Nancy Roman

I win…but I still lose.

For the last year I have been engaged in a war of wills.

Here is my opponent.

His name is Merlin, and this was photo was taken recently -.sometime around his nineteenth birthday. He has a questionable history. But he was reported to be two years old when we adopted him, and that was seventeen years ago this week.

Nineteen cat years equates to 92 on the cat-to-human-age conversion chart. Lest you think that an old feline is a sweet pussycat, let Merlin correct you.

He is a cranky pest. Oh, I love him. He has shared my life almost as long as my husband has. But feline dementia is just plain annoying.

He paces. He walks in counterclockwise (always counterclockwise) circles around us. It’s harmless enough, but you’d be surprised how it gets on your nerves. He gives new meaning to the word ‘lap-cat’, especially after eighty laps.

He claws at us. That is, he taps us on the shin with his claws exposed. He taps us for food, but mostly for attention. We sit at dinner. He taps. We sit and watch TV, he taps. He follows us into the bathroom, and he taps.

Merlin also taps to be picked up, and that’s where the big disagreement started.

Last year, with his stiff back legs, Merlin could no longer climb or jump onto the bed. So we’d go to bed and he’d tap against the bed. And scratch our beautiful sleigh bed.

So I’d pick him up. And in his senility, he’d jump down (he can still jump down, just not up). And he’d scratch again. And I’d pick him up. And he’d jump down. When I am ready for bed, I’m ready. FOR BED. I don’t want to play cat games.

So I enhanced our beautiful sophisticated bedroom decor…

with plastic steps.

Lovely, no? (That's Merlin on the pillow)

And the war began. Merlin wasn’t grateful for the new steps. He hated them He wouldn’t use them. He continued to scratch the bed.

(I know what you’re thinking…Just put him out of the room…  Yes, but we have three other cats and the protest quartet is unbearable.)

So I’d get out of bed and walk Merlin up the steps, nudging his scrawny legs like I used to walk my dolls fifty-something years ago. And he would obstinately and obnoxiously jump down. And scratch. Repeat. Repeat.

But I am an intelligent and mature human being. I can outlast a senile pissed-off cat.

And I did.

It took four months.

Four months of walking him up those steps over and over every night while he stubbornly resisted.

Then one evening, my husband and I went to bed, and about ten minutes later, Merlin quietly and without fanfare walked up those ugly steps.

And he has done so every night since.

And at four-thirty every morning…

He walks counterclockwise around and around me, until,

‘tap, tap, tap’ – on my bare shoulder.

Apparently, four-thirty is breakfast time in feline dementia world.


  1. Aw….I know it must be so annoying for you. I’ve never really heard of a cat with dementia; poor Merlin. Glad he uses his steps though!


  2. I guess when you’re 92 you just want things your way, no matter if you are a cat or not. Love your sleigh bed, by the way, and the elephant table. No wonder Merlin wants to be in that room.


  3. Oh Merlin has you right where he wants you…finally. Cats definitely rule, don’t they? Our two cats are not very vocal, thank goodness, put we have to barricade the door at night lest they fling their bodies against it to get in. Some nights are worse than others… I understand. Gotta love em, though!!! Give Merlin a pat for me, pretty please. Preferably when he is not tap tap tapping with his claws.


  4. Just wonderful … Merlin sounds such a character … be honest – you wouldn’t want a cat that just ‘was’, that just sat lazing around all day and did as he was told? No? Thought not – this cat with his purrculiarities was definitely the cat for you! 🙂


    • It was a lot easier to love him though, before he developed age-related OCD.


  5. Merlin sure IS a character. Stubborn maybe, but never boring and SO cute!

    I’m catless at the moment. Both of my cats had unique personalities but both were very much people oriented. I used to get the tap sitting at the dining-room table trying to enjoy my dinner. Well, I guess I wasn’t paying attention to Cartman so he’d stretch and tap me on the shoulder. I melted everytime.


  6. You are sooooo lucky! Jake, my 14-year-old non-senile cat has decided that 2 a.m. is when I need to get up to let him out and then 4 to 4:30 is when I need to let him in. Don’t do it you say? Neither man or beast can stand the howling if he doesn’t get his way. Good thing he is good in every other way.

    I did have a senile cat, too ( while back). She was 18 when I put her down. She was terrified of everything (totally out of character for her) and stayed in the dark under the bed. I kept her in a room by herself (we called it the nursing home room). Her quality of life wasn’t great so I made the hard decision. Merlin looks like he’s doing ok except for being a little annoying.

    It warms my heart to see the steps in a gorgeous bedroom!


  7. TOO funny! I have a one year old cat who acts similarly to your grumpy old man-cat. Except with the energy of a college student after a case of Redbull and an Adderall. 😦


  8. Aww…this post makes me miss my 18-year-old kitty baby who died last June. She peed on all carpeting..this was not a sign of age, she did this from babyhood on. The old age was when she peed on the overstuffed chair, which became known as the pee chair. (It’s gone from the house)


    • We actually have a baby gate fencing off the dining room… where the only expensive oriental carpet in the house seems to have become a pee magnet.


  9. OMG, that is one adorable cat. I, too, have dealt with the nocturnal annoyances of an elderly cat. I didn’t have the heart to put mine out of the room until she was really, REALLY sick. Love the steps solution — we totally would have done that if her health hadn’t gone before her legs. Thanks for the smile.


  10. Am I the only dog person in the crowd?

    We would never be so foolish as to try to train a cat. Instead, we dote on our dog, Cooper, who celebrates his 14th birthday on Friday. He is in failing health and must be carried upstairs to our bedroom following his (and I am NOT making this up) duck and potato dog food and his $100/day medications. There he snores, cries, chews his butt and farts all night long.

    God I love him. I’m sure you feel the same way about Merlin. When you don’t want to kill him.


  11. This reminds me so much of our cat CC! She and Merlin would be splendid together. I haven’t had to resort to steps – yet – but I am sure it is will happen soon enough. 🙂 I wrote a post about her “crazy” behavior and how she only resides upstairs in our home:


    • Oh yeah… my cats (all of them) would rather lick the shower than drink out of the bowl.


  12. We have a 17 year old black and white cat who can still jump on the bed, but no longer into his favorite sleeping spot on a shelf in our closet. He is not as insistent as Merlin. He sits and looks forlornly at the spot he wants to be. If we don’t notice his sitting and staring, he will come over, meow at us and lead us back to where he would like to be placed.

    Your post proves that you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach one to an old cat.


  13. You can teach an old cat….eventually.

    As regards your cat…it appears that HE has taught YOU. But that happens more often than we would like to admit.


  14. Aahh, but what a wonderful opponent. Imagine what he is thinking about you?!
    Training is a time-consuming and laborious thing…remember when you were first learning stuff… How do cats learn to tap you on the cheek, shoulder etc to wake you up….at that time of the morning, it’s more about doing poosees outside, not inside, so in that sense, puss has you well-trained! A lovely article.


  15. Written by a true cat-lover! Love it!!!


  16. I don’t let my dogs sleep with me, which is cruel, I know. Every few months, I let them in until one of them wakes me up with vigorous scratching (of themselves, not me, thank heavens) that shakes the entire bed. Then they are exiled again. I love my pets, but I love my sleep more.


  17. Dor

    As always, I love your posts. Your patience, persistence and good humor regarding Merlin’s tapping thing finally paid off! It is a sweet story and I know Merlin is glad you are you. Me too.


  18. Red

    He looks very much like my long time companion, Outlaw. He was a tuxedo who ruled the house and disapproved of everyone who came to call. He is credited with one training: He taught hubs to put down the lid. Old Tom cats rule.


  19. It seems Merlin is living up to his name! What a wonderful story about what we do (and put up with) to please our 4-legged babies who offer us unconditional love 24/7. My Misty will be 16 in June. I self-diagnosed her with kitty dementia about 2 years ago. She will go into a corner, sit and stare at the wall trying to remember why she went there. I must admit it’s nice having someone else in the house dealing with those issues! My “tap, tap, taps” are always on the chin… and ever so gentle… no less annoying, but gentle!


  20. Merlin! You stud! That drawing is awesome. I like his style.

    My take-away here: you have four cats. And I thought my two cats and one dog seemed insane. You might’ve given me permission to go one step further.


    • I tried five cats for a very short time. The difference between four cats and five cats is HUGE. Not recommended.


      • I had three cats once. Never, ever slept. Someone was always waking me. Then my elder lady bit the dust and now the circles under my eyes have faded.


  21. Merlin looks like a young kitten! May he live to wake you up for many more years to come!


  22. This story is hysterical and I don’t even like cats! I found myself wanting to meet Merlin because somehow he sounds as if he’s more in control of you than you are of him. Ha! If I could be guaranteed to get a cat with personality like that, I think I might change my mind about cats. Well done.


  23. pharphelonus

    dimentia sucks, not matter the person, animal. good of you to keep at it.


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