When Pets are Past Their Prime

[5 February 2008]

By Mikita Brottman

Not long ago, I read an article about the Seattle Zoo which pointed out that many of its residents were seriously over the hill: the hippo is 44, the zebra 32, the gorilla 39 and the orangutans—twins—just turned 40. These are unusually ripe old ages for the kinds of animals that, if they were living in the wild, would have been pushing up daisies long ago.

In captivity, however, various accommodations have been made to help the Zoo’s most senior inhabitants. Heated pads and rocks have been installed for the lions and hippos to help relieve arthritis pains brought on by the cold weather. Hay is dampened to make easier chewing for the toothless mouths of elderly herbivores. Perches and ropes have been thickened and flattened for aging monkeys whose swinging skills aren’t what they once were. These are thoughtful solutions to a major problem: what to do with animals past their prime.

Unfortunately, there are no celebrity apes at the Seattle Zoo—at least, none famous enough to be recognized by a casual observer—which is a shame, because there’s a very special place just for monkey has-beens. This place is C.H.E.E.T.A.. (“Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes”, a Californian desert sanctuary that provides residence, care, and rehabilitation for “homeless or unwanted ex-show business primates”. This idyllic-sounding sanctuary is named after its best-known resident, Jiggs, officially the world’s oldest chimpanzee, and more familiar to us mere mortals as Cheeta, the role he played in 12 Tarzan movies before his retirement in 1967.

Back in his fast-living showbiz days, Jiggs apparently liked nothing better than to join his human pals smoking cigarettes, playing cards, and knocking back the bourbon. But hard living has a price, even for apes. Now in his late 70s, Jiggs neither drinks, smokes, nor gambles, but is spending his golden years puttering around, “socializing with other primates and caregivers”, and painting “Ape-stract art”™ [buy your own original Jiggs painting here: (if you don’t specify the colors, Jiggs will choose them for you)].

If your aging animal happens to be a horse that’s too old to be ridden, but still needs exercise, you might consider investing in a Fleethorse NATURMOBIL, the “. . .  unique way of using the power of animals in the mobility of mankind”, whatever that means. “From time immemorial,” boast the makers of the NATURMOBIL, “animals like horses have brought the mankind to its destiny with their great speed and power.” As payback for all the great things your equine pal has given you, then, you can give your horse a workout and let it take you where you want to go at the same time, all without consuming expensive gasoline.

About as technologically sophisticated as a carrot on a stick, the NATURMOBIL is essentially a cage on wheels containing a treadmill for your horse. The treadmill powers the wheels, and all you have to do is sit in the front and steer. The website boasts that it’s an “environmentally friendly” mode of transportation—which may be true until your horse decides he needs a dump, at which time, well, let’s just hope you never get stuck behind one of these monstrous contraptions in traffic.

What if it’s not the pet that’s past its prime, but the owner? In the old days, if a pet owner died, the animal was “put to sleep” by the vet, taken out quietly behind the barn and shot, given away “free to a good home”, or handed over to most convenient relative. These days, however, there are more humane options.

If you don’t want little Muffin to fall into the hands of phobic friends or allergic aunts, I suggest you talk to your lawyer about setting up a Pet Trust, a concept whereby, for a small annuity, you can be sure beloved Buster will be spending his golden years in contentment long after you yourself have gone to the happy hunting ground. One option is to plan for your pet to go to a retirement community like Palm Meow, “A Tropical Paradise for your Cat” located in sunny south Florida.

At this exclusive cats-only resort, services offered to bereaved felines include “medication administration”, “specialized diets”, “daily brushing”, and “individualized playtime” (because you know how cats have an annoying tendency to play in gangs). While the cats pictured at the Palm Meow website certainly look happy and content, you can’t help noticing that a number of them are watching television—not a good sign in any daycare facility.

What’s more, as you scroll through the pictures, you realize this “exclusive tropical resort” with its “home-like setting” looks worryingly like—well, a home. The home of the neighborhood cat lady, to be precise. Nothing wrong with ladies who love cats, of course—as long as it remains within reason.

Before making posthumous plans for your pets, best read “People Who Hoard Animals” by Randy Frost on the Psychiatric Times. It suggests that some people who hoard animals may suffer from a highly focused form of delusional disorder.

Mikita Brottman is an author, psychoanalyst, and chair of the humanities program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Her book, The Solitary Vice, was published as a PopMatters imprint in 2008 (see 1 of 3 excerpts here). She lives in Ojai, California. Her website is available here.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/when-pets-are-past-their-prime/