Need a daily dose of amazement? Try Googling “Jake Perry” and “cats.” Perry is a genuine American original: a plumber and cat lover who has an astonishing talent for keeping cats alive much longer than anyone else in the world. We’re not kidding.
Perry’s cats have twice broken the Guinness World Record for oldest living cat, as reported here and elsewhere. The first time in 1998 for Granpa Rex Allen, part Sphynx and part Devon Rex, who made it to age 34 and again in 2005 for a mixed tabby Crème Puff, who lived to be 38 years old. (Other challengers have come forward, but the Guinness records still stand.)
But that’s just the tip of an amazingly, long, hairy tale about Perry and his cats, who get tuna-and-broccoli cakes on their birthdays and are pampered with a special diet influenced by Perry’s controversial ideas about how to keep his cats’ arteries open and their kidneys working into their second decade of life.
Who is Jake Perry? The Austin Chronicle calls him “a true Austin legend.” The 85-year-old Perry is a plumber who has lived in the same South Austin neighborhood for more than 50 years, according to the Chronicle. He is described as a mild-mannered Texan who wears his long grey hair in a ponytail tucked under his ball cap—sort of a Willie Nelson of the cat set. But it is his lifelong work with felines of every stripe that has made him a favorite of reporters and filmmakers. He is featured in the documentary film, South Paws.
A recent, in-depth article on Atlasobscura.com entitled “How to Raise a 165-year-old cat” lauds Perry as the ultimate cat man who claims to have found a fountain of youth for cats. 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,” writes Christina Couch, who admits that she began her investigation in a skeptical frame of mind. “I had a hard time believing him.”
Many of Perry’s special techniques are controversial, as Couch explains. But two are not: his loving relationship with his cats and the fact that all of them are either spayed or neutered. It is well-accepted among cat experts that sterilizing both male and female cats reduces the risk of certain diseases. It also makes cats less likely to fight and roam, which puts cats at risk.
Like all true cat aficionados, Perry is more than a bit eccentric. Not only has he turned his garage into a home movie theater for cats with comfy seats and a working reel-to-reel projector that shows nature films, he has also devised a controversial diet, according to Couch. Every cat receives the usual daily diet of commercial cat food, plus “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.’”
Veterinarians warn that caffeine and alcohol are toxic to cats. “It’s not what they taught us in school, you know?” says Bruce Hardesty, the owner of South Congress Veterinary Clinic, whom Couch interviewed for her article. Want something else to feel good about? The Austin Chronicle reports that Perry “still receives royalties for ‘work’ done by several of his deceased felines, all of which he donates to animal welfare causes.”