Our cat has apparently retired.

She’s only 10, so it’s a very early retirement. Maybe she’s getting social security checks every fourth Wednesday from that Great Whisker in the Skies? I don’t know, but she’s definitely stopped working.

The first time I knew something was wrong when she started shunning her water bowl.

Let me explain. When Agatha Kitty came from the humane society to live with us, she was an agile little thing. Deep black glossy fur that turned red in direct sunlight, luminously bright green eyes, sleek, affectionate as all hell and quite a climber.

For decoration, on the top of a seven-foot armoire, I had a tall glass vase with ivy growing out of water.  A bookcase sat next to it. Almost immediately, Aggie started jumping to the top of the bookcase and then to the top of the armoire to drink. The first time she jumped, she scared the hell out of us. Then it became routine, a parlor trick she sometimes did for dinner guests, but nothing out of the ordinary. I just refilled the vase every Saturday when I watered the plants.

This spring she stopped jumping up there.

She also stopped hunting. Aggie was a master hunter, inside and outside of the house. Since we live in the woods, that (and a general love of cats) is why we hired her in the first place. She kept the house fairly rodent- free, and outside she killed a variety of small mammals. Eating them — everything except the guts, which she left for us — kept her skin glossy and our cat food bills down. We belled her so she couldn’t do too much damage to the bird population.

Maybe we took her for granted?

I was shocked when I learned she had quit. I had a marvelous torchier in the living room — it was a tall 1970s lamp from the Memphis Group that sat on a red glass base. Out of it rose a 6-foot blue glass post, which held up a lovely yellow bowl wrapped in — get this! — two blue fluorescent light strips. Cool, right? By the end of winter, the lamp smoked every time we turned it on.

I took it to the hardware store to get it rewired. When I came in a few days later to pick it up, pretty much the whole repair crew started laughing at me. Seems they had removed the halogen element and found a huge mouse nest inside. Apparently, the mice had spent the winter shimmying up the blue glass pole, settling down inside the warm lamp and stripping its wires for desert. Did I mention that the lamp was in the living room?  And those mice would be warm and cuddly while we would be talking, reading or watching television?

Where was Aggie? Also in the living room.

No wonder those guys were laughing.

When spring came, I noticed that Aggie wasn’t killing voles, mice, chipmunks or pretty much of anything else. Her fur was thick but not glossy — does Agway sell mouse oil as a food supplement?

Aggie wasn’t ill. At her last physical, also in the spring, the vet marveled at her sleek good health. So it took a while to think that she might be entering kitty old age. (It’s taking me a while to acknowledge that I’m entering people old age.)

By summer, Aggie was happily going outside to sun herself on the deck, then coming in to sleep on the couch, then going out to sit in the sun, then coming in to sleep on the bed, then… you get the picture.  But she never wandered far. Her days of haunting the mouseteria at our neighbor’s barn were over.

Although kitty brains are a mysterious mixture of instinct, intuition and habit that I don’t pretend to understand, I would swear that Aggie doesn’t know what to do with herself now that she’s stopped hunting. She wanders in and out of the house, whining about nothing in her vestigial Siamese voice, always wanting to be held and cuddled. Days that used to be filled with stalking and hunting are long and lonely without it.

Even without a letter of resignation, we get the message. After 10 years of devoted service, Aggie has opted for a party, a watch engraved with little mice on the back, and a lifetime of softness, sleeping and canned cat food.

The mice, however, have not retired.

And this means we have to think — and think hard — about introducing a younger cat into an environment that has been ruled for a decade by an alpha kitty who honestly believes that Randy is her mother (it’s the beard) (I hope it’s the beard) and that when he hugs me, he is forgetting who is really the most important member of our little family.

When I mentioned to Randy that we should start thinking about getting another cat, he looked surprised. “Who’ll tell Aggie?” he asked.

We don’t want to upset her, but we live in the woods. We need a house cat that hunts. And Aggie, it seems, has retired. We will adore, love and cuddle her to the end of her days, of course. But sooner or later we have to stiffen our resolve, go down to the humane society, let another cat choose us, and just pray that she can get along with Aggie.

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