Maple

dilute tortoiseshell cat in cat bed

Maple in the Woolies Bed.

Here is Maple a few years ago modeling a Woolies bed; she is now 17. I saw this lovely dilute tortoiseshell kitty tonight, and she seems to be holding her own. We’ll have to see how she does.

She belongs to the owners of My Three Cats & Co., Inc., my longest-standing customer for design and illustration. Over the years she has modeled many a product this company carries, happily trying out new toys and treats. She’s as sweet as she looks. Let’s wish her health and comfort, and her humans too.


Sun Salutation

tortoiseshell cat stretching on windowsill

Sun Salutation

Here is Kelly demonstrating how to balance on a windowsill that’s a little too narrow for really relaxing, though the sun and the breeze make the effort worth it.

A cat’s flexibility and ability to conform to any surface, even one that’s probably not very comfortable, never ceases to amaze me. Kelly hooks her outside front paw on the end of the windowsill, then transfers her balance to her inside hind paw, completely stretched flat while the outside paw holds her balance on the edge. Even at 16, Kelly is as light and flexible as a ballerina.

After fifteen years of yoga I’m pretty flexible, but Kelly is always the one who helpfully strolls in and moves through upward-downward cat and a full sun salutation—”Is this what you’re trying to do?”— while I’m struggling on my mat. Thanks, Kelly, a little instruction from a natural practitioner is always appreciated.


The Other Big Four

four cats eating

My Four Girls

My four girls! It’s Peaches, Cookie, Kelly and Mimi.

Usually, it’s just my three seniors, “the Golden Girls”, who eat up on this cabinet because they get special canned food with extra supplements, and the younger ones sidle in and ask if they can have a bite and always get their way. I can make sure the girls get their meals when the others have a difficult time getting to their food bowls…though not impossible.

But Mimi has decided she is special and joins them, even though she’s only about six—and she’s not a tri-color, but solid black. I tell her she’s well away from the age where she needs the special food but, well, Mimi is special.

I actually have five girls (and four boys), but Mewsette, the fifth girl, is a long way from joining this group.


Farewell to an Artist Friend’s Bird

Sherman

An artist/illustrator friend of mine lost his bird today, a real character who appeared in many of his illustrations.

Speaking as one whose cats are inspirations and models as well as members of my family I can tell you there’s an extra pang of loss, but joy when you see the images of them you created, and know that others will see them too.

Here is his blog post: A Very Sad Day.

Also, be sure to visit his website at johnmanders.com. You’ll see Sherman and John’s other pets in this opening illustration of his studio, and you many even recognize some of his books. Many include animals, and I love to share the animal art of  other artists.


Mimi on Mimi’s Day

black cat sleeping in the sun

Mimi Speckled

Because today is Mimi’s Day, the day she joined my household, I’m featuring a photo of her.

Rather than a photo that shows her quiet delicate beauty, I chose one that reminds both her and me that she’s no longer an outdoor cat, battling the elements, birthing kittens and risking her life. She’s just a happy housecat, sleeping in the sun with that fool of a human who follows her around with a camera. I get the feeling she’s loving every moment of it.

It’s also the day her children joined my household, but they’ve had enough attention lately.


A Nice, Nice Kitty

photo of a black cat looking out a window

Mimi at the Window

“Here,” she said, “she’s in here with the kittens.” My neighbor handed me a medium-sized box with the flaps closed.

I gingerly took the box, supporting the bottom, thinking of the little black cat and her kittens inside and afraid that if I jostled the box the wrong way she’d step on a newborn kitten. This was Sunday; the kittens had been born on Thursday.

Carefully carrying the box upstairs, I could feel little movements inside, whispers of paws on cardboard, but no cat noises.

Her name was then Maia, and we never did get along well. She lived across the street but I was constantly finding her in my garden and backyard, so full of life and little critters. She never came to me when I called her or acted in any way friendly. Later, when I caught her hunting and waved my arms and said, “Go!”, she cringed and disappeared under the squashes along the fence and was gone.

She was Lucy’s mom, though, the 15-month-old kitten I lost to FIP. I’ll tell the story of Lucy some time as I study and write about FIP, but I was bereft after losing such a young kitten, and to that disease in particular.

The day after I lost Lucy, I saw Maia in my garden but felt a sudden rush of fondness—Lucy had resembled her mom in so many ways I couldn’t tell her to leave.

It was one of those wonderful hot July mornings I’ve always loved in my garden, moist with dew made into diamonds by the sun just coming over the trees. Maia was expecting again and near due, her tiny body distorted by the kittens she carried. I watched her from the basement, waddling awkwardly across the brick patio outside the basement door to the little water bowl I always kept outside for Cookie and Namir. She had a little drink, a little face wash, then walked down one of the brick paths to observe wildlife.

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

And I knew, as I stood in the spot where Lucy had spent so much time, that I needed to take Maia and her babies into my household. I quickly debated the pros and cons. I knew it was right to get Maia off the street and get her spayed, and raise and find homes for her kittens, in the meantime learning more about the FIP Lucy had died from. I had no idea where Lucy had encountered the FIP and I understood how it spread, but really didn’t understand how contagious it was. Maia and her kittens could be carrying it, but then the remaining cats in my household had already been exposed. Still, getting Maia and her kittens out of the population of other cats could only help stop spreading it if they were carriers.

But the real reason was to heal my own heart. I had lost my four oldest cats in one year and tried not to adopt any kitten in the years they were growing older. Lucy and her siblings had come along in the middle of those losses, and while I found homes for the others, Lucy stayed on and I didn’t try to hard to find a home for her. Once I lost Stanley and grieved his passing, I turned all my love into raising Lucy, then 9 months. At one year I had her spayed, and immediately afterward she showed symptoms, then was diagnosed with, FIP. I lost her three months later.

Worst of all, I had begun to look at my other cats, all in their teens, as walking time bombs for hurting me with their illness and passing. I’d use the analogy of getting right back on the horse after you’ve fallen, and fill my house with new life lest I begin to fear and avoid my cats. I checked with my veterinarian to discuss the risks and see what she thought, and to my surprise, she hesitated, then agreed. Perhaps she understood my emotional predicament.

And heal my heart they did. I knew I’d love the kittens, but didn’t realize how wonderful little Maia was.

I had the room all ready and set the box on the table next to the cage where they’d live. Still no noise, no scuffling. I knew momcats could be fierce, though, and she could be ready to launch as I opened the box. I slowly pulled the flaps apart and looked inside from an angle…

I saw one round green eye glowing in the darkness. Round is good, round is curious, and round is encouraging. I opened the flaps a little more, and Maia poked her head up like a periscope and surveyed the room, then relaxed. Oh, I could imagine her thinking, I finally made it into the house. Our former relationship forgotten, she looked up at me as if to say, can you help me unpack these kittens? I felt such a strong sense of Lucy in the room I turned around to look at her; of course she was not walking into the room, but of course she was there.

photo of black cat nursing kittens

Maia With Her Babies

This was Sunday, and they had been born on Thursday so they had barely any features to distinguish them. She laid down and nursed them once we got them in the cage and we proceeded to get to know each other.

I renamed her Mimi for the lead female in the opera La Boheme, the embroiderer Mimi living the Bohemian life in Paris in the late nineteenth century. All the kittens began with names from the opera as well.

photo of black cat on drawing table

Mimi (formerly Maia) on Drawing Table, with Lucy's Rainbows (more on that another time)

Mimi was only a few years old and is very tiny, yet she had had several litters of kittens. I think she sensed this was her last and that I would share the nurturing because she spent quality time with them, but she was really tired of kittens, and physically tired as well. She began migrating downstairs to my office, sleeping by the door and even curling up on my desk, fitting quietly in with the other cats as if she’d always been there and falling into our routine.

And so she continued, always settling on my desk; in the time I have written this she has walked in front of me four times. I added a shelf over the phone and adding machine on one side so she could keep watch on the neighborhood as I worked, and that is where she sits, looking out into the night. I write all the time about her kittens, the Fantastic Four, Mimi’s Children, but she doesn’t get the notice she deserves.

Even though she’d always been an outdoor cat, she had no interest in going out. Once she looked intently out as I came in, so I held the door open and she looked more intently, then looked up at me, Why are you holding the door open? Aren’t you coming in?

But even though she hangs near me, she is a little distant. Sometimes when I reach to pet her because she’s walking right in front of me, she draws back and gives me a horrified look, Who the hell are you, and why are you trying to touch me? She can modify her shape so that my hand glides just one-quarter inch above her fur, then she moves away gracefully.

But not always. Tonight as I was sorting end-of-year stuff in my office, she was all over me, mewing in her squeaky little mew, rubbing her little face all over my hands and my legs, trotting after me and purring so nicely and looking at me with her round eyes, then walking on the two piles I was sorting, biting the edges of the papers I was holding. She thanks me for saving her all the time in her quiet little ways and her sudden bursts of enthusiastic affection and I’d have to be a fool not to recognize it.

I had had a home for her that didn’t work out, and I’m glad. I think she and I will be friends for a very long time. Every home needs a sweet little black cat.

Mimi has had quite a bit to say since I’ve been blogging:

May 11, 2010: Mimi Introduces Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine, Jelly Bean and Mewsette

May 9, 2010: Mimi’s 2006 Children: Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal

May 9, 2010: Mimi, on “Mother’s Day”
February 23, 2010: Mimi says, “Trust me, it’s better being spayed.”
October 16, 2009 Help to Avoid Feline Breast Cancer by Spaying Early

What Can We Get Into Today?

Four black cats on a table

What can we do while Mom is gone?

Mom’s packing up to go down to her shop.

Hmmm, what can we get into while she’s gone?!

Luckily for me, their collective IQ drops below zero when they all try to think together, and very little actually gets accomplished. They look great in photos, though!


Wild Kitty Field

wild cat in field

Wild Cat in Field--can you find the cat in this photo?

Driving along a country road as the sun dropped in the west, and among the amber grains of a hayfield I see an orange kitty. Upon closer inspection he was pretty beat up, his long orange fur tangled and missing in patches, but he barely took his eyes off the spot where his prey was hidden waiting for it to emerge. Later he pounced and I caught a few images of his tail in the grass, though I don’t think he caught the critter.

Much as I’d love every kitty to have a loving home and a long-term health-care plan, I really enjoyed the sense of freedom and strength I found while watching this cat be a cat, and not a pet. With his orange fur and shaggy mane, he was truly a lion in his his own grassland.

wild cat closeup

A close-up view

I had a difficult time deciding which image to use, a close-up  so you could see the kitty, or a distance shot so you could see the scale.

Lucky kitty has this whole field to himself. More than the woods or the beach or the trails, I love a hilltop field where the light changes every moment of daylight, the grasses whisper with breezes from morning to night, and the world seems infinite. Kitty may have to share one of these days when I need to get my big-open-field fix.


“The Last Polar Bear” Photo Exhibit

polar bear cub in water

"The Last Polar Bear" photo exhibit

“The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World”, photos by wildlife photographer Steven Kazlowski.

This is going to be a must-see this summer at the Pittsburgh PPG Zoo and Aquarium. Imagine 45 large-format color wall mounts of polar bear images!

Read about it on the zoo’s blog or on the zoo’s website.


Meet the Barbary Lion Cubs

barbary lion cub video

Barbary Lion Cub Video

The Barbary Lion, the world’s largest lion, has been extinct in the wild since 1921 but exists in breeding programs at zoos. These cubs were born July 7 at Living Treasures Animal Park north of Pittsburgh.

The cubs are being hand raised and will be sent to the breeding programs at other zoos to help maintain the species distribution.

In the meantime, they are squirmy little balls of cute!

Here is the link to the video on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website, or click on the image above:

http://video.post-gazette.com/global/video/popup/pop_playerLaunch.asp?vt1=v&clipFormat=flv&clipId1=4951025&at1=Promotion 1&h1=Creature Feature: Barbary lion cubs&flvUri=&partnerclipid=

And here’s a link to the staff’s blog about the interview with the cubs and their handlers, and more photos:

http://blogs.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/living/summerburgh/20155-cutest-assignment-ever