A few weeks ago, the HSUS posted a story about one of the dogs rescued in raids which broke up a huge dogfighting ring in the Midwest.
At first glance, the bared teeth in Fay’s photo looked as if she was on the attack, as a recent fighting dog might be. At second glance, it looked like a big dog smile because Fay’s demeanor was hardly that of a angry dog.
At third glance, I suddenly noticed something was terribly wrong with Fay’s face. The bared teeth were not intentional but involuntary as I saw that her entire muzzle was misshapen. Reading the brief synopsis, it seemed that her lips had been…removed.
I’ve seen and known former fighting dogs, especially pit bulls and mixes. I also know what a dog’s teeth are meant to do and capable of doing in its wild state—to puncture and tear flesh in order to kill prey, then to dismember it with the same teeth. I’ve always tried not to imagine these teeth buried deep into another dog’s lovely shiny nose or the soft droopy skin most dogs have around their lips.
Peaches apparently makes a great pillow.
She is purportedly 19 years old. She came to me four years ago, and a friend of her former owner, who had died told me Peaches was about 15. She looked entirely her age at that time, perhaps because, although people had been caring for her and her sister in her former owner’s home because the cats were familiar with it, older cats need a little more attention.
In the cold weather, Peaches tends to sleep in front of the heater vent here in my office/living room, and generously shares it with the Cuddly Kittens, now 2-1/2, who just love their older sister who is less than half the size of the smallest of them. They give her little baths, too, and try to get her to play, but Peaches is all about, food, warmth and sleep.
Peaches is a real joy as a senior foster-turned-household-member, all 5-1/2 pounds of her. I write about her now and then: Feline Faith and Understanding about Peaches’ understanding of the world; Senior Mentoring, Youth Warming Program?, a photo of Giuseppe using Peaches as a pillow on my desk from last year; I Follow My Cats Around With a Sketchpad, showing a little painting of Peaches; and Senior Pet Adoption Program, showing one of my favorite paintings of Peaches, and an offer to donate to a senior pet adoption program of your choice with the purchase of a print.
Also, on my website, is another article about Peaches and her new retirement hobby of photography written after she had commandeered my digital camera, Area Senior Cat Finds Muse in Photography.
This was my most recent holiday card, from 2009. I took the photo in 1983, just a few months after I got my first camera and I was only shooting black and white so I could learn how to use the camera. Even though it was black and white film, it was processed in a one-hour development machine intended for color and the black and white ended up sepia, which I really liked better than when I had it printed in black and white. It always looked like an older image and the sepia really reinforces that.
The holidays are a time for celebration as well as a time for reflection and remembering.
An Old Memory
Cut-paper snowflakes taped
to a wavy glass window reflecting
the big front porch from an apartment I lived in long ago,
and a cat I will always remember from when he and I were very young,
me just getting to know my camera, and my art;
how did I capture a perfectly blended image to reflect those times?
Whether or not Sophie thinks she is all nose with tiny eyes and ears or that every ornament has her image on it, I don’t know, but she certainly looked a little disconcerted at encountering her reflection in this way. In any case, she provided the inspiration for a bright, cheerful piece of holiday artwork!
I sketched this little oil pastel work as soon as I came home from work when I still worked a day job. The idea had been building in my imagination all day, and it was all I could do to get it on paper–I could barely work fast enough. I used it as my holiday card in 1999.
I offer this as a framed print and also as a greeting card.
This is a linoleum block print I designed to use for my 1996 holiday card. Busy little stylized kitties in spots, stripes and solids climb and run through the words.
I usually use white or cream rice paper with gold and silver flecks to print this, but that background didn’t scan very well so I’ve left it out. I often sell this as limited edition framed holiday print and also sell limited edition greeting cards, but I’ve given it a break this year while I’m reorganizing my block-printing area.
Printed in a color other than red or green (like black on white), it works for an all-year image, as I noticed when I forgot to take down the print I had made for myself as a sample. It’s always a meowy cat’s mess around here.
I saw them do this, so even though they aren’t my dogs I can still say this is for real!
I paint cats most often because I live with them and I feel confident that I know them well enough to be able to illustrate them accurately.
Not so dogs–I have to borrow other peoples’ dogs to do art of them. I got to know these two pretty well because I also painted a formal portrait of them in Cassie and Tyler, and they belong to a friend of mine.
They did rip the packages open, but the rest of the image comes right out of my imagination!
Kelly pauses in the stark pastel light of a winter afternoon through the big north window in my studio, absolutely still in contemplation as she watches birds flit about at the feeders or Buddy the squirrel making a fool of himself. Kelly is petite for an adult cat, making the window seem vast, and the light is so diffuse that nothing has a hard edge. My holiday card in 2003, but a year-round favorite.
Over the years, my cats have inspired many, many images, from realistic pastel paintings to block prints, silly images to serious, and I’ve even done a few Christmas dogs. You’ve already seen Cookie, full of holiday cheer, and beginning today I’m going to feature a holiday image every day.
When I was nine years old, I remember telling my parents and my older sister what kind of animals I liked. I don’t know if this was in response to a question, but I know I explained completely and with enthusiasm, telling every last detail of what I liked about birds and squirrels and cats and dogs and horses and rabbits, all the animals I had encountered in my early 1960s suburban development childhood.
I remember telling my sister that I liked cats best because they were easier to take care of than dogs, and if I had to choose I’d choose a cat. I don’t know how I knew this except that in those days people didn’t get their animals neutered and, except for hunting dogs in their cages, all animals were allowed to roam. Dogs were loud and seemed to get into more trouble with fights and biting people as some roaming dogs will do, and I had my share of small bites from trying to pet dogs who weren’t interested. And then there was the clean-up issue in everyone’s yards, even yards of people who didn’t have a dog.
Cats, on the other hand, were uniformly small and seemed to be very quiet and gentle and neat, and this appealed to me. I was shy, I was dreamy, I didn’t like loud noises, I was most comfortable in the company of animals, even wild animals, because they didn’t find me odd and weren’t bothered by my silences as humans were, and they didn’t mind when I stared at them without explanation; in fact, they encountered me in much the same way. I was outdoors quite a bit roaming the old pasture that was all that was left of the farm our houses had been built on and exploring the woods and waterways of every ravine and hillside, so a dog might have seemed a likely companion for me. But I pictured myself curling up with an animal to read, and that would be more likely one of the nice kitties I had met around the neighborhood.
Every time I learned there was a litter of kittens in the neighborhood, and there always seemed to be one or two litters, I was an annoyance to the owner wanting to see the kittens, and an annoyance to my family wanting to bring a kitten home. Once I helped a neighbor catch two small kittens that had been born and raised in their yard to a mother who had disappeared, and I took them home hoping to keep them, but they only stayed overnight and likely went to a shelter, though that might have been a foretelling of rescues to come.
So the dream came true that Christmas when I was nine and there was an orange kitten in a box under the tree, a tiny six-week-old fuzzball ready for play when let loose from the cardboard carrier. I know little Rusty got no respite from me crawling around on the floor after her, and I was thrilled when, exhausted with batting walnut shells and chasing ribbon, she curled up in my convenient lap, a warm, pliable, purring bundle.
That “blue time of day”…a quick walk in the woods after a heavy snowfall as the sun set on the distant horizon, bare trees like sentinels. This time of day always carries a certain melancholy for me, as if a deep instinctive part of me realizes the sun is about to leave and may not come back. The moment stands in all its silent beauty along Robinson Run in Collier Township, on a trail running parallel to the Panhandle Trail.
Every once in a while I do a painting that comes straight from the heart. I wandered onto this scene one Sunday evening after a quick, heavy snowfall with only my camera. I photographed it, intending to come back to do a painting–difficult as that would be at this time of day when the light changes so quickly. But by noon the next day the snow had melted significantly, and then I waited for similar conditions for two years with no significant snowfall around the right time, about 5:00 p.m. in mid January, or early December as the time of day and light would be about the same.
I couldn’t wait any longer and began with my photos and ended with my vision, this painting, Dusk in the Woods. You can also visit this work and other related works on my website in Landscapes or Art of the Watershed.
And there is a cat connection with this painting. My precious Moses was nearing her end as I worked on it, me all through the night at my easel, her at my feet, every day losing a little more physical control as, at 19, her body just began giving out. I needed a project as big as this to bear the process of her loss, and in turn my strength and calm as I worked helped Moses. I will always connect this painting with her, and those late nights when I disappeared into this scene in order to paint it from memory.
In addition, I will always be happy that the original was purchased by the couple who helped to conserve this very spot along the Panhandle Trail, and, in fact, live above it at the top of the hill.
I sell this image as a 5″ x 7″ greeting card, and I also have a range of prints both framed and unframed, from inexpensive digital prints beginning at 8″ x 10″ all the way up to the highest quality giclee prints at the full size of the painting, 31″ x 24″. I also carry it in a woven cotton blanket, mentioned earlier in this blog–in fact, this painting inspired me to have those blankets made in the first place!
Perhaps it’s the holiday season and the general need for a heartwarming story, but I’ve been reading article after article on unique dogs–war dogs sniffing bombs in Afghanistan, service dogs helping veterans when they return home and helping non-veterans who are physically challenged, prison inmates training these dogs, and some very special dogs who’ve overcome their own challenges. On a cold, snowy day I’m glad to share the stories with links to various sites.
First, CNN offered an incredible story in words, pictures and video following bomb-sniffing dogs in Afghanistan for a day in “Sniffing Out Explosives”. The dogs look so matter of fact in all the photos and the video it’s hard to believe they are performing a very dangerous activity–and that’s one thing about animals that will never cease to amaze me. Humans may posture and emote and fabricate, but animals are always just who they are no matter what they happen to be doing. It’s also interesting hearing first-hand about a day of bomb-sniffing in Afghanistan, something that really brings the war home for me.
Second, one of Al Franken’s first acts as a new senator was to bring legislation that all veterans should have service animals who needed them because, as has been shown by experience, an animal companion is often the best therapy for healing emotional wounds as well as learning to cope with life with a physical handicap. True, I thought everyone was kidding when this story came out, but he was very serious, and the funding was in the Senate spending bill.
And you can read all about programs providing service dogs to veterans on this “lens” on squidoo.com entitled “Dogs for Veterans” including links to programs that will supply you with a dog if you need one. Get out the tissues–I’m a really soft touch and tend to weep through all these stories.