If the results of a recent University of Michigan/AARP survey are any suggestion, the senior set has a thing for pets. Polling some 2,000 Americans between the ages of 50 and 80, researchers found that more than half of the respondents reported getting an animal companion, and two-thirds of them claim their pets reduce their stress and provide them a sense of purpose.

“Relationships with pets are usually less complicated than those with humans, and pets in many cases are a source of great enjoyment,” notes Mary Janevic, PhD, MPH, a helper research scientist at the University of Michigan, who helped design the survey. “They also provide older adults having a sense of being needed and loved.”

Janevic obviously hasn't shared a living space with a cat like Tres.

Rescued from a horse barn 15 years ago — our third cat at the time, hence the Spanish name for three —this long-haired, bony collection of neuroses has developed in recent years an inexplicable aversion to litter boxes. Initially, he left his deposits around the basement laundry-room floor, just beyond the three preferred receptacles faithfully used by our other two felines. Lately, however, he’s demonstrated little curiosity about making the trip downstairs and just squats wherever he pleases: in the dining room, the den, the bed room, the porch, and the living room. I find it slightly ironic that he avoids the bathroom.

As you might imagine, this practice creates a certain degree of stress and frustration for an individual like myself who prefers a tidy universe. In early stages, Tres and I engaged in a battle of wits to find out who was in charge. I cleaned the kitty litter boxes meticulously, positioned them strategically, scrubbed and disinfected his favorite bomb sites, and occasionally attempted to instill some anxiety about reprisal. All attempts failed.

“You’re arguing having a cat,” My Lovely Wife would explain on those occasions when my anger boiled over.

More recently, after Tres left a puddle rather than his usual pile within the den, I stationed a new litter box in the vicinity — which became a popular destination for the two other cats. A couple of days later, the old galoot left a steaming deposit 18 inches in the box. I scrubbed it up and spread some newspaper within the site. The next morning I discovered a pile on the rug by the front door in the living room.

“He’s just an old cat,” MLW noted when I voiced my frustration only at that fruitless contest. “He needs some sympathy.”

I’ve studied, within my own lackadaisical way, the important thing Buddhist precepts of nondualism, nonattachment, and impermanencefor more than a quarter century, however i have to admit it’s been difficult to apply any of those teachings to my relationship with a neurotic old cat. With MLW’s urging, however, I gradually began to understand that Tres had become my teacher. He was offering me the chance — pretty much every day — to practice compassion, patience, and equanimity when confronted with odorous obstacles.

Or maybe I’ve just figured out that I’m never going to bend that old grump to my will. Still, I’ve found lately that thanking him — just speaking the words as I clean up the mess — dissolves the stress and reminds me that everything passes (literally!) in one moment to the next.

I’m not sure any of this has any impact on Tres, but now when he climbs on my lap late at night when I’m watching a game on TV, snuggling into my shoulder and letting out a minimal purr, it occurs to me that he may be sending me some kind of signal. We'd a term for it back in grade school: teacher’s pet.