Paws for thought: Lovely life with Lola
About two decades ago, Beth Felts of Urbana took pity on a scrawny, parasite-ridden stray kitten that turned up alone in a friend's barn in the countryside southwest of Champaign. At the time, she had no idea what steadfast and comforting companionship the then-5-week-old feline would provide her throughout her life's coming turbulence.
It was in July 1993 when Felts brought the kitty home — the first and only cat she's ever had — and named her Lola, after a great aunt who taught biology and loved animals.
"Aunt Lola taught at Urbana High School for 40 years and died in 1970," Felts said. "I was very close to her and spent a lot of time with her as a child. I've noticed many pets recently with the name Lola, but my Lola was a first."
Lola (the cat) is today about 95 years old in people-years, and the two have shared good times and bad, adjusting to life's inevitable changes with grace and moving forward together.
"Lola lived with me all over Urbana, in Centralia, and in Greenville, Mich.," Felts said. "She outlived two husbands, and she was with me all through years of illness and near-death when I had pancreatic cancer, with a 97 percent terminal prognosis."
Felts' first husband, Arthur Parker King, died of a widely spread cancer not long after Lola joined the family in 1994.
She remembers that energetic kitten: "Lola was very young and boisterous and often made me smile when I was sad."
When Felts married her second husband, journalist David Felts, Lola welcomed new family members into the fold: There were two little girls to play with and two big Airedales to keep in check.
Said Felts: "Then I met my charming journalist and married him, and he had two daughters whom we had every other weekend. Little Sarah and Emily chased Lola all over our house and often dressed her up in doll clothes — she looked so cute! Lucky for me that Lola was young when the girls were."
David Felts had a regular column in a newspaper where he was managing editor. Below his weekly column, a biographical blurb read: "David Felts lives with his wife Beth, two fine Airedales, and one old barn cat."
Beth Felts moved home again to Urbana when she was ill with cancer. She lost her second husband in 2004 and later moved into assisted living when her health could no longer support independent living. Lola stayed with her and was good company.
When Felts regained her health, she and Lola moved to her current home and lived on their own.
"Having Lola through the death of my husband, my cancer surgery, chemo, radiation and long illness, and the loss of my career due to poor health, moving back to Illinois, and then years of struggle with grief and poor health — she was such a godsend," Felts said. "So often she would sit in my lap or lay on my bed and just purr. It is extremely comforting to have a sweet, calm, furry friend that connects with you in such a primal way, without any demands, just to be there."
Lola is definitely showing her age now. Her frame is thin and fragile and she's cranky and going deaf. She spends as much time as she can on Felts' lap, keeping her chair warm for her in between.
"Now my two (step-) daughters are grown women, one married and in a career and the other still in college, while Lola is just hungry, crotchety and sleeps a lot," Felts said. "But I still love her so.
"She falls off the footstool sometimes, and she's generally much like an elderly person, with very fussy eating habits, another big part of her story. She has a lovely home and a pampered existence in her old age."
Sometimes in the middle of the night, Lola wakes and feels confused. She will complain and yowl at the top of her lungs until Felts comes and settles her down by petting or feeding her.
Last year, Felts met her fiance, Dave Olmsted. The couple plans to be married on April 10.
"He is the most extraordinary man I have ever known," she said. "We began living together last June, and Lola knows a good person when she meets him. She adores Dave and eats his leftovers with relish. The three of us make up a very happy family."
Olmsted understands the special place Lola holds in Felts' heart.
Said Felts, "Lola has been with me for one-third of my life (I am 60) and has shared great sorrows, challenges and joy as well. She has been a good and faithful cat, and I feel privileged to take care of her now, when she took care of me for so long."
This column is dedicated to your pets in The News-Gazette's circulation area. If you have a special pet story you'd like to share, please send an email to Siv Schwink at email@example.com. Schwink is a freelance writer and interpretive naturalist. She lives in the country with her three kids, four cats and a ferret.