Lately I’ve been distracted from writing articles I’d been planning by a few other of life’s events—ailing kitties, moving my mother to a higher level of nursing care, continuing to set up my shop and rearranging my studio now that all my merchandise is out of that room, leaving me space to work.
But these other events are not without their feline interest; when you are a “cat person”, it seems to begin with day one and work its way all through your life to the end, with cats intertwined with everything in between.
So looking at a few of the things I’ve found in my recent journeys, here’s an interesting perspective on how I got to where I am as a keeper of cats and as an artist.
The Birthday Card
So Exhibit A is a birthday card to me from my aunt and uncle which I found among my mother’s papers. I’m not sure why it was there and not among my things as most of them are, and I’m also not sure why it was among the papers where I found it. But the most remarkable thing is that it was given to me before I had a cat. My parents got me a kitten for Christmas when I was nine, but by the date on the card I could only have been seven. Had I already begun talking about how much I wanted a cat? Or was a kitty a more appropriate subject on a card for a little girl? And it’s a big card, 6-1/2″ x 9-1/2″ with pretty deckled edges.
No matter, the little kitty, the ball of turquoise yarn and flowers in her hair and around her shoulders were decidedly a portent for things to come. I don’t know if I’d create artwork like this if given the chance, but I do distinctly remember a few other kitty cards for the art, some of which I still have in my baby book or in my “inspiration files” that caught my eye all those years ago and influenced what I do today.
The Sixth-grade Batik
Next in chronological order, among things I found while cleaning and reorganizing my studio was the orange kitty batik I completely forgot I had! I think I did this in sixth grade, and I clearly remember watching the teacher show us the batik process and visualizing the orange kitty with its paws rolled under and an orange kitty smile, like they do.
It also has echoes of The Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, long one of my favorite stories, and being an early cat person The Cheshire Cat was a favorite right away, along with The White Kitten.
But my kitty was gray and white, and to my knowledge I didn’t know an orange kitty of anyone else’s very well at all. But I actually remember painting the wax on the fabric in the correct areas and dipping the fabric into the dye, then later ironing it out onto newspaper.
Now that I look at it from the perspective of 25 years of drawing cats, I’m amazed at my 12-year-old’s observation skills and ability to visualize. What took me so long to get around to painting cats?
This had hung high up on the wall in this studio for several years, but as I added height to the shelves I took it down because it had become covered where it was hanging and packed it away. The memory of it barely entered my consciousness until I discovered it. What luck! I can’t wait to batik again! Sometime this summer will be a fantastic time in my new studio, and I’ve been visualizing in batik for a while now.
This also reminds me it’s been years since I had an orange kitty in my “permanent collection” of cats, a few fosters, but not one who stayed since Allegro passed in 1996. Finally, his portrait is on my list of new paintings…
A Little Ceramic Tile
Next is a little porcelain tile bearing the image of my first cat, Bootsie, sitting on a windowsill that didn’t exist in the house where I grew up, but I guess I took artistic license in tenth grade. I remember the assignment was to make a relief tile from the porcelain, meaning it had a raised surface that had been carved into to form the image, and we would glaze afterward.
Bootsie was, as you see a gray and white tuxedo cat with pickle-green eyes. She was never as chunky as you see here, but I guess I had to have that cat smile until I learned how to work with cat faces.
So there she is, a little worse for the wear with a chipped corner and a big chip along the bottom edge, but still, perhaps I should consider this my first “portrait”! Perhaps I’m not correct in saying that my sketch of Sally in “Sleeping Beauty” (below) was my first “real” work because I took something in real life and managed to make it appear pretty much as I had visualized. In any case, my urge to share my love of my feline was there even at this time.
And like the batik design, I’ve lately had in mind some 3-D projects, especially little tiles or relief-type wall pieces, even flat pieces which are painted. A few years ago The Clay Place Gallery moved into town and I’ve had a great time attending shows and browsing the regular collection for ideas and gifts. I find many lovers of animals and nature among these ceramic artists!
Beginnings of Illustrations and Cards
Then there’s a handmade greeting card which I found in my mother’s papers; my mother didn’t like animals well enough to give her a card with a cat on it but I think I just gave it to her as an example of something I was working on.
It’s an ink sketch of a kitty on a ladder in a style I’d be proud to accomplish today, but in the late 1980s, when I began working on cats in earnest, this was all new and very much inspired by a lot of study of what was current in illustration styles at the time. I loved the swirls of dots and strokes that both created patterns and shadows, and just provided interest to the non-objective space. I used the set of very expensive Rapidograph pens I’d kept from college, enjoying the feel of experimenting with lines and strokes and just seeing what I could produce.
I had one of the Workman calendars to work from because the photos were so wonderful, and it was then entirely printed in black and white so it was easy translation for me to work in monochromatic media such as ink, charcoal, pencil and textured drawing papers using other media.
There’s one thing that makes me think this was just a sample and not for general use—I drew the ladder with a ruler before sketching in the cat and the other elements of shadow and pattern. I remember at some point deciding just to freehand these types of lines and elements in my ink sketches because they just looked too stiff and, in part, defeated what I was trying to accomplish with the freehand areas.
My First Commercial Works
When I was done experimenting, I discovered I actually had photos of my own that I could use, ones I’d taken of my cats and others’ cats, and after this slow march from those early feline-oriented birthday cards through other media I finally came out with a finished work in pencil from one of my own photos. A few years later I collected four of my favorite little sketches and put together my first set of note cards.
I always say this drawing was a turning point in my career as an artist; it was the first time I looked at a scene, took in all the necessary details, visualized the finished work, and actually created what I had visualized. In all the other things I’d done before, this was what I’d been trying to accomplish.
I still have this sketch, and for years Sally watched over me as I worked. Right now she’s on loan to Deb at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation so that Sally’s peaceful expression can bring comfort to Deb’s families when they visit her.
Visit my website to read more about this piece and to read a little bit about Sally, my joyful little deaf white cat who never noticed she couldn’t hear.
Kitties Being Kitties
And here’s the set of note cards that I still sell today. Three of them are ink sketches, and I’m sure you can clearly see the influence of the ink sketch above.
The second image of the two tabbies was drawn on a type of drawing paper called “coquille board”, a drawing board which has a mottled dot pattern impressed on its surface so that when you draw a pencil just across its surface you capture just that pattern, and in the end it serves much the same purpose as actually drawing all the dots and strokes. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll do a little article on it the next time I do a sketch using this drawing paper.
Visit my Marketplace to see these designs in more detail.
Where I Am Today
So there’s my little journey down memory lane for this memorial day weekend. I’m nearly done with both resettling my mother and reorganizing my studio and I’ll be back to work, seriously, soon, but it’s been interesting and enlightening to happen on this little review of my history as an artist. None of this is ever wasted, and likely I needed to look back at these things at this point in my career. I guess I’ll see in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.
It’s 3:00 a.m. and though I’m finally ready to go to bed I can see that Kelly is feeling no better, in fact she is even more lethargic than she was earlier. It may be just my middle-of-the-night all-alone-with-my-fears worry, but where I was earlier ready to just observe until morning I’m considering my options.
I take her temperature, and now it’s 103.9, just getting to the danger zone. Earlier it was 102.5, not too far from normal and an increase that may have been just from stress and only something to note and check later, but this needs to be dealt with now. Kelly has been confined in the bathroom all day for observation, and everything I need is here.
Why does this always happen right in the middle of the “dead zone” of overnight when it’s too late to call anyone, and it’s hours until I can reasonably contact anyone in the morning? At least it will be Monday morning and I will have more options than on the weekend.
Why am I the only fool awake in the middle of the night? Part of the issue with decision-making in cases like these is trusting my own judgement—is it serious enough to run off to emergency or should I just wait? Am I equipped to do something here? If I didn’t go, would I regret it later if Kelly was worse and I should have gotten her treatment at 3:00 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m.? Why can’t it be morning? I really wish I had someone to talk it over with.
I write this for those of you who often find yourselves in the same situation, sitting alone in the middle of the night watching a cat who’s not giving you any clues as to what’s wrong, while you try to decide what to do about it.
And don’t worry, Kelly and Peaches are fine, so is everyone else.
After years of middle-of-the night quandaries, I have two ideas that work together. I’ve actually come to believe that in the quiet of the dark hours without the distractions of the day our mind can simply focus more clearly and observation and decision-making are much easier. I don’t like staying up late, but I can focus on my work at a level I sometimes require, and I’ve made some of my best decisions which seemed insurmountable during the day, in these hours.
So, first, the lack of distractions makes unusual things more apparent; you may not notice an unusually quiet kitty during the day, but when there is nothing to distract you all senses are aware of the situation. You can assess and decide quickly.
Second, the body has natural rhythms, and even we humans with a simple cold will feel worse in the middle of the night. Of course your pet will as well. And perhaps because of those natural rhythms it seems that we sometimes lose ground in fighting an illness overnight, as if our bodies, exhausted from the effort, give a little to the darkness.
In the daytime, I’d immediately call my veterinarian. In the middle of the night, I call up all she’s taught me, and all my similar experiences, and let the clarity of these quiet hours help focus my thoughts.
What would a veterinarian do for a fever without other obvious symptoms…begin antibiotics and administer fluids before anything else. I can do that, and then see what happens.
I start getting things together and flip on the bathroom light, which stabs my tired eyes; I usually only have a small table lamp on in the bathroom at night to give my eyes a rest, but I need to see what I’m doing. Yes, I can take a cat’s temperature in dim light, especially when someone donated a really nice digital LED thermometer to me, no I can’t count out antibiotics or give fluids.
I have my choice of three antibiotics on hand, amoxicillin powder, clavamox pills and Baytril pills, but I know that Baytril is the most effective of the three when a fever is present, so I drip a dropper of water into Kelly’s dry little mouth, pop a half of a 22.5 mg in next and follow with a little more water to help it go down. Kelly’s confused, but feeling too ill to put up a big fight. Mostly she talks.
I have subcutaneous fluids on hand for Peaches, but even without a cat in renal failure I usually have a fresh bag, a fluid line and needles handy; it keeps the evil spirits away (long story). I had given Kelly about 50cc of fluids earlier in the day just to help her out after a difficult morning, but that’s not a therapeutic dose and it was hours ago. Now was time for a real dose.
I warm the fluids in some hot water in the sink and get Kelly ready on my lap, talking gently, stroking her, letting her settle herself. She complains but again doesn’t put up too much of a fight as I push the needle through her skin and feel the fluids begin to flow through the line and under her skin, and I try to relax.
Whenever I give a cat fluids I always imagine the feel of the needle pushing through the skin and how the fluids must feel as they fill in the loose flap under a cat’s scruff. I’ve often wondered if that was an image I was visualizing through my cat in this intimate physical contact of a somewhat invasive treatment. Later, when I donate blood, the same image comes back as they push the needle into my vein and I flinch even though I’ve donated gallons and it doesn’t really hurt.
All this goes through my mind during the four or five minutes it takes to let 150 cc flow and I look up to watch the fluids coursing into the fluid line, look down to see Kelly shuffling a little and hear her talk. When it’s done I roll the shutoff on the line and slide the needle from her skin, holding my finger over the spot and massaging to help the skin close again. I’m a far cry from the first few times I did this…probably 15 or more years ago. I’m glad I learned. It may be all she needs. If it’s not, I’ve gotten things started hours earlier than otherwise.
Kelly begins to resettle herself into the lap of my purple fleece robe as I remain where I was sitting on the toilet lid. I decide to sit with her for a while and just observe, so I reach up and turn out the light, leaving only the soothing glow of the table lamp and the radio playing something by Chopin that I should know but can’t name at the moment. I don’t have a clock in the bathroom (that works) and I have no idea how long I’ve been working with Kelly, or how long I’ll sit here. Until I know something, I guess.
This began, well, yesterday morning. Kelly was out of sorts with no interest in breakfast and seeming a little uncomfortable. I fed everyone, Peaches her special canned food, then went back to Kelly.
She has a little bit of a hard time now that Namir is gone, since the Big Four have joined the house with Mimi, and Dickie gets in the way. Kelly is very active and vocal and friendly, but very submissive to other cats and if someone is sitting near the water bowl, she won’t drink. I have six water bowls around the house, but Kelly doesn’t go in some of those areas. She also waits until no one is around to use the litterbox, either in the basement or the bathroom, but if someone is in the way, she waits. With nine cats, this can literally be all day sometimes.
In this way, she has gotten herself rather dehydrated and constipated a few times in the past year and that may simply be the problem. She has also gone the other direction with frequent diarrhea, actually being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. In between these two extremes she’s fine. I take her up to the bathroom and close the door and she immediately hops in the box and has normal movements on both accounts. I praise her and sit with her for a little bit knowing if this is the cause, then she’s been a little traumatized by the other cats even if they haven’t looked in her direction. A little time out may be in order.
Normally, she’ll eat now. Back downstairs, I offer her breakfast, but she has no interest. I try to tempt her with some other favorites like a few drops of milk and plain yogurt, and she acts interested but does not partake.
Observation begins. It is Sunday and I have a day of outdoor activities away from home. Kelly is not improving. Back to the bathroom, otherwise known as the kitty sick room. Take her temperature the first time, give her 50cc of fluids to see if it helps, leave her there all day, and though she seems to rally through the evening, here I am at about 4:00 a.m., still thinking things over as Kelly relaxes little by little.
I’ve had other unknown viruses move through my household over the years, and while some have caused high fevers and lethargy, everyone recovered. I never knew where they had come from. My cats don’t go outside, and no one new had come in. In each case I was the only contact. The day before, I had been at the Waynesburg Sheep & Fiber Fest meandering among farm animals and various animals’ sheared pelts. Had I carried something home on my clothing or skin?
But, in those dark hours I was also remembering our recently lost friend Amber. Ingrid King had kept us posted as Amber had begun with puzzling but non-specific symptoms, and we later learned it was a feline calicivirus. That was a little too recent for my comfort. I also remembered other friends who had suddenly lost cats to similar viral infections. Was I doing the right thing in keeping Kelly at home and just starting fluids and antibiotics? In the light of what I knew, should I run her off to emergency to see if anything else was out of sorts that I couldn’t find? I’m not a veterinarian, nor a veterinary technician, I have no formal training, I only know what I’ve learned through experience and what I take in intuitively. If Kelly’s life was at stake, didn’t she deserve a more learned opinion?
Kelly has adjusted herself slightly now and then until she is curled into her happy ball with her head turned upside down and all her long legs tangled, purring lightly. That is, actually, a good sign. A comfortable cat is not one feeling the aches and pains of a fever, nor potential gastric upset. I quietly take her temperature. It’s down to 103.3. I think I’ll try to get some sleep instead of running off with her. Tomorrow may be a long day. When I cross the landing to my bedroom it is ten minutes to 5:00 a.m.
Kelly is cheerful in the morning, but still not eating. I call my vet on Monday to tell her the condition and order more Baytril. She agreed this seemed viral, so she decided seven days if Kelly cleared up quickly enough, or we’d play it by ear and go longer, continuing the fluids as long as she wasn’t eating and adding Pepcid in case of an upset stomach. I briefly recounted the story of Amber so she’d know what was on my mind.
It was Tuesday breakfast before Kelly was tentatively eating baby food off of a spoon, but her fever was gone and she improved through the week. Thursday I let her back out and she was feeling quite fine.
Over the weekend, Peaches began to vomit and became seriously dehydrated. Big doses of fluids every day, Pepcid and special food. She was feeling much better by Wednesday, but when I fed Peaches her last meal of the day in the kitchen before I went to bed, Kelly vomited several times, nothing big, only seeming as if she had a hairball and was gagging. Hairballs don’t happen too often, and when she was done she jumped up and wanted to eat with Peaches. No big deal, I thought, just remember that it happened. But again I remembered Amber.
The next morning, still vomiting a few times, Kelly ended up back in the bathroom, no fever, messy stool, dose of fluids but eating by dinner time and feeling better the next day.
So my veterinarian and I are watching for other symptoms just in case…well, just in case, maybe, something is going through the house. Peaches’ immune system is compromised by her renal failure though she’s handled everything quite well so far. If Kelly does have an inflammatory bowel issue then her immune system is compromised as well, or it could just be that she’s highly stressed by the situation.
In either case, Peaches is sleeping on her little Dora the Explorer couch in my office, and Kelly is feeling well and eating well and actually enjoying herself in the sunny bathroom without worrying about other cats, though she’s beginning to want out.
But I feel as if I’m waiting for something to happen. Was the second round, for Kelly, a continuation of her original virus? Did Peaches catch a strain of it? Is it something different or is it completely unrelated? Is it anything at all, just Kelly’s reaction to her circumstances and Peaches battling renal failure? I may never figure this out. But I’ll keep looking for clues.
So, how much time do we spend observing our cats for…whatever? How often do you follow your cat to the litterbox? Do you clean up any vomit and study it for clues? Do you catch yourself running to the grocery store in the middle of the night for anything that might perk up their appetite, even though you never feed them anything like that otherwise?
I don’t mind all the time spent observing and caring for them, because I form a tighter bond with them, and I learn something new that I can use later with another cat and perhaps share with a friend. I just wish that, if they had to get sick, they’d do it at a more opportune time so I didn’t limit my already limited sleep schedule any further.
Whew, what a week!
Last Sunday began with a sick kitty and a big assignment that I needed to begin right away, plus two 12-page newsletters to lay out and some interpretive signs to design, then paperwork for mom and water in my basement, a website update, two photo slideshows to prepare and getting ready for a little art festival on Saturday that I decided not to attend because it rained from before dawn, and all day. That’s the short list.
Not much time for The Creative Cat and completing the articles I had begun from the Sheep and Fiber Fest last Saturday and other articles I’d intended to write during the week! But there’s no time like the present, so perhaps begin at the present and work my way backward, or at least include last week in what I post this week.
Today, Saturday, was both a disappointment and a pleasure. I was so looking forward to the I Made It! Market in Point State Park in conjunction with the Venture Outdoors Festival. I had often visited the Venture Outdoors Festival to try out some of the outdoor activities and meet up with groups who bicycle, hike, canoe and plan other outdoor activities and see what they have planned for the summer. Also, many of my design customers are environmental interests and I can visit with them as well; I’ve often designed displays and materials for use at the festival. And just being at Point State Park, that little 18-acre point of historic land that’s technically part of Pittsburgh’s downtown formed my the joining of the Allegheny and Monongahela into the Ohio River, is a pleasure in any season. I was looking forward to friends and photos.
Weather in May is completely unpredictable; I’ve seen it go from balmy 80 to hail and wet snow in a few hours, so outdoor festivals are always chancy. Still, weather doesn’t upset me—I hike on trails when it’s 10 degrees and enjoy a walk in the woods during a rain, and I’ll take a chance on just about anything where being a vendor at a festival is concerned.
But I always need to be careful of my merchandise because without that, what’s the point? In this case as in many others, these are unique things I’ve made individually by hand, investing hours and money, so I’m careful not to see them damaged or ruined.
I had packed my car with the art, prints and crocheted items I’d be taking the night before. I awoke to the sound of rain when it should have been dawn but was still dark because of a storm. It continued. I decided to check the radar and see what was headed our way and just wait it out. Sometimes rain only lasts until noon then the afternoon is gorgeous.
But radar showed lines of showers and storms coming from the south, the ones that bring the heaviest rains, about an hour apart for the next several hours. I checked my materials in the car, and the crocheted washcloths felt as if I’d spun them in the washer and left them damp. I could see some of my block prints beginning to ripple around the edges, even the ones in frames, which meant moisture was seeping into the packaging. If I was to be outdoors in the dampness all day, especially on a grassy area that had already been soaked by rain, even under a tent, they would all be rippled by afternoon. I would probably have to open up all the frames and plastic for a day afterward and let it all dry out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, or to risk a violent storm coming through in the afternoon and hoping I could pack everything up before glass broke and small things blew away.
I never cancel, but I did. I’m sure I would have had a great time meeting new people and talking to other artists plus sneaking visits to the Venture Outdoors vendors, but I would also likely have few sales on a day like this, and have a mess to clean up when I got back.
So I drove the car back to my shop at Carnegie Antiques and began putting things away, including the vintage earrings and delicate pink crocheted dresser scarf borrowed from Judi’s shop that just made the outfit I had planned for the day. I had thrown on an old pair of shorts and tank top, my well-humidified hair tied back by a bandanna, no makeup, flip flops left in the car, totally unsuited to greet the public.
But that was when the fun began. In packing I had discovered a few other block prints and some black and white photographs I didn’t know I still had and decided to photograph those in preparation for posting on Etsy. I looked forward to filling out my Etsy shop with those inspirations and pondering the new ones I was planning since I now had the space in my studio to make them and the place to display them, so I’d be spending at least a half hour at the shop.
As I began, Judi, proprietor, walked back to my room with a friend who was also an animal lover, and we spent almost an hour exchanging stories about or households. She has an Akita which she had adopted and a yellow Lab she took in when her friend, the dog’s owner, had died a few years earlier. She also has three cats, two adopted from shelters and one rescued from a stray/feral colony she cares for across the road at an abandoned house.
How do you choose just one kitten from a colony? This was early in her career with this little group, before she began spaying and neutering and swiping kittens for adoption to keep the group under control. She went to feed them one day and one particular kitten caught her eye, and she couldn’t forget the kitten. The next day she simply told the kitten she was coming home across the street, picked her up and carried her away, much to the kitten’s consternation. But the kitten adjusted to the house with the guidance of the other two cats and today isn’t even interested in the outdoors.
Her dogs were an interesting story of how animals communicate, though, and how they know more than we think they do about how we feel. Akitas and Huskies can be aggressive with cats, except when they know the cat “belongs” to the owner, and so it was with these cats. The woman had unfortunately discovered the colony across the street when her Akita ran across the street, chased a cat and killed it. The Akita was not allowed to run free, but was focused on his task and that was that.
Once the colony was discovered, she began providing food and water daily and also trying to interact with the cats, catch a few to be fixed, and social the kittens. The Akita ran across the street a few other times, but only stood guard at the colony and never tried to harm the cats again, even nosing around among them now and then.
On this particular Saturday morning, with the heavy rain, she decided to wait for the rain to subside before feeding the cats. Her Akita and Lab would have none of it. They actually refused outdoor privileges and treats until she figured out what they wanted because they kept looking across the street. She filled two food containers and fed the cats. As soon as she returned the dogs accepted their treats and ran outdoors on their leashes.
We agreed that it’s amazing what animals know and perceive about us, their humans, how they not only love us unconditionally but also the things we care about, simply because we do. They know how she feels about those cats, and they probably feel just as responsible for them and they had no intention of having fun until the cats were taken care of.
She was very pleased to find my shop and made note of several things she’d get as gifts in the coming year plus the animal sympathy cards. She has no computer, but I have a few other friends who are offline and we can still keep in touch.
The second woman came in just a little later as I was photographing curtains I’d printed with a good bit of the shop pushed out of the way. She walked through with Judy, then on her way back stopped and said, “Oh, my, you’re the cat lady!” and proceeded to tell me that she had rescued and fostered for years and at one time had 18 cats, some of whom were FeLV positive, many of whom had been injured or abused. Of course, we also shared stories! She is now down to two cats because she had been planning to sell her house for several years and so didn’t replace the cats who had passed or been adopted, but she’s building a bigger house and will be fostering again, for sure.
She remarked that there were no good places to buy “cat stuff” in Pittsburgh anymore because the four gift shops specializing in cat gift items that had been in the area were closed. I had just learned this myself as I’ve been looking for merchants to carry my things and attempting to reconnect with shop owners I’d known in years past.
She suggested I attempt to fill that void. I told her this little back room was about as much as I could manage at the moment, but my ultimate goal was to have a gallery that featured my animal artwork as well as that of other artists. Someday.
As I put my shop back in order she walked around looking at everything she could, actually going around several times as we continued to talk. The room isn’t big, but, “there’s so much to look at!” she said. Well, it’s the result of a little over 20 years of creative effort and it will take some time to see everything. I assured her that as long as Judi would have me I’d be there so she should please come back to visit again.
Perhaps missing out on a rainy day in the park wasn’t a bad thing as I met two new people and likely future customers. Both women were very happy to find me, and I was also pleased to make their acquaintance, both for the prospect of new customers and of trading cat stories and talking about pets in general. This is what I have always loved best about my career as an animal artist.
People who love animals are the best people, and somehow we always find each other. These women had not even known I was there and had come to visit Judi’s shop, not me, and I’m rarely there on Saturday, so our meeting was completely serendipitous.
I have also found that many of the customers I’ve worked with for years as a designer, writer and photographer are also animal lovers, most, in fact, cat people, only discovered when they arrived here to drop off work and greet my cats, and then we trade cat stories. I’m surrounded! But by some of the best people in the world.
If you don’t hear from me for a while, you can always check What’s New in Bernadette’s Studio?, the blog where I post upcoming events and shows, certain new assignments, and just about every project I have completed whether it’s fine art, graphic design, photography, or anything else.
I usually keep my posts on The Creative Cat to animals, art depicting animals and the artists who create it, but I also stretch to artists who are inspired by nature.
In a general sense, artists choose a medium in which to express an idea because that medium has qualities that help an artist to speak. When you love your medium, you let it speak by choosing subjects where it will speak on its own rather than forcing it to represent something that’s not easy for it to express. That may sound like philosophical gobbledygook, but what it means in this case is that wood taken from stressed trees has color and grain and texture and shape and wouldn’t be well-used to create something flat and square and colorless, but you would use it instead to create a shelf or a platter or a wall piece that proudly displays all the swirls and scars of the grain and even the rough edges of the bark.
We lost an artist in Pittsburgh last week, an arborist who built a co-op studio to create art from downed city trees. I met John Metzler and his art and philosophy when I designed the post card for a show his studio held at The Clay Place Gallery last year. The images of what he and his fellow artists coaxed from the twisted and scarred trees formerly gracing Allegheny Cemetery are still with me.
(Just a note: John didn’t make the table on this post card, that was created I believe by Jennifer Bechak. John wanted to use one of the pieces by a participating artist on the post card instead of one of his own.)
He grew up loving trees and saw the same piles of trees I did when a local shopping mall and office park denuded and reconstructed hills along the highway. The trees were pulled out like weeds, piled up and burned. I felt real pain at this and couldn’t pass the site while it was under construction, avoiding it still at all costs.
John decided trees simply shouldn’t be treated that way and devised a way to find trees that were cut down, salvage them and turn them into art through Urban Tree Forge.
“City trees tell a story,” I remember him saying, “and you just have to open up the wood and let the story out.”
He was doing just that, working on a piece outdoors in front of his studio when a U-haul trailer let loose from a truck that had hit a pothole rolled off the road and hit him. It’s hard to believe a vibrant and energetic personality and an incredible talent will be silenced by a freak accident.
Please read about him, his studio and his art. His obituary is in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, visit the website for Urban Tree Forge to read about the studio, and visit the Urban Tree Forge blog to see photos of the trees he collected and what he and others made of them, including the trees used to make the tables for the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh last September, and the pieces he had created, especially those included in Cemetery Gate–especially don’t miss the fireplace mantel in this blog entry, apparently his first piece and made from one of the trees taken down for that shopping mall.
It’s never welcome news when a friend’s cat is ill, especially when the friend is a skilled caregiver providing all the requirements for a healthy life. Logic or intuition, or both, may warn you that only the most virulent diseases could get through the defenses your friend has provided her cat, and the outcome may not be good.
Yesterday our friend Ingrid King said goodbye to her precious Amber. Ingrid always described Amber as “a wise old soul in a feline body”, quiet, loving, gentle, purring constantly, providing comfort and support for her human mom though times of great change and other loss.
You could see Amber’s inner peace in any photo of her, always composed and calm. A tortoiseshell cat, Amber had the typically unique markings, and Ingrid found her name from the heart-shaped amber spot on the top of Amber’s head.
I’ve gotten to “know” Amber through reading her posts on Ingrid’s blog, The Conscious Cat, in Amber’s Mewsings, but I feel as if I just “met” Amber through reading Ingrid’s book, Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher. I really appreciated getting to know the loving and free-spirited Buckley who inspired Ingrid to change her career and then to write the book, but always in the background was Amber, quietly providing support and love, never questioning, always devoted to Ingrid. I’ve known cats like her, and aside from all the other lessons in the book I came away loving Amber very much.
A chronic illness can prepare you for a loss, but an acute disease, especially with non-specific symptoms, can send you and your veterinarian scrambling for answers, and the loss can be a shock. After noticing some non-specific symptoms about ten days ago she began treating Amber for laryngitis and coaxing her to eat, but Amber ended up in feline intensive care and was diagnosed with a virulent calcivirus, complicated by an underlying heart condition.
Ingrid has also been a supportive mentor for me as I’ve learned social networking, blogging and using Facebook.
It’s hard to believe Amber gone so quickly, and Ingrid and her new kitten Allegra must be feeling very lost, so my household will send them love.
I am fascinated at how dogs have served us in both armed conflicts and in keeping the peace, in finding the living and dead after a disaster and in serving those who are physically or emotionally challenged.
Right now, highly trained canines are sniffing out IEDs and other explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, sniffing the streets and buildings in Tennessee after the tragic flooding that surprisingly took so many lives, and in the past few months have done their duty after earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.
In between their times of service, they are just dogs again, our friendly, happy, tail-waving playful canine friends, again doing service to bring a respite to those who serve in battle and in disaster.
I participated in a poetry reading on April 29 entitled “Civil War Voices in Poetry, Story and Song” which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Poetry Society. Poet Shirley S. Stevens read two poems about “Civil War Heroines”, and I was ready to hear about women who had selflessly provided medical services or who had actually dressed as men and fought on the front lines.
I was surprised and moved, however, when the first poem, entitled “Sallie”, was not about a human.
A pug nosed, brindle bull terrier,
barely five weeks old,
Sallie, named for a West Chester beauty,
grew to recognize the drum roll for reveille.
First out of quarters to attend roll call,
she stationed herself alongside
Serving at Antietam, Fredericksburg,
and Chancellorsville, she bared her teeth
at Johnny Rebs, led the Union charge at Oak Ridge,
stood guard over dead and wounded infantry.
Even Abe doffed his stovepipe hat to this lady
on dress parade with her men.
Struck by a bullet at Hatcher’s Run,
she was buried on the battle field.
Sallie stand in bronze at Gettysburg,
devoted to the men of the 11th Pennsylvania.
“Sallie” © Shirley S. Stevens
I had no idea. I was moved by all of the poetry read that night, but so moved by this poem that I asked Shirley if I could share it with readers of The Creative Cat.
Shirley herself is a “cat person”, stating that “every poet needs a cat”, and I won’t divulge her e-mail address but I will say that her address contains both “poet” and “cat”.
I didn’t find any internet pages about Sallie, but I did find a book written about Sallie which you could check out of your local public library, Sallie Civil War Dog: War Dog of the Rebellion, by Helene Smith. In addition, I found a pretty comprehensive reading list about dogs who have served in war from the Alabama War Dogs Foundation.
I have also written a post entitled “Heartwarming Tales of Dogs” with lots of links where you can read modern stories about service dogs, and my article “Helping Haiti, People and Animals” also includes links to search and rescue dogs and more stories.
Meet Buster, winner of “Biggest Cat” and “Best Cat” awards—but don’t get too close because he had a few choice meows at the idea of going outdoors on a cold, wet morning just for his human’s folly! He was, in fact, the only cat at the event and one of only three non-dog registrants, though I’m not sure he felt that made the inconvenience worth his time.
Despite the high winds and threatening clouds, over 70 people and animals were in attendance at the Second Annual McDonald McPet Parade in McDonald, PA on Saturday, May 8.
After a warm summer-like week, any day of which would have been perfect for this, storms rolled in Friday night and Saturday’s temperatures dropped to the 40s and it was VERY WINDY as 55mph gusts buffeted costumes and overturned tables of merchandise.
I attend many small events held for companion animals and their people—benefit dog walks, animal blessings, holiday photo shoots. I am usually a vendor displaying my commissioned portraits and merchandise featuring companion animals and wildlife, though sometimes I am a judge in a photo or art contest.
I don’t think it stopped anyone from attending, though a few people didn’t actually walk the quarter-mile parade route and a few people had to cover up their own costumes with heavy coats and a few pets had to just go home early. I thought the Penguins fan family could have won an award, but Buddy the Springer Spaniel was just too cold and unhappy.
The event was simply fun for the community and intended to bring the animal community together in this small town of 2,500. Organizers had plenty of awards so that everyone had a chance at winning something.
In between uprighting my table and chasing my lightweight portrait samples on the wind, I managed to take a few photos of participants I thought were most interesting.
I had earlier seen a few English Sheepdogs, but “Biggest Dog” award went to Snowball, a Great Pyrenees, pictured here with her buddy Daisy, who is smaller than Snowball’s head.
Speaking of little dogs, little Yorkie Lisa’s costume, a newborn’s sundress was a little too big for her!
And speaking of Yorkies, I was next to Yorkie Rescue who had brought four little adoptables to be part of the event. I’m not sure if anyone was adopted, but when you get four Yorkies together in a small space any photo is a good photo.
I saw Beast, a long-legged black dog with white paws, always my favorite marking on any animal, and some features of a boxer, some of a pit bull, some of a mastiff and probably a few other breeds as well, then noticed his people were also dressed in black and white with small red accents to match his red collar. I mentioned to them that they were all dressed alike and they laughed and agreed to a photo. They don’t care what breed Beast is, they obviously adore him, and I was glad to see no one had docked his happy tail or his ears. They had never thought of adopting a dog, but a friend gave him to them when he could no longer afford Beast.
And a little bit of a sad note that this will be Cash’s last event. She is over 12, old for her breed, and her mom told of the cancer Cash had been battling for several years; she wasn’t feeling so well and her mom knew her end was near, but Cash was happy to participate.
Another older dog, Abby the Hippie Dog was showing her era with her tie-dyed t-shirt and love beads.
Many thanks to Jennydog for watching my table while I was off taking photos too!
Mimi’s third and final installment of her Mother’s Day trilogy with an introduction to her last litter of kittens, and a little more about the FIP study.
I loved all of my kittens, especially the four I currently live with, my last litter, who as adults are more my friends and playmates than anything like grown children still living with their mother. Funny what spaying will do for your outlook.
When I gave birth I thought I was going to be on the same little kitten treadmill as before, litter of four, all black, four weeks, in heat again before these were done, seeing these off while gestating the next litter to be born in late October. I’ve always kept things in order, but I didn’t mind the change in schedule for what happened next.
These kittens were born the last Thursday in July and we moved here the following Sunday. You can read about the reasons and the move in A Nice, Nice Kitty. We’ve been here ever since.
This litter had three boys and one girl, kind of unusual, and one of the boys is the little one while the girl is as big as the other two boys. Well, there’s no accounting for genetics. I can clearly see which of the studs is father to which of these kittens as well, though the little guy gets his more petite build from me. The most unusual feature about them is that they all have white hairs in their ears. I have no idea where they got this—I don’t have even one white hair in my ears and I don’t remember that in their fathers, but there’s genetics again.
Somehow, mom tells them all apart, though she sometimes has to guess, but she can see details most people can’t. I sit by to check her accuracy and she’s almost as good as me. Now, my mom could go on and on and on…about these four, but I have a little more restraint when it comes to these cats, so let me give a little description about each one.
First, my human mom took all four of them into her paws as soon as they came into her house, and although she was a stranger and I should have tried to protect my newborns, I decided that not only did she need to do that, it would also be good for them. And so it has been—having been handled practically since birth they are relaxed and gentle with everyone, even the lady who pokes and prods and shoots us up.
Giuseppe is the biggest and heaviest of all the four at 15 pounds, and he thinks he’s the ringleader but we don’t always pay attention to him. He trained with Namir in greeting people at the door and in the ways of getting a human’s attention, and he is long enough to stretch and reach above the waistline of most people, so people pay attention to him, but when it comes to being brave around a loud noise or the like, Giuseppe is gone. He is playful and talkative, but sometimes he tries to tackle mom by walking in front of her and grabbing her legs, considering this play. This is not a good idea. However, he cuddles and loves little Peaches and keeps her warm in the winter, and this is a very good idea. Even though he is silly and not very brave, he has a very good heart.
His name is derived from La Boheme in this way: when the kittens were babies, they looked identical except the one with the white spot. Mom was concerned about this FIP thing and about their health in general, so in order to be able to tell them apart she put a dab of tempera paint on their left ear, keeping the color consistent with the kitten. Giuseppe was the “green” kitty. Now, the composer of La Boheme is Giacomo Puccini, but Giuseppe Verdi, Joe Green to you Americans, is also a composer of opera, so mom decided to have a little joke on the name, which apparently only she understands. It takes a little too much explanation to be really funny. When he was young she called him Joey, but a big boy needs a big name.
Mr. Sunshine is the man cat of the household and even when mom’s friend started whacking the tub with a sledgehammer at the beginning of our bathroom renovation and all normal cats found safe places to hide even after mom had locked us up, Mr. Sunshine escaped and strolled into the bathroom saying, “This man needs supervision.” He’s the next biggest at 13 pounds with very thick fur that makes him look even bigger, and while he could probably take on any intruder and is totally unafraid of any noise or circumstance, he is the biggest cuddler and regularly flips onto his back and kneads his paws in the air for a belly rub.
How did a black cat get a name like Mr. Sunshine? Well, it was like this. He was supposed to be named “Marcello” after the second male lead in the opera, but mom noticed that his eyes were just like his half-sister Lucy’s, just like them, so mom decided to name him Luciano after the great tenor Pavarotti, who famously sang the lead role in La Boheme. We’re not done yet. Mom noticed that she was singing “You Are My Sunshine” to the little guy, just as she had to Lucy when Lucy was a baby, and Lucy actually is derived from the word for “light”…it’s just another one of those things that only mom understands.
He’s the little guy at only 11 lbs., and is distringushed by his smeared little white collar and large white triangular Speedo on his belly, plus the few white hairs in his armpits. He’s just like the goofy little brother, but he purrs professionally. Mom noticed that he would toddle to the cage door and purr before his eyes were even open when she walked in the room and greeted the kittens. He is very playful and the most congenial, but he is also the most friendly with other cats. When Fromage, the neonatal foster kitten, entered the house, he would sit by the bathroom door where she lived and purr. When mom decided Fromage needed the company of other cats despite some risk of disease, she opened the bathroom door to Jelly Bean who sat and purred and blinked his eyes happily as little Fromage tried to take him down; following his example, the other three siblings also adopted her, though I think Mewsette thought she was a little toy. But later when Dickie entered the house, Dickie was frightened by the advances of four large black cats, though Dickie is larger than even Giuseppe, but Jelly Bean squinted and purred and walked right up to him with his tail straight in the air and rubbed noses with him. He is the most charming little kitty, and he is the biggest proponent of drinking out of the bathroom sink faucet.
Okay, “Jelly Bean” appears nowhere in any opera, but his nose looks like a black jelly bean, and he needed a silly name, so there you are. He was originally Rodolfo because he was so completely charming, even as a newborn, but he was just too silly and became Little Guy when he was a little guy, the Jelly Bean, and it stuck.
Mewsette is the only girl, and she’s a big girl at 12 lbs. with thick lovely slightly longish fur that makes her look very big, plus a very round face and round eyes and big paws. While the boys fall all over you for attention, Mewsette is off in her own little world, having spent a good bit of her childhood in the basement training to be Basement Cat. But she is fiercely affectionate in her own good time and likes to tenderize mom’s arm or shoulder with all four paws at once, purring vigorously. She is always paired off with one of her brothers or with me for the long afternoon naps because she likes best to use another cat for a pillow. She has been working as an understudy with Cookie to learn to be the female lead in the household and to be her mom’s lady in waiting.
Now, there really is a Musetta in La Boheme, but my little girl thought that name was a little too fussy for her, so when our mom called her Musette instead she answered. Our mom of course changed the spelling on the first syllable to resemble our little kitty sounds, though none of us currently says “mew”, but why not?
How the FIP figures in
I know that several people were interested in my perfect black kittens and in me, but from overhearing conversations with my mom and the lady who comes to poke and prod and shoot us up once in a while I learned about the FIP. I am a tiny cat, as I mentioned, but my kittens were also a little small for their age and that was a concern. Apparently, not much is known about this disease and there is no test or vaccination, but if a cat is carrying FIP it’s likely the symptoms will begin to show in the first year, as they did with Lucy after she was spayed. Mom and the lady decided to keep us all together for the entire first year just to be sure; my mom said over and over that she wouldn’t want anyone to adopt a kitten and then lose the kitten as she had lost Lucy.
Well, my kittens were born at the end of July. One year later those who had been interested had adopted other kittens, and the shelters and rescue organizations were full of little kittens, not a good time to start marketing a family of five adult cats. By the time the shelters were emptying out, it was October, not a good time to be adopting out black cats.
And of course, we are especially gorgeous, especially when seen all together, so, of course, my human mom began photographing and sketching us, and before we knew it she became “our” human mom. Any feline mother would want the best home for her kittens, and why not the one she preferred herself?
Note from human: We’ll keep you updated on the FIP study, and everyone will be writing again soon.
Mimi’s Mother’s Day Trilogy
Mimi continues her Mother’s Day article with an introduction to one of her litters of kittens.
I’d like to tell you about the kittens I gave birth to in April 2006 including Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal, and their humans. Of course Lucy stayed here, and is gone but never forgotten. Charlotte was adopted by one family, Angus and Donal by another, and I am always happy to hear news of them because they are in excellent, loving homes. Before I even came here my current human mom had helped to find homes for them which is how we know where they are, and she kept in touch with the people who adopted them because they are friends of hers.
Meet some of my children
Now, though, I’d like to introduce you to some of the kittens we’ve been able to keep in touch with. I see by reading mom’s e-mails that the three who were born in Lucy’s litter, Charlotte, Angus and Donal, wish me a happy Mother’s Day, and I was so glad to see the happy photos of them come over. She had helped to find homes for them, and she kept in touch with the people who adopted them, before she even really knew me. I like that about her, as much as I like the fact that she took me to be spayed.
I might add that I am quite petite for an adult cat, recently reaching all of seven pounds and no saggy belly, even after all those kittens. In this household, even though little Peaches weighs less at 5.5 pounds, she is still larger than me in height and length. My paws barely cover a quarter. When people see me, they think I’m the kitten!
Spring 2006 litter
This litter was special because one of the kittens was not black—in fact, she was a crazy calico! Her father happened to be an unneutered gray and white male living in the household with us who had been the kitten to yet another unspayed dilute calico female…yes, you read that right, we had a big problem over there, but it’s all “fixed” now.
Anyway, this litter had three typically perfect black kittens, two boys and one girl, and then a kitten who was fully half black if you put all her black parts together, then half…orange tabby? Where the heck did that come from? That dilute calico grandma, I guess. Aren’t genetics amazing? And isn’t she lovely? When you look at her from the front she looks like two cats were put together.
Charlotte the crazy calico
When my human mom sent out the e-mail to friends that kittens were available, one of her customers (my mom is self-employed and apparently all her customers are cat lovers), immediately said he’d like to adopt the calico girl for his son who had one cat and traveled.
Her name became Charlotte and she went off to spend the night with her new human grandparents. She proceeded to run behind and underneath the gas stove necessitating a delicate shutoff of the gas, disconnect and moving of the stove, at which point she ran into the basement and was lost for hours. She appeared in the middle of the family room later bouncing on her toes and covered with cobwebs to be installed in the bathroom until morning.
She went on to her forever home and immediately dominated the placid and sleepy Joey, a nice orange boy who gets his exercise by watching her bounce off the walls—still. She’s a moderately big girl, a little larger than average.
Angus and Donal
Yes, little Scotscats, so don’t worry, the name is spelled correctly. My human mom has many, many friends who love kitties as well, including people who have adopted from her in the past. The couple who adopted the two boys had, years ago, adopted two other boys born to a momcat she had taken in and they adopted the momcat as well.
This time they called my mom, each on a separate phone extension in the house, and said they’d like to adopt the two brothers because they had several older cats and the brothers could torture each other while they enjoyed watching kittens grow up.
Angus and Donal’s names harken back to their human mom’s Scots heritage, but that doesn’t help in telling them apart! These two apparently had a good bit of my looks and apparently one of the black studs was father to both because they are very, very similar—I even had trouble telling them apart.
Now, at four years old, slight differences in eye color and hair coverage in the ears as well as their vocabulary and singing style (remember, I have opera singing in my heritage) are a few quick ways to distinguish one from the other. Of course, like all kitties, they have distinctive habits, like where on their mom they sleep. As a last resort, you can upend them and check for the small gathering of white hairs near the bottom of Angus’ belly.
Tomorrow: the July 2007 litter—the Big Four!
Note from human mom:
These three cats are direct siblings to Lucy and will be of most interest to the Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) study. FIP enters the host’s body as Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV) but must mutate into FIP, and infection may not be evident until years after the infection; FIP can also affect the cat in various forms and show various symptoms, so the whole thing is a puzzle. I’m not sure where Lucy may have come in contact with FIP, but if her mother and all her siblings did and only she contracted the disease, their genetics may show where the difference lies among them all.
I need to look for other photos of this litter of kittens! I must have taken more photos of the kittens on film, but I just can’t find any more.