Zelda, who was ten years old and used to being the doted upon family pet, retreated to an upstairs bedroom and refused to come out.
We figured she'd eventually come around.
We carried her food bowl upstairs and presented her with a plump pillow to hang out on. We bought her treats and cat-nippy toys. Nothing helped.
Maybe six months went by and one day she crept downstairs, poked her head around the corner, discovered that the dog was still there and waddled back upstairs.
Three more years passed, and we couldn't deny it. Zelda wasn't just ticked off about the dog, she had changed. She was getting old. Slowing down. She used to be a playful, social cat, prancing out to see who was here when the doorbell rang, winding around people's legs and curling up on various laps.
Now she slept most of the day, plunked out on her pillow. She quit meowing and purring. When I petted her, she gave me a dirty look.
She tolerated the dog, but barely, growling like a cougar whenever the dog got too close. A few times I managed to get them within a few feet of each other, with me between them as a barrier, but those were rare times.
Last summer we took a vacation. The dog went to stay at a neighbor's house, but we didn't dare move Zelda. Honestly, I wondered if she'd even notice we were gone. She stopped eating while we were away. The person taking care of her was a little afraid. She hisses, the woman told me. I can tell she doesn't like me.
Don't worry about it, I said. She doesn't like anyone anymore.
But I was worried when we got home and found that Zelda still wasn't eating. Food had been the only thing left that she enjoyed.
So this is it, I thought. Life is over for Zelda.
This realization came at the same time my husband and I were helping our youngest child pack up for college. We drove our daughter the nine hours to school and tried to be cool about it. Next stage of life. Empty Nesters. A whole new adventure.
On the nine hour drive home my husband said, Well, I guess everything's over for us now.
We only sorta laughed.
We walked into the house and our dog had her usual nervous breakdown of excitement to see us, but Zelda only peeked her head into the hallway then schlumped back to her pillow.
The first grocery shopping trip as a cooking-for-two couple, my husband threw a bunch of fancy wet cat food cans into the basket. We'd never given Zelda that kind of food before. When she was a kitten she'd had digestive issues and the vet recommended a strict diet of a particular kind of dry food.
These cans are so expensive, I said. And they have real pieces of shrimp in them. That's crazy!
Whatever, my husband said. Why can't Zelda enjoy herself in her final stage of life?
She enjoyed herself right away, scarfing up the food as soon as we plopped it on her bowl. After a few weeks I got the idea to put her bowl in the kitchen and she started waddling downstairs to eat, sometimes hanging out for a while and hissing exuberantly at the dog.
All fall they sat with me when I wrote, with me as a barrier of course, but with less and less hissing and spitting each day.
Yesterday, my husband dangled a string above Zelda's head and she batted at it, purring and meowing like a kitten.
We don't always get a chance to do it over.
But it's never too late to try fancy cat food.