Granpa Rexs Allen: Cats & Kittens
In keeping with a venerable tradition launched in our premier issue (Vol. I, No. I, March 1998), Cats & Kittens is honored to announce the winner of the 1999 Cat of the Year Award. Indeed, the current presentation of this virtual accolade is especially honorific for two reasons. First, 1999 had not yet staggered across the finish line when our Cultural Demographics Committee selected the recipient of this year’s award. Second, 1999 is the first year in which our award is presented posthumously.
Posthumous, from the Latin for “late born,” which was later amended to “lately deceased” or simply “late,” means that the winner of this year’s cat of the year award is, you guessed it, a dead cat – Granpa Rexs Allen, who fled this coil of tears on the morning of April 1, 1998, at the age of 34 years, 2 months, and 4 hours. Granpa’s seniority was the chief reason why our Cultural Demographics Committee decided by a unanimous vote of 2-0 to give the award to Granpa. The committee was certain there was no cat older than Granpa that was going to die before the year did, nor was there any cat alive this year whose achievement could rival Granpa’s. For a while, Soxy, a cat who had survived an 11,000-volt hit of electricity at a substation in England, was a sparkling contender, but he came to grief when he paid a return visit to that substation.
Granpa Rexs Allen, a sphynx, was adopted from the Humane Society of Travis County (Texas) by Jake Perry on January 16, 1970. “That year I adopted Granpa I was always in and out of the shelter, finding and adopting cats, trying to make show cats,” said Perry, 66, a retired plumber who lives in Austin. Perry estimates that he and his wife, Judy, adopted “over 400 cats. We took sick ones and injured ones, our expense, got them on their feet, kind of training them, you know, find them a home or take them back to the shelter where they can make the adoption fees to help the others.”
According to Perry, Granpa had been found “at the intersection of Windsor Road and Expedition. They guy who found him took him to the shelter because he figured he was going to get killed, run over, you know. I was there when they brought him in.”
Perhaps the fellow who found Granpa hadn’t noticed the cat was hairless, but Perry doesn’t miss a trick, so he put up posters in the Austin area, advertising his found cat. “I was trying to find something on him,” said Perry, “because he kinda was a rare cat.”
Toward the end of the year, Perry received a call from a woman with a foreign accent. “You got my cat Pierre,” she announced.
The caller, Mme. Sulinaberg of Paris had traveled from France to visit her daughter in December 1969. Someone had left a screen door unlocked during her visit, and Pierre had gone walkabout. Mme Sulinaberg asked Perry to let her have a look at the cat he had found.
“When I took him over there,” said Perry, “she said I could keep him as long as I signed an agreement saying I wouldn’t show him as a pedigree because she did not like the pedigree judges. I said, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. I did register him as a household pet with T.I.C.A. association, and his name is Granpa Rexs Allen, and that’s the way it’ll be.’ Then she gave me the pedigree papers.”
Said papers declared that Granpa/Pierre had been born “in Paris, France, February 1, 1964, early morning,” said Perry. “His father, Pierre II, was a Devon rex; and his mother, Queen of France, was a sphynx.”
Broccoli and Mayonnaise – ِCats Food –
Although Perry often shows the cats he has adopted as part of their rehabilitation training, he didn’t begin showing Granpa, who had already been neutered when Perry adopted him, “until way late because, you know, of his age. He wasn’t [shown] for over four, five years,” by which time Granpa was working on his second decade.
“I was thinking maybe that because of his age he probably wouldn’t win those high awards,” said Perry, but his fears were misplaced. Granpa tap danced through the household pet ranks at shows sponsored by The International Cat Association until he had earned the rank of supreme grandmaster, the highest award offered to cats that compete in the household pet division. He charmed the judges the way a boulevardier charms wealthy tourists.
“That’s what makes a good show cat,” said Perry. “They’ve got to take the noise, the handling, which Granpa did. Some don’t though. I’ve been bitten. Oh, I’ve been bitten. They’ll tear you up.”
By dint of going to cat shows and living past the age when most cats are memory or a box of ashes, Granpa became a celebrity. “Granpa had been all over the world on national T.V. for his birthday each year,” Perry told readers of the TICA Trend, an international feline journal. “Granpa had a birthday party every year on television. He got a vanilla cake with tuna and broccoli. He was a star.”
Perry’s star “loved to go shopping at PetsMart. If you said PetsMart to him, he was on your shoulder ready to go. He went everywhere with me, even grocery shopping. He got a checkup every two weeks.”
To hear Perry tell it Granpa’s intelligence rivaled his longevity. He not only loved pink baby clothes but also “knew colors,” Perry continued. “If you put a blue or yellow sweater on him, he would pull it off. Pink would stay on.” What’s more, “if he was sleeping and some of the other cats were playing and woke him up, well, even an hour later, he would come down and slap them and he knew which one.”
In another interview, this one with the Austin American-Statesman, Perry revealed Granpa’s nutritional secrets. “Every morning he has Egg Beaters – they get (high) cholesterol as we do – and chopped diet bacon. And broccoli or asparagus. With coffee, Folgers, that’s his favorite. I set a jar of mayo and a jar of red jelly in front of him. Whatever he puts his paw on, that’s what he has on his bacon and eggs. No salt, he’s on a salt diet.”
At bedtime Granpa got “his vets C.D. dry food and C.D. canned food,” said Perry, who credits Granpa’s longevity to his love of broccoli and other vegetables.
Go Figure – Cat History –
On February 4, 1994, the San Antonio Express-News carried a story celebrating Granpa’s 26th birthday. “Grandpa may not be the oldest-ever cat,” wrote the Express-News, “that designation, according to the Guinness Book of Records, belongs to a female tabby in England who died in November 1957 at age 34.” That same year a cat magazine listed Granpa’s age as 26 but estimated that he might be as old as 31.
A little more than two years later, on February 26, 1998, the Austin-American-Statesman wrote, “When Grandpa Rexs turns 34 next year, he will try to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records.”
Unfortunately, Granpa died just 34 days after that article had appeared. In noting his passing, the Austin American-Statesman began, “Grandpa Rexs Allen, possibly the oldest cat in the United States at 33, died Wednesday morning at his Austin home. His owner said the cause of death was pneumonia.” The article also mentioned that “Perry had hoped to get Grandpa into the Guinness Book of Records. The oldest cat in that book is an English feline that died at 34. Perry still thinks Grandpa may get into the book – he said he might have miscalculated the cat’s age, and Grandpa may have been 34 already.”
Eager to learn how Granpa, who had been a reported 26 and an estimated 31 in 1996, had gotten to be 33 just two years later, Cats & Kittens spoke with Jake Perry last spring. “The cat magazine estimated Granpa’s age as 31, said Perry, “because I didn’t send them his papers. When they called, I said, ‘Well, do you want me to send his papers’; but they said, ‘No. That’s OK.'”
Perry said that “every year Granpa took this fluid in the lungs. Because of his age and allergy. Like we do. And every year it would get worse and worse, and it’d take longer and longer for the antibiotics, but the last one he had he was getting worse.”
The night before he died, Granpa had been to visit the vet. “When he went he went fast, when I woke up, he was done cold,” said Perry, who estimated that Granpa had been dead “about 10 minutes” before Perry woke up.
After a short, tasteful ceremony in which the two dozen cats living in Perry’s house filed past Granpa’s lace-lined, infant’s casket, the old campaigner was laid to rest in Perry’s backyard, the 22nd entry in that cat cemetery. President Clinton sent Perry a sympathy card, as did more than 400 other friends of Granpa’s around the world.
One for the Book
Having learned that he had miscalculated Granpa’s age “My veterinarian that always worked on Granpa, he said, ‘You’re a year behind. He’s 34.'” Jake Perry had written to the Guinness Book of Records just two days before Granpa died. In August 1998, said Perry, he received a letter from Guinness. “Congratulations,” it began. “I am happy to report that your claim for Granpa Rex Allen as the oldest cat has been accepted as a new record,” Perry told Cats & Kittens that Guinness had told him that Granpa would be featured in the 2000 edition of the Guinness book.
As heady as that honor might be, it was simply the frosting on the tuna-vanilla-broccoli cake to the members of our Cultural Demographics Committee. Granpa’s achievements in the show ring, his ability to distinguish colors that most cats cannot even see, and the example he set for legions of geriatric cats around the world make him this magazine’s choice for cat of the year.