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She's somewhere around 24. Until yesterday she was still getting around and still eating. Overnight she has failed. She appears to only have a few days or a few hours left.

I am not saying how old I was when she was given to me, because I know you would all be able to do the math. The 24 years does represent a goodly proportion of my life and a whole lot of changing. Through it all, she stuck it out and never complained.

She started life with me as a present from a best friend. She was 8 weeks old-a purebred Himalayan. I normally only deal in the homeless and the strays, but she was a warm gesture-I wasn't about to stand on principle. She was the most perfect round ball of white dandelion fluff ever created. I named her Wuss- and she was.I seem to get cats in bunches and she was part of a threesome. The other two are gone and when she goes, I will feel so much older and more mortal. That part of life closes and starts to seem like it belonged to someone else.

She was always an independent thinker, but never mean-spirited. If there was trouble in cat town, she was never the instigator. She didn't make new cats in the household run the gauntlet. Wuss remained serenely above the conflict and when the fur quit flying she was a friend to both sides. Trouble was just too much trouble. Better to curl up in a corner of the couch and ignore it all until equilibrium was reached.

Outside was a strictly monitored event at our house. We lost one cat to coyotes in the yard and after that I have to admit to being annoyingly overprotective. The free thinker that she was, she was having none of the supervised play periods. I figured I was safe letting them out on the deck. It would be an impossible jump.She sized up the situation and like Papillon flinging himself off the cliff, she took a running leap off the edge of the deck. Doing a creditable impression of a flying squirrel, she made a smooth, soft landing and raced away into the woods-laughing. This became a ritual. Flying off the deck made her supremely happy and we grew to accept the fact cats can't be controlled and maybe it wasn't worth it.

She has grown so stiff and arthritic in the last few years, that leaping and flying are a distant memory. It breaks my heart to see the changes and it scares me too. We are all on the same track as poor Wuss, but she gets there sooner because of her species. Today we fly, tomorrow its a wheelchair and a walker. Watching the process teaches you about the strength and grace required to grow old and do it well. I don't know what 24 years in cat life translates to in human years, but I would hazard a guess I won't be doing it as well as Wuss.

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