are no longer in any danger of becoming an old cat lady like your daughter.”

We laughed and my mom said, “It seemed like such a good idea at the time. I guess I should have run that one by you first.”

I told her that it would be a good plan to run ideas past me because I learned from the best.

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