Madison’s Portrait

Madison

Madison

I began a portrait of Madison way back in the summer, but between the festival and a few foster cats moving in and out of my spare cat room/studio it’s been difficult to work consistently. But Madison is finally done, and his person came to pick up his portrait this weekend.

She lost Madison, her first cat, last year, to diabetes at only eight years old. She didn’t have too many photos, but this pose was definitely a winner! Not just because he’s cute in the sink, although he is, but also because it will make her laugh when she looks at it, and what better healing for the grief of loss than to remember with a smile. I’m so glad to know that another person, a special friend, has a portrait that shows their animal companion as they want to remember them.

Madison, detail of face

Madison, detail of face

Animal fur is different from human skin, and because of texture and pattern it looks different in every photo you’ll see. In each of Madison’s photos, the details of his face were lighter or darker, the area on his chest had a collar and tag in one photo and not in another. These are common things to work around, and from both experience and real life I can fill in the details. It just so happens that I am fostering a big tabby cat who looks so much like Madison and has been a great model, and who came in just as I was finishing, that it must have been meant to be!

What I always do in building a subject, especially one I never met, is to work from the photos until I feel that I know my subject and the photos start to get in the way. Then I put them away and work with nothing but what I see with my creative eye. That’s when the essence of the personality is instilled in the portrait, and every time I’m amazed at what’s taken life on the paper. And I know by the reaction of the person who’s come to look at the work.

I never delude myself to think that a portrait can take the place of a real live animal, but it can certainly help with grief. Through the years, many customers have contacted me to let me know how much it means to have the portrait in their home, that they greet the portrait or talk to it, or visit it when they are feeling overwhelmed with loss, even that other cats have reacted to it.

The portraits work for me. I have several of my own to visit.


What is it About Black Cats and Halloween?

Three Black Cats

Three Black Cats

Ever wondered why black cats appear with witches and demons and skeletons at Halloween? The reasons are numerous, and when I studied English literature in college the story was that persons who had been cast out by their community for practicing non-Christian beliefs, including traditional healing, literally lived on the edge, in the woods, just like the witches in old fairy tales. And cats, preferring to live in more secluded places like this, tended to stay with these outcasts. Whether cats were considered, in part, evil because of their personality or evil because they tended to hang with suspected evil people isn’t really clear, but cats gained that connotation and were just as persecuted as the humans they accompanied.

But there are other stories, too, and not just about Halloween. I’d like to share with you an e-newsletter from a fellow member of the Cat Writer’s Association and author of 22 books on animal care, Amy D. Shojai. If you look on many books on ntural or standard pet care published by Rodale Press, or collections under the Chicken Soup for the ________ (fill in your favorite) label, you’ll see her name.

Please read through her valuable tips on animal emergencies and keeping animals safe at the holidays as well, then scroll down to the bottom for truly fascinating information: http://community.icontact.com/p/amyshojai/newsletters/petpeeves/posts/pet-peeves-issue-14! Keep those precious companions safe inside and away from the candy!


Six Tuxedo Cats Were My Bridesmaids…

When I got to the part about the wedding cake being presented in a litterbox and served with pooper scoopers–with a regular sheetcake for the skeptical–I woke up my snoozing kitties with a big snort of laughter.

Read about the couple who renewed their vows in a Florida animal shelter as a benefit to the shelter, and they great time they all had: Couple Gets Married in Animal Shelter


A Very Classical Cat

I’ll look at anything with a cat in it; I just accept that I’m not terribly discriminating where cat things are concerned. Cat videos on YouTube, though, are usually off-limits because they are typically 1) blurry beyond recognition, 2) the audio and video have nothing to do with each other, and 3) probably they’re really funny when they were filmed but by the time they get to YouTube they’ve lost their sparkle.

And though I admit that any interaction any of my cats had with a musical instrument I would think was 1) beautiful, 2) clever and highly intuitive, I would also think it was 3) interesting to no one but me.

This particular feline musician is so unique and the music so lovely that I have to post the link. Nora the cat both pats the piano keys and rubs her face and shoulders on them, and the classical chamber piece that accompanies her is gentle and moving. It’s just a few minutes long. You’ll find sequels, too.

Nora is not on stage, she is in her home at her own piano, a gray tabby with an orange and white tabby and a dark tabby with white paws as her audience. It could be that they remind me of a long ago trio who shared my life in Moses, Allegro and Stanley.

I first saw this on Bogeysblogshpere–make sure you stop by and visit Bogey of My Three Cats & Company, Inc. Many thanks also to Mike Friese of the Cat Writer’s Association for posting this to our group. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeoT66v4EHg

And I discovered there is a website for this Lithuanian composer at www.catcerto.com.


Help to Avoid Feline Breast Cancer by Spaying Early

Poor Mimi doesn't even get a break to eat.

Poor Mimi doesn't even get a break to eat.

Mimi, above, arrived in my home on July 30, 2007, with four black fuzzballs who were three days into this existence. To my knowledge, she was about four years old and had had several litters of kittens, though this litter would be her last. Incidentally, this is the Fanciful Four, who are often pictured here, at their inglorious beginnings.

I frequently give Mimi’s belly a little extra rub top to bottom, not because she likes it, but because I like her.

Feline breast cancer is the third most common cancer among cats after lymphoma and skin cancer. In a 2005 study done at the University of Pennsylvania, “cats spayed prior to 6 months had a 91% reduction…those spayed prior to one year had an 86% reduction in the risk of mammary carcinoma development compared with intact cats.” Spaying between 1 and 2 years of age only reduces the risk by 11%, and after two years it doesn’t reduce the risk at all. Actually giving birth to kittens doesn’t change the risk factors, either. The average age of diagnosis is 12 years.

While breast cancer in cats is more common than in humans, it is far less common than it is in dogs, but cats have the highest malignancy rate and the lowest survival rate of all three.

That myth that “it’s good to let a cat have a litter of kittens” has no basis in fact, and can be a death sentence since spaying your cat before it even goes into heat the first time is the best way to avoid breast cancer, not to mention reducing the risks of injury and disease a cat faces while out carousing.

And those of us who have rescued cats or adopted cats who have borne even one litter would be wise to keep an eye open for symptoms.

Recently, friends of mine rescued a “torbie”, or tortoiseshell tabby kitty, from a warehouse in a grim section of town. She was unspayed and had apparently had several litters of kittens, though who knew what had happened to them.

The urgency to rescue stemmed from her living conditions and the fact that she appeared pregnant at that time. It turned out that she was not pregnant, but may have recently been nursing kittens as her abdomen from chest to hips felt symmetrically lumpy and her stomach was a little bloated; this may have also been mastitis or symptoms of heat. The spay went fine and she was back on her feet in no time, the abdominal abnormalities disappearing completely. They estimated her age was about 4 years.

Despite dodging forklifts and semis, she is both charming and mischievious, acting as if she’s always lived indoors, and teaching the young’uns how to steal food, which had never occurred to any of them. In a cat, charming + mischievious = intelligent and manipulative, and they practically have to hang the cat food from the ceiling to keep her from getting into it and threatening to burst her stripes.

A year or so after she joined their household, one of them felt lumps on her torso/belly when they picked her up and thought the lumps felt “different/odd/new/wrong”. Taking a good guess that this was pretty serious, they took her to the vet and discovered that she had feline mammary cancer. The vet guessed her age at six or seven then, a little older than the first guess. One surgery and a course of chemotherapy later and she was fine, but they’ll keep checking for the rest of her life because she had a little relapse about two years after the initial surgery. [I am sad to say that Callie’s cancer returned and she lost her battle on February 11, 2010. I will write about her as soon as her people have been able to work through some of their grief.]

That monthly mini-exam is a good practice for any animal guardian to undertake, just running your hands over your cat’s body feeling for lumps or bumps or cuts or any abnormality that has simply shown up. Check for tender spots, look closely for any change in movement, study your cat’s eyes and even smell its breath. Of course, you may end up with your nose surgically removed since many cats don’t care for being handled, especially in vulnerable areas like the belly, but do your best without too much bloodshed.

And especially for those girls, check for any changes in those eight mammary glands, which are usually completely symmetrical and slightly reducing in size from chest to hips. Look for changes in the nipples or any discharge, uneven lumps or swelling and tender spots. At least we humans only have two mammary glands to worry about.

Sally

Sally

When I started this exam routine years ago, I found a small lump on my Sally’s belly and made a special appointment with the veterinarian to get what I was sure was a horrifying diagnosis. I wrung my cold and trembling hands as my veterinarian felt the area of Sally’s belly I’d indicated, only to learn that it was scar tissue on her spay scar. So, get to know her spay scar, which is usually tiny but may contain a little hardened scar tissue, and it may also be a site of cancerous growth, so check for changes.

Mimi, wonder mom of the Curious Quartet and quite a few others, gets her little exam at least once a week. Kelly, too, was a rescued feral and apparently gave birth to a few litters of little Kellies. I’m not certain of her age, but she was likely between 1 and 2 when she came to me, and she’s been with me since 1997 so she’s at least 13 years old. It’s taken Kelly years to find a certain comfort level with people though she is very friendly, and the regular tummy exam is a little weird for her but she has grown to enjoy it.

For more information on the disease and treatment, reference these two articles: Association between ovarihysterectomy and feline mammary carcinoma, http://www.biomedexperts.com/Abstract.bme/16095174/Association_between_ovarihysterectomy_and_feline_mammary_carcinoma, and Mammary Cancer in Cats, http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=2445&S=2

It used to be that six months, the approximate age a cat reached sexual maturity, was the best time to spay a cat. There were two problems with this. First, cats often went into heat before this age to the surprise of their owners who thought Fluffy’s biological alarm clock wasn’t set for four months. Second, people wanted to adopt young kittens and were sent home with an assurance of a free or low-cost spay for Fluffy included in the cost of adoption. Somehow, Fluffy wouldn’t get back in time, sometimes never.

Most shelters now spay and neuter cats when they reach two pounds, about eight to ten weeks, and they are not available for adoption until then. They recover quickly and are still cute kittens, frisky and full of fun, and no one needs to worry about their biological clocks.

If you’ve taken in a stray or adopted a kitten who is not spayed or neutered, there’s no question that spaying or neutering is expensive. Here are a few options to help keep it affordable. All programs have an application process with an income level that determines the final price of your cat’s surgery. In many cases the surgery alone can be done for under $50.00.

In Pittsburgh, you can contact Carol Whaley of the Low Cost Spay/Neuter Program (LCSN) at Animal Friends at 1.800.SPAY.PGH or cwhaley@ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org or on their website at www.thingkingoutsidethecage.org.

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society has a three-level program that includes spay/neuter as well as vaccinations and microchipping, detailed at http://www.wpahumane.org/Spaying.html. Call the
North Shore Shelter ay 412-321-4625 X 157  or email questions spay.neuter@wpahumane.org

The Animal Rescue League sets aside one day a month for low-cost spay and neuter for which you must make an appointment, and they fill up fast so don’t wait. The information can be found on their website at http://www.animalrescue.org/cms/name/Veterinary+Clinic+Spay+and+Neuter or call 412-661-6452 x 211 or x223.

Many shelters in the counties around Allegheny also offer deals like those above.

Outside of the shelters, the Spay Neuter Clinic at the corner of Frankstown and Rodi Roads always offers low-cost spay and neuter as well as other basic services. Call 412-244-1202 for information and an appointment, or visit their website at http://www.spayaz.com/Home_Page.html. The practice is actually one of several which originated in Arizona specifically for the purpose of low-cost spay/neuter, so most of the information is about those offices, but you’ll find the Pittsburgh office with a phone number, and, most importantly, you can download their price list.

And outside of the Pittsburgh area, you can do a search on Low Cost Neuter and Spay at http://neuterspay.org/ (search by city, not zip code, it’s more successful), Love That Cat at http://www.lovethatcat.com/spayneuter.html, or Spay USA at http://www.spayusa.org/.


A Little Baby Foster Kitten

Fromage with her ball and formula splashed across her nose.

Fromage with her ball and formula splashed across her nose.

Little, little kittens fascinate me. A miniature that can easily fit in my outstretched hand with a Hello Kitty head and stubby legs sits and licks the side of her paw then swipes it across her face, though she sways perilously from side to side with the effort.

Fromage attempts to talk to Basement Cat.

Fromage attempts to talk to Basement Cat.

As soon as their eyes have barely opened at ten days to two weeks of age every moment is spent building skills and coordination, gathering knowledge out of the air and fearlessly exploring their surroundings and conquering the errant toy or human foot that gets in their way. They never worry about falling down or making mistakes or looking stupid.

By six weeks they can climb a scratching post, run faster than you, chase and kill a small insect or even a tiny animal if necessary, give themselves a complete bath and get into more trouble than you can imagine because they have yet to develop any common sense.

I am fostering a very young kitten for the first time in many, many years. She came in at about two weeks of age, fitting herself from nose to rump easily on the length of my hand, her eyes open but that cloudy blue gray that still doesn’t focus. A friend’s daughter heard her at night, tangled in brambles in a city lot, squeaking with a volume hard to believe in something that weighed just a few ounces. Her little life depended on that volume, though, and her persistence and vocal skill paid off in her rescue and is typically indicative of a cat with a strong will to live, able to face down most ills that may befall her through the rest of her life.

That early audaciousness has translated into an easy adaptability and an outgoing, affectionate personality, even in less than a week. At about three weeks old she had doubled her entry weight, at least by my little postal scale, was a little longer than my outstretched hand, her legs had grown so she was at least off the floor, her eyes were clear and her pupils reacted to light, and she was ready for action.

Fromage gets lost in one of my skirts. I hope it doesn't damage her young eyes.

Fromage gets lost in one of my skirts. I hope it doesn't damage her young eyes.

At this age she is considered “neo-natal”, not newborn but still recently-born and needing some critical nurturing. Her body was really too young to digest solid food at first, so I purchased kitten formula and a tiny bottle with miniature nipples to fit on the top. She was confused by the bottle, which did not feel like Mom, so I put a few drops of formula on the inside of my arm and got her little face in it. It had warmed to my skin temperature and she began lapping immediately and kneading my arm. I slipped the nipple of the bottle toward her tongue and squeezed a little more formula onto my arm, and eventually she got the connection and finally nursed from the bottle and lapped from a shallow dish, though she still checked my arm now and then.

It took one session to recognize the cloth I put on my lap when I fed her. She danced and squeaked and climbed all over me as I sat down on the floor with her formula.

Good girl!

Good girl!

Her little digestive system also needs “stimulation” in order to be able to eliminate, as her mom would lick her in strategic areas to make sure what goes in comes out; this is accomplished by me with a warm, damp rag. Because I was already handling her already I simply put her in the litterbox when she was ready to go. On her second day here she got in the box herself, the little one I set up for her like a potty chair next to the big adult litterbox.

Scratching around in the big girl box.

Scratching around in the big girl box.

In just a few days both the warm damp rag and the little girl litterbox were history because she decided she was a big girl and would use the big girl litterbox, and she didn’t need any help. The third time she got in the box she began scratching around in the litter first. How the heck did she learn that?! Scratching in the litter before elimination and burying afterward are instinctive, plus most kittens imitate their mother if she’s around, but the last litter of kittens had their mom, Mimi, an excellent momcat, and still I don’t remember them using the box that successfully or that young.

At the beginning the formula seemed to satisfy her. By the end of the week she was squeaking that it just wasn’t enough so I got food appropriate for her age and introduced her to it. She barely said hello to it before she was gobbling it down, then lapping formula out of a dish. In just a few days she had no interest in the formula at all but ate her canned food mixed with formula and then with plain water, purring and talking as she ate.

She also knows the direction in which I disappear and presses her little nose in the crack between the bifold doors to the bathroom to call for me. After a few days I saw her little paw on the edge of the door giving it a shove. Oh, no, not already! I have a hook and eye to hold it closed, but if she learns that fast she’s going to be a terror.

Who is that kitten! Fromage sees her reflection in the trash can.

Who is that kitten! Fromage sees her reflection in the trash can.

Now at about four weeks her little squeaks of “ee-ee-ee” have matured into a more recognizable “mew-mew-mew”, her eyes are shading to green and she’s begun to pin back her ears and flap her little tail and run around the bathroom with great speed and coordination, climb what she can and stalk and ambush me, crouching beside the mint green toilet on the white tile floor where I’ll never notice a fuzzy black kitten.

This is all happening too fast. In her four weeks she’s gone from zero to small cat with no signs of stopping. Just in the two weeks she’s been with me she’s transformed from helpless squeaking fuzzball to capable kitten, formula to real food, pee on the floor to proper litterbox use. She has a big personality and I can see the type of adult she’ll become, friendly and outgoing, audacious and playful, that same will that saved her life also making sure that she is the center of attention wherever she goes.

She moves too fast, waving herself around to get me to rub her belly!

She moves too fast, waving herself around to get me to rub her belly!

I sit on the floor and let her run all over me. She climbs my shirt and plays with my chin, then she runs onto my outstretched legs, flops herself down in some nook, rolls over on her back and waves her little paws in the air, waiting for me to rub her belly. She then gets up and walks the length of my legs to my feet and climbs up onto my toes where she precariously balances.

Doing the Kitten Dance.

Doing the Kitten Dance.

After this gymnastic effort she leaps off my legs and does a few laps around the bathroom, stops to pin back her ears and arch her back and tail and do the little sideways dance that always cracks me up when kittens do this, eventually coming back to my lap and starting over.

Fromage rols back and forth and plays with two toys at once.

Fromage rols back and forth and plays with two toys at once.

I worry that she doesn’t have a buddy to wrestle with. They need to develop those muscles and coordination and social skills, but all she’s got is me. It’s not a good idea to use your hand to wrestle with a kitten because they usually grow to learn that human hands are toys and anyone can conclude that’s not a good idea when kitty gets bigger. I have plush toys that I hold in my hand when she wants to wrestle with me, and when she’s a little bigger and I won’t worry so much about her falling I’ll add a slanted scratching pad to her toys so she can climb and a few little cardboard boxes she can jump into.

Fromage on Day One--in my house, at least!

Fromage on Day One--in my house, at least!

This is the first time I haven’t had any of the nurturing kitties who took over fostering little ones as they got older and needed to learn big cat things. I relied on especially Moses and Stanley to teach the kitten important lessons, even if that meant Stanley playing soccer with the kitten, using the kitten as the soccer ball. Right now, Fromage is sleeping in the special “kitten bed”, the one I purchased for a long-ago kitty who helped me to foster kittens and all the kitties who have used it since then. Added in the bed are the small pillow with the gray kitty face that was Moses’ bed, and underneath that is Stanley ’s infamous pink sweater. Mimi’s Children slept in this bed, cuddled in the memories of all the other rescues who’ve lived with me, and Fromage returns to this bed frequently, so I guess they are still doing their magic.

Fromage beats up her plush toy instead of my hand!

Fromage beats up her plush toy instead of my hand!

I’ve been lucky Fromage has been healthy and progressed normally; I’ve fostered others orphaned young who had so many health issues it was hard to treat them all, upper respiratory infections, parasites, injuries, infections, all of them life-threatening, hard to believe something that little could fight off that much. But wherever Fromage emerged from she didn’t encounter any of the usual orphaned kitten illnesses or they would have evidenced by now. The bigger illnesses—I guess we’ll see later. Fromage certainly seems to be in control of her destiny, and perhaps that will keep her protected through the rest of her life.