One day in February, as instructor Katherine Grover begins teaching seated yoga at Sunrise Senior Living of Bethesda, the six residents gathered take deep breaths and gently stretch. Beckett, a tricolor Maine coon, ambles among the chairs, getting a pat or two along the way. Eventually, the cat curls up behind a chair and falls asleep.
“It adds a feeling of home and makes this more casual,” Grover says of the cat, which sometimes plops down on her notes in the center of the room to make his presence known.
Bold yet friendly, Beckett has endeared himself to residents as the “house cat.” He enjoys sprawling on furniture in the common areas and wandering into programs, sometimes upstaging the speaker. “He charms everybody he meets,” says Mimi Christenson, activities and volunteer coordinator at the Sunrise on Battery Lane. “He enjoys the freedom to do his own thing.”
Beckett, who wears a Boston Red Sox collar and was named after Josh Beckett, a former pitcher with the team, has free rein of the first two floors. He isn’t interested in sharing the space with canine visitors. “We’ve been trying to adopt a dog, but every time one has come close, Beckett has rejected him,” says
Vanessa Spevacek, director of sales at the pet-friendly facility. “This is his house.”
Beckett came to Sunrise in 2018 with a younger resident who stayed in assisted-living care for about a year while she recovered from surgery. The cat had once lived with the woman in New York City, where she walked him on a leash, earning Beckett a reputation of being fearless. When the resident moved out of Sunrise Bethesda, she couldn’t take the cat. Beckett had become such a part of the community that he stayed.
Having pets around brings a sense of purpose and joy to residents, Spevacek says, noting that several Sunrise facilities have a community cat or dog. “Animals really do contribute to the well-being of people at any age,” she says. “They have a very calming effect.”
Beckett, who is about 12 years old, isn’t much of a lap cat, but he’ll snuggle when someone picks him up, and he seems drawn to residents in need of attention, Christenson says. He regularly spends time with 93-year-old Catherine Davis in her second-floor apartment, and typically sleeps in her room. “From the first day we were there, Beckett came cruising down the stairs and went over to my mother,” says Davis’ daughter, Cathie Kaplan. “I think it’s great. She has always been a very social person, and he brings her comfort. He’s got a real personality.”
Because Beckett wanders in such a large space, people with allergies aren’t bothered by him, says Christenson, who does take daily medication for her cat allergies as Beckett’s primary caretaker. Despite not being a cat person, Christenson enjoys making sure Beckett gets fed and groomed, goes to the vet, and makes the social rounds. “He’s why I come to work every morning,” she says with a smile.
When Paul Wilson’s wife, Barbara, came to Sunrise last fall to receive hospice care, Beckett found his way into her room. The door was kept open, and he stayed nearby for nearly a week until she died. At one point, Barbara, a cat-lover for years, said she wished Beckett would jump onto her bed. And he did. “I was moved by the fact that the cat was more than casually interested in my wife,” Wilson says. “He knows more than he says.”