Mary and Al Palusky with their ancient cat, Baby.“Baby” is thirty-seven years old. This is the claim of one Al Palusky, of Duluth, who considers the black, long-haired cat to be his best friend. This is not news to Al’s wife Mary. “When we were married Al’s priest told him that he couldn’t call Baby his best friend anymore,” she said. Al just shrugged and added, “It’s true, he’s still my best friend.”

It might be hard to argue with that, but some people have questioned the veracity of Palusky’s claim about the age of his cat. There’s actually no way to determine it, since there’s no such thing as feline birth certificates, and it’s not as if you can cut his tail and count the rings. Also, Baby only visited the local vet for the first time at age twenty-eight (if you believe he’s now thirty-seven), when he was declawed. “I had to do it,” Al said. “We were just married and had all new furniture, and Baby ran all over the house scratching everything.”

Outside of eyewitness testimony, the only evidence Palusky can provide is a photo dated from June 1973, which ostensibly proves that the cat’s at least thirty-four years old. The cat in the photo, grainy and shown at a distance, does have a sloping snout that seems to match that of the aged feline. If that’s not enough evidence, well, Al simply doesn’t care.

Baby certainly looks old. There’s the matted coat streaked with gray, the milky white eyes, and the complaining, scratchy meow. Baby was adopted from an animal shelter by Al’s mother in 1970; her friend had rescued the poor kitty from the clutches of a gang of firecracker-tossing hooligans, who had him trapped in a garbage can.

Baby was brought back to the modest two-story white clapboard home where he has spent his nearly four decades. In those early years, he had to put up with a pair of dogs and another cat, but as those animals passed on, Baby became the sole pet of the Palusky household.

The creature still has some pep, as evidenced by the way he struts around the house or squirms violently when held. He’ll still catch flies, too, according to Al. But he’s definitely showing his age, and spends most of his days asleep. In fact, “Baby will sleep so hard,” Al laments, “that he’ll wake up and suddenly just poop right there.”

There’s an upside to Baby’s age, however: It won him a contest held by Cat Fancy magazine to find the world’s oldest cat. Part of the $150 prize was spent on a new bed and some toys, and the rest was deposited in a savings account under the name “Baby Palusky.” Apparently, Baby will use the money for retirement.

How do the Paluskys account for Baby’s longevity? Mainly it’s his diet. “The vets and so-called ‘people in the know’ say don’t feed cats from the table,” Al scoffs. “But Baby eats what we eat.” When Al and Mary sit down to dinner, Baby gets his own little plate of food as well. He enjoys peas, green olives—“and olive juice!” Mary chimes in—steak, and even corn cut off the cob (without butter or salt). He munches on snacks of cheese several times a day, and has an ever-present supply of cat food next to his water bowl. It’s a diet that appears to work, and not just because he’s thirty-seven—the cat is svelte, for all the calories he takes in.

Ultimately, Al believes that Baby has lived to a ripe old age due to consistency through the years. “Same diet, same house, same owner,” he notes. The cat, too, is reliable: Baby serves as Palusky’s alarm clock, waking him in time to get to work as a janitor at a local medical center.

Since winning the Cat Fancy contest earlier this year, Baby has been featured in a number of publications, on television stations as far away as Dallas and Los Angeles, and in chat rooms across the internet. Palusky is not much interested in all of this attention, though he would like to see his pet on Willard Scott’s Today Show segment honoring the aged—after all, the cat is 185 if you go by the five-cat-years-per-one-human-year-rule.

The exposure has also led to a steady trickle of email from cat lovers challenging Palusky’s assertion. One of them, a lawyer, was sent a digital version of the documenting photo. Says Palusky, “The guy wrote back, ‘That would stand up in court!’” Other pet owners write to share tales of their own aged and beloved companions. And then there are the lonely souls who want to pay a visit to Baby and befriend him. At this, Al rolls his eyes. “Sometimes I wish people would just get a life.”

This article originally appeared in The Rake magazine, and Brad Zellar came up with its wonderful title.

NOTE: On March 31, 2009, The Rake’s online edition, Secrets of the City, received this posting: My name is Al Palusky I am the owner of Baby the cat. I wish to inform you that Baby is gone. I had to put him down last Friday afternoon. He was a good Boy, and will be missed.. He did make it to 38 years of age. He will be cremated next week, and he will come home here to stay.. Al.

I didn’t see this note until 2010 (thanks Rake!) but I wish Al and his wife all my condolences. Baby was a great cat, and I’m glad to have had the privilege to have met him.

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