The main frustration about a rescue pet is what you don’t know: how old they are, what breed they are, what they’ve been through, tricks previous owners have taught them, and that’s just the obvious stuff. Some people will even get the DNA testing kits. That’s not for me though.
What I do know is, my black beauty is getting older, and apparently at a more rapid rate than I thought. If he really was, say for the math, a year old when I got him, and I’ve had him for almost six years, that would make him almost seven. Cats and dogs can live long lives, the average indoor cat reaches about 18 years, but if Cairo is almost halfway to that point... well, I think you know where I’m going here.
Based on the fact I at least thought I saw his last teeth grow in early on in our relationship, I’ve always assumed Cairo was younger; when the occasional white hair sticking out of his midnight black coat turned into a couple of white hairs, I thought maybe he just had some dominant traits peeking through; when his interest shifted from chasing toys on sticks to lounging in a fine selection of cardboard boxes, I just assumed he was entertaining himself; I also assumed the other night when he fought the dog for an exclusive snuggle and purr session with me it was because he recognized there was a celebration (my birthday) and not because he might have been feeling unwell.
And then I found a loose tooth in my dog’s mouth.
“Drop it. Give that to me. Let me have it! Smidge. C’mon,” were my war cries as I pried the teeny jaws open and she coughed out what looked like an off-white stone.
Unsure of my next step, I did what any millennial would do and posted a photo to social media. Then I decided to check Smidge’s mouth in case she had just lost a stray baby tooth? Or had a loose tooth after the "Thanksgiving Incident" (when she hit her head and suffered an eye injury.) Huh, nothing. No redness or bleeding, she seemed pretty calm while I jabbed at her gums, too.
Then I got the side-eye from the one and only cool cat. He let me pet him, he let me pick him up, and then he let me gently move is shiny black cat lip to reveal a red, sore gum… near a tooth that was still intact. One side down, I guess, so I tried to turn his head.
I heard the guttural cry, No Mommy noooooo….
“It’s ok Cairo, I just want to look”
He started wriggling with great fervor so I let him go. I realized had to accept one of two things: I was probably a bad pet owner for not brushing his teeth better (something he absolutely hated) or my little guy was just getting older.
When I was just pet-sitting Cairo (that’s how this all started) I thought, gee it’s been fun to have a cat but I’ll be happy to give him back. Later it became, huh, I’m gonna miss this little guy whenever he goes back home. Then when his ownership was handed over to me, it became, no, I just can’t do it, I won’t give him up and I put him in a shelter. Besides, I had always wanted a cat so maybe this one is just mine now. Shortly after that, wow, he’s so good with the dogs. Then last summer it became, he’s so good with the new dog.
And then that night it became, I can’t believe my feisty little kitten is old enough to lose a tooth.
I scheduled Cairo for a dental, which resulted in the removal of two small teeth and a hilarious “stick paw” where his leg was shaved for the IV, revealing pale white skin dusty with black stubble. When I dropped him off, I brought his lost tooth, which turned out to be broken. The vet said some cats develop feline tooth resorption, and while we don’t know why it happens, we know that the cat’s tooth is weakened in the condition and can break. That’s likely what happened to Cairo. Another tooth showing similar signs and symptoms was removed. They technicians carefully placed them in a baggie for me, thinking correctly that I may want to keep them since I told them I wanted to keep the broken tooth I brought in.
As a middle school aged child, I found the hidden stash of some baby teeth in my dad’s bathroom drawer, while pillaging for quarters in one of his loose change dishes. The miniature teeth were in a plastic sandwich bag and “Alyson – Baby Teeth” was written in permanent marker in my dad’s angular handwriting. The littlest ones looked like chips from a broken teacup; my very last molar, cracked in half, reminded me when the Tooth Fairy had forgotten to go to the bank and gave me $20. Even then, I was sentimental to the fact my father had taken the time to keep, collect and label such a macabre collection, simply because it related to me. I had known there was no tooth castle in the sky with fluoride fountains and dental floss thrones, but I guess I was surprised my parents didn’t just chuck the porcelain chiclets into the front shrubs or something. I thought of all that as I leaned on my counter, gently rubbing a broken tooth through the plastic wall of a snack baggie, “Cairo 4/2/19” emblazoned in rounded, green letters, while the cat devoured a can of wet food.
Just as pre-teen me could not believe that I really had teeth that small once, even though I remembered losing them, I had a hard time believing my two very own pets were growing up along with me, even though I remembered blowing out birthday candles in cans of wet food and arranging adoption anniversary get-togethers. And since my babies are technically in their adult bodies, it is even harder to remember that they are already aging, just like me.
Luckily, Smidge and I still have all our teeth.