A vet confirmed last night what I'd suspected for the past week: that my cat Merrick has lost his hearing. Looking back, I realise that it hasn't happened suddenly or recently - Merrick has expertly masked his deafness by using his other remarkable cat-senses.
I think back to April, when pet photographer Erin McNulty called at our house to photograph our cat and dogs (the pictures of Merrick on this page are Erin's). She had a job getting Merrick to look at her - he just seemed to ignore her.
I think back to a couple of times this year when Merrick failed to notice me in the room and got startled when I sat down next to him.
And I realise now how soundly Merrick has slept, through barking sessions by the dogs and over-loud movies on TV.
What made me finally twig to Merrick's deafness was my failure to get him to come to the kitchen for a feed, despite my calling and tapping his food bowl. I then did some tests of his hearing, talking or clapping or clicking my fingers behind his head; his ears never twitched.
The vet says it's all to do with age: Merrick is about 13, and his body is showing wear in various ways.
But he's still plugged in to the world, thanks to all the other senses that are stepping up to compensate for the fading of one.
He can feel through his paws when I close the bedroom door in the morning, signalling that I'm up and able to feed him; he can probably also detect the gossamer tread of my feet down the hall.
His fur and whiskers pick up tiny changes in air pressure or puffs of displaced air as people move around him. I speculate that, though his ears won't pick up the frequency of Phoebe's barking, his lungs will (mine do).
His nose can track down a plate of food, even if someone else is eating it, from anywhere in the house. Especially if there's cheese content.
Above all, he has those big yellow eyes, which are as keen as ever.
Aside from his sharpened remaining senses, Merrick has developed another safety mechanism: a pushy and loud cry where previously he scarcely ever meowed. It means he's more likely to be noticed and attended to, such as when he's returning from the garden after a comfort stop.
Actually, those pit stops are his only times spent outside, apart from sunning sessions on the deck. He's a house cat, so we seldom have to call him in from outside.
So Merrick is deaf - but he's coping, and I don't see why he shouldn't continue to cope for years. He's still a magnificent cat in good shape; he loves food, company, sun and more food. He seems to know, as our dogs seem to know, that he is our Senior Pet, whom barking and bullying will not budge.
And, you know, I haven't stopped talking to him. And he hasn't stopped seeming to understand what I'm saying.
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