Jake Perry is a cat man. Standing about 5-foot-7 and often clad in workman’s clothes, the 85-year-old Austin, Texas, plumber is also a father and husband. But anyone who’s met Perry will tell you—first and foremost, he’s a cat man.
Perry’s cats broke the Guinness World Record for oldest cat. Twice, actually: The first record, from 1998, was for a part Sphynx, part Devon Rex named Granpa Rexs Allen who made it to age 34; the second, from 2005, is for a mixed tabby named Creme Puff who lived to age 38. Since the 1980s, Perry has adopted and re-homed hundreds of cats, at his peak raising four dozen at once, showcasing the best and brightest in cat shows. According to Perry, it’s not just Granpa and Creme Puff who had unusually long lives: About a third of his cats, he says, lived to be at least 30 years old—about twice the average feline life span.
Jerry told me about his own cats, and what he believed were the keys to their unbelievably long lives.
First, there was their daily diet: on top of dry commercial cat food, a home-cooked breakfast of eggs, turkey bacon, broccoli, coffee with cream, and—every two days—about an eyedropper full of red wine to “circulate the arteries.” Then there was his effort to ensure the cats were sufficiently stimulated: a garage he’d converted into a home movie theater, with a working reel-to-reel projector and actual movie theater seats, where Perry screens nature documentaries exclusively for the cats (with previews, he added). Last, and perhaps most important, he swore that love and close, personal relationships helped his cats live longer. Perry adored his cats so much, he remembered each of their birthdays. (Bill Clinton was invited to Granpa’s 34th; the president sent a card with his regrets.)
The average life expectancy of pet cats in general increased from 11 years in 2002 to 12 years in 2012, according to records from Banfield Pet Hospital, a chain of more than 900 veterinary hospitals. Some of that change is associated with more people getting their pets spayed and neutered, says Lefebvre.
Neutering and the lowered testosterone levels that result from it have also been linked to increased life span in some species of birds, and even humans. (Some scientists believe that lower testosterone levels are the key reason women live longer than men.)
Of course, neutering can only increase cat longevity by so much. More than nine out of every 10 house cats in the United States are neutered, reports the ASPCA, and only a small portion of cats make it anywhere close to age 30. Using a human life span equivalency formula on the Cornell Feline Health Center’s website, 30 cat years translates to about 133 human years. By those measures, if 34-year-old Granpa were an actual human grandpa, he would have passed away at 149. Creme Puff, for the record, kept chugging until human-age 165. Surely, there must be something else at work here.