Kelly demonstrates how well the keyboard shelf suits her needs for a nap, just the right size and the nice, soft thingies covering the laminated wood make it really comfortable.
And there’s still room for the keyboard—you can see it in the darkness behind Kelly—so I really shouldn’t complain about multi-purposing my desk.
Kelly is hardly a kitten at 16, but she’s always had a bright and active personality and has never lost her girlish figure. She came to me when she was between two and three, and except for a certain angularity about her face she looks the same as when she arrived.
She and Cookie take turns tormenting me—well, I think it’s torment because I’d like to get my work done—by finding their comfort spots in my workspace. These spots are rarely convenient for me, and on top of that I then need to photograph them in action, so I get even less done at that moment. And, of course, they aren’t the only ones to perpetrate this torment on me.
But I can’t imagine my desk without generations of cats all over it. It’s one of the reasons I have a cordless mouse and keyboard…when they take over, I can move and still work…sort of.
Dickie found a great way to rest between diving at birds at the feeder—resting his chin on the windowsill, where he can lurk just below the surface and no birds will notice him.
Even brave and serious hunters need to take a break.
The Big Four, and often their mom, Mimi, are always using each other as pillows. What could be better for a nap pillow than a purring sibling?
This is phenomenally difficult to photograph because they are all black and they are usually nowhere near an adequate light source. This time, however, Giuseppe settled right under one of my desk lamps, not so good for my work flow, but perfect for his feline comfort.
Even though it was a chill morning, I still opened the basement door briefly once the sun rose so we could listen to the birds chattering outside, watch the chipmunks scurry past the door and enjoy our sun and fresh air first thing. Mewsette wiggles and rolls and flings her paws around in the feline breakdance.
I usually spend some time on my exercise bicycle, and it’s all a big imaginary outdoor experience for all of us. I can’t be trusted to ride my real bicycle or even take a walk because I’ll take my camera and not return until noon.
Sorry for the sad pun on the song, but I’ve thought this for years as generations of cats writhed around in the sun on the basement floor. I know the sun makes them feel good but they don’t do quite the performance anywhere else in the house. Perhaps the concrete gives a good back rub!
In this week devoted to “less adoptable pets” I have a story of a deaf kitty who shared my life for 14 years, and she was such a joy to know. One would hardly have known the difference between her and a hearing cat, nor cared! I certainly forgot. I have also fostered other less adoptable pets and found loving homes for them, and of course, there is my famous Peaches, less adoptable because she was 15 years old, but she’s had plenty of attention here.
Adopted for her looks
The little deaf cat who began her life with me as a distant and defensive, emotionally neglected one-year-old grew into one of my greatest friends through our fifteen years together. A “pet quality” Angora kitten, she’d been adopted for her looks, the perennial kitten face, silky white fur, petite size. Not all white cats are deaf, but most Turkish Angora cats turn out to be, and the person who “bred” her didn’t warn the adopting party. The person who adopted her truly loved her, but between her high activity level and eventual deafness, and his schedule of being out most of every day, she became a little wild child, unaccustomed to being handled in any way. I heard later that Angora kitties are known for being physically combative and don’t necessarily like to be touched, but when I adopted Sally I thought it was just her youth and kittenhood that had influenced her personality.
This was very early in my rescue career; I had two cats, believe it or not, my first cat, gray and white Bootsie, and my first cat adopted as an adult, solid black Kublai. Sally was cat number three.
A little wild child
I adopted Sally when she was about one year old from her owner who intended to give her up to a shelter because he couldn’t control her. At that age she literally bounced off the walls, knocking plenty of things around in the process. She had a limitless amount of energy and could not be handled. Worst, she attacked my older cat, Bootsie, causing her to go into an asthmatic attack. Sally’s time out room was the bathroom, which wasn’t large enough for too much movement so she’d quiet down.
I credited Kublai with taming her. He would watch her fly around and literally catch her in mid-air, pin her down and sit on her while she struggled and squealed, he looking at me telling me someone needed to do something about this little Tasmanian devil. Eventually he would let her go and she would pop out from underneath him and run off to some high spot to think about things—she never sulked or bore grudges—and eventually she quit the aeronautic adventures and began to play with toys. Best of all, she began to watch Kublai, who literally hung all over me, draped around my neck over my shoulders or with his arms around my neck and his face buried in my hair, and I could see she began to wonder about this affection thing. Before long, she was sleeping on my bed; later, she curled up on my lap one day as if she’d always been there.
We were devoted
She became the cat who spent all day in the window watching and waiting for me to come home and bestowing upon me her fervent greeting when I arrived, who slept on me every single night, who followed me around the house waiting for me to sit down…She was a real free spirit, absolutely fearless, totally in the moment, unconcerned about her looks as truly beautiful creatures can afford to be, and usually off in some alternate reality.
Because she was deaf her 22 hours of sleep were undisturbed but when she was awake she was fully engaged; she had two settings, “off” and “high”. I sometimes lost her curled up in some cozy spot because she couldn’t hear when I called, but I would rap my heel sharply twice on the floor, and she would usually awaken and come to me. If that didn’t work, an open can of tuna would eventually waft to her nose and she’d come running.
Sally was one of my original garden cats, and was also the subject of the “my first piece of real artwork” (see below). “My little princess” became one of my greatest inspirations for artwork, and it was not just her luxurious looks but her emotional freedom as well which have made her the subject of several works.
Lesson number one
One October day, Sally quit eating, no drama, just stopped eating, and went for nearly two weeks eating only a bit now and then. My perceptions were in their elemental stages at that time, and I had a sense that she was leaving but I could see nothing wrong with her so I was puzzled, then panicked. Exams and tests had shown nothing wrong. It was obvious this was her choice, that she couldn’t live like this and wouldn’t live long. I picked her up and cried one day, asking her to tell me why, tell me anything, just not to leave me without knowing or just not to leave me.
That afternoon she began to eat again—cooked linguini only for a few days, then she was back on cat food. I was overjoyed, though I had no idea why she had done this. But she recovered without any issue.
In January I was petting her and felt a small flat bump on her lower jaw, and this was what grew into the mass that eventually took her life the following June. I understood in that moment that Sally felt the beginnings of that cancer the previous fall and decided she didn’t want to live with the condition, so she chose to just leave before it happened. She changed her mind for me, endured the pain so that I would have my explanation of her decision.
In his last days Kublai had taught me that sometimes my inner voice was actually one of my felines communicating with me. I’ll write about that moment some day, but by the time it became Sally’s time to begin saying goodbye, I had learned to recognize it.
Lesson number two
I came home from work one day about two months before she died, and she let the younger ones—at that time Namir, Kelly and Cookie—shuffle for my attention, then strolled down the “catwalk” of a table I had by the door. She stopped in front of me and looked right up into my eyes with her bright expression in those pea green eyes of hers, reached out her paw and pulled my hand to her face, licked the back of my hand twice and looked back up at me. “I love you”, I heard as clearly as if someone had said it. No, her lips didn’t move, nor did anyone else’s, it was the inner voice which I’d learned from Kublai was how they would sometimes communicate with me, when they really needed for me to know something, and Sally really needed for me to know this.
Tears welled in my eyes but I blinked them back as we held our gaze—I didn’t want to miss a moment in any sort of blur—and my unspoken response was automatic, “I love you, Sally”. I saw that sparkle in her eyes and I knew this moment was eternal. She let go of my hand, we broke our gaze and she very practically headed for the kitchen along with everyone else.
Sally was filled with the joy of being alive—she awoke every morning, gathered all her abundant energy and made every moment of the day the best it could possibly be, never spending time on what she didn’t have or couldn’t do. As all of my feline companions have taught me lessons in life and love, so Sally taught me this lesson, reinforced especially in her last days: even when her life was far from comfortable and she could barely carry out simple daily activities, she simply didn’t do what she could no longer do, and awoke and gathered what energy she had left and did what she could to make every moment, until her last, lived to the fullest.
One evening at the very end she walked in to my office, looked at me and I heard the words, “I can’t take this anymore.” I called the veterinarian the next morning.
As got into my car after work a few days after I had had Sally put to sleep, a thistle seed borne on the wind by its long white down flew past my face, circled around in my car, then flew out the passenger window, and I had the strongest sense of Sally being near me. She was on her way to another life, still the beautiful free spirit she’d been with me, carried where life took her. I still love you, Sally, and I enjoy your occasional visits, borne on the wind.
“There she slept, and looked like a sleeping angel still.”—from The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault
MEDIUM: Pencil; SIZE: 18″ x 16″; 1989
This drawing is very special to me for several reasons, and not only because the subject is Sally. It 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. This is what has to happen for anything I render, whether it’s a commissioned portrait from photographs or a drawing “en plein air”. Before this drawing, although I had created some works that had merit, it was all child’s play.
And of course the fact that Sally was the subject was one of the things that made it a success, which is one of the reasons I always say that my cats are the reason I am an artist today. Before that drawing, my visualization and interest had been almost entirely technical, concerned more with medium and technique. But her peaceful, relaxed posture, especially knowing what she was like when she was awake and fully engaged, made me weak with love. And as I worked I actually began to choose details that made the scene meaningful and conveyed what I felt, instead of trying to draw everything and convey only what I saw. From that experience I realized that what made good art for me was the inspiration of love, not intellect, so now, be it a cat, a flower or a sunset, I ride that swell of love as I create, and there is no art for me without it.
Nearly all the works you see in this article are available as prints or notecards. Please visit my website at www.bernadette-k.com and peruse “fine art and portraiture” and “marketplace online store” and also visit my shop on Etsy.
Not even little Mimi fits in the envelopes box I keep at my desk for catching small items like disks and memo pads. And she can’t even be very comfortable partially balanced on the edge and on three paws down inside, but she is determined. I don’t mind because otherwise she wants to sleep on the papers I’m working with, and will not take “no” for an answer.
Mimi is drawn to any container that might hold her, be it drawer, cupboard, basket or box, she has to try it on for size. I have to be careful to watch for her before I close anything! I’m accustomed to this vigilance with kittens, and even though I’ve had others interested in boxes and bags and such Mimi is the first adult cat I’ve lived with who so insistently needs to get inside every container. But then, she’s only 6.5 lbs., and she’s really a kitten at heart, living out her kittenhood now after bearing so many litters.
We have a kitty who is new,
We have a kitty who is blue,
None of us knows what to do
With this strange kitty who is new and blue.
Mom brought home this strange new kitty yesterday, and we just can’t seem to figure it out. We’ve tried everything we can think of to get it to talk to us, but it just doesn’t even move. We’ve decided to ignore it from now on and see if that does anything.
I picked this up at the second hand store when I purchased baskets and other small items for my shop. At first I passed it up thinking it was a little tacky, but then I decided that I could use it. Why not? Who knew when I’d need a feline silhouette to add to a gift basket or give to someone or just add to my shop’s interest. Then I thought I might remove the ribbon and paint it solid black and letter “Black Cats Welcome Here” on its belly. Then I thought I might leave one side black and speckle the other side with black, orange, white, gray and peach, and letter “Tri-color Cats are Mutants” on that side. I will probably do something along these lines.
But really, I wanted to get at least one photo of one of my kitties with the blue kitty. Little did I know the Big Four would visit the new kitty through the day! Or do they really read my mind…
I can see the change in the way our animal companions are viewed and accepted in society through the years every time I set up my display of artwork.
About 17 years ago I began attending cat and dog shows, and in that venue it would be expected for people visiting my table to be nuts about their animals and interested in artwork depicting cats and dogs.
But when I began attending general events, those not centered around animals or with animal themes, I quickly learned the futility of selling pet-oriented items to a general audience. This is strange, I thought, I know some of these people and they have pets, what’s the deal now? I might get one or two people who stopped by my table for a quick, furtive story, but like many of us animal enthusiasts, we kept our stories for more targeted venues.
Eventually, cat and dog themed things appear!
For several years I quit attending general events and coincidentally began creating art of other subjects aside from my cats and commissioned pet portraits, such as my paintings of wildlife and local nature. But in the late 1990s I began to see cat- and dog-themed merchandise at general shows I was visiting and noticed more items in stores as well, including some stores devoted to animal-themed items, some exclusively dog or cat. Time to get back in the groove!
This time, knowing that I’d soon be leaving my day job to work at home as a graphic designer and to further my career as a fine artist, and knowing I’d be depending on these shows and festivals for part of my income, I decided to follow through with some of the ideas I had for less expensive but easily reproduced items that were still unique.
Designing merchandise, note cards, block prints and t-shirts
I had had one set of black and white note cards printed, “Kitties Being Kitties”, but next came the first full-color set, “My Cats in the Sun”, then my small block printed set “Tabbies”.
That little taste of block printing the note cards gave me encouragement for larger block prints and soon I was printing them not only on note cards and paper to frame as wall art, but also on t-shirts, tablecloths and other table linens, tote bags and more.
Oh, the stories
So this time, when I hit the show circuit, I had many more images to inspire stories. How I wish I had begun recording back then!
And as we moved year by year into the new century, I not only began seeing more and more pet-oriented artwork, but also finding more and more pet-oriented events, and people began opening up about their animal companions no matter where we were gathered.
Today, as visitors to my booth browse and stop to pick up an item and smile, or blink back tears as is sometimes the reaction, I proudly remark that I’ve rescued and fostered cats for about 25 years and nearly every cat in the display has lived with me at one time or another, some only briefly as fosters, some for an entire lifetime, they know they’ve met a friend, and then their stories begin—and in the past few years, out comes the cell phone where any pet owner keeps images of their precious companion or companions.
Carnegie Arts & Heritage Festival
At the recent Carnegie Arts & Heritage Festival I was in my hometown, and knew many of the visitors to my display.
One woman kept returning to the tote bags with the black cats on them, telling me she’d lived with the most wonderful black kitty for 20 years and lost her a few years ago. While she’d considered adopting a new cat, she wasn’t sure she was ready as she still missed her little girl. Two years ago, out of nowhere, a tiny black kitten appeared on her back porch and mewed to come in, and her heart is full of love again. I told her I’d no doubt her first kitty had sent the kitten to her to help her with her grief and fill that empty spot, and she simply nodded and blinked her eyes. She was so glad the new kitty had come along, and even though she had tons of tote bags she wanted the one with them playing in the tub because it reminded her of both her kitties. Now that design will always remind me of her and her two generations of black cats, and I can share that story with others when it’s appropriate.
Another visitor asked me about my commissioned portraits, and asked me if I could paint one just from photos, without seeing the animal. I knew this would be a story of a loss, perhaps recent, and I listened as the woman told me that her dachshund had been hit by a car just four months ago, and while she and her daughter had decided to get another one, she wanted to honor her original dog with something special.
She lived in Carnegie and ironically had been attending a borough council meeting with a complaint about people using her little back street as a cut-through and speeding to save time—the speed limit is actually 15mph, the street is narrow, and there are many children and pets. Her neighbors had been taking her dog out for a walk while she was away but didn’t realize the leash wasn’t clipped all the way and her dog took off, ran between two cars and was hit by someone moving far too fast, didn’t want to stop and do anything or even apologize.
She returned the second day of the festival with her new puppy, just six months old, and he seems to be healing the loss in her and her daughter. I showed her the portrait of Molly, the dachshund who ironically had also been hit by a car a year or so after I had done her portrait.
Those are just two of the stories I managed to record, but even just the brief encounters, when people pick up a card with a photo or painting that reminds them of their cat or dog, or they flip through my portfolio album of portraits and say to the person with them, “Do you remember when he used to sleep like that?” or “Doesn’t this look just her!” Just the expressions on their faces are enough to know that my work has made an impression, and the gift my cats have given me continues to work its magic. Thanks, all you wonderful kitties who’ve shared my life and been my inspirations!
It’s a party for the animals—or at least people who support animals in Pennsylvania!
We all help animals every day by volunteering and donating to shelters, rescuing and fostering animals in need, and encouraging humane treatment of animals whenever the opportunity arises, as well as simply taking good care of the animals who share our lives.
But sometimes we are limited by what our laws actually say is humane, what is defined as a companion animal and what is livestock, and how individuals can treat the animals in their care.
You can help to strengthen the laws that govern humane treatment of animals in your city, county or state by supporting candidates who are animal-friendly.
Right now in Pennsylvania, puppy mills are a huge issue with legislation jumping back and forth as individuals and breeder interests revise the bill that outlines requirements for breeding facilities.
The horrible annual live pigeon shoot is at issue as well, where humane organizations have been trying to ban this cruel “tradition” of releasing live pigeons from cages in front of “hunters” with guns blazing.
Pennsylvania’s leading industry is agriculture, so our state legislators also decide on humane treatment of farm animals.
Then there are tethering laws, breed bans, dog fighting, shelter euthanasia practices, and many more issues that you can influence by finding the legislators who support the causes and opinions you do.
In Pennsylvania, the non-partisan Humane USA PA Political Action Committee helps to sort out the issues and support candidates who are animal-friendly. On their website, you can find links to the issues mentioned above and find the legislation that might influence the issues one way or the other, plus find information on candidates who sponsor and support humane legislation.
The event in Pittsburgh
If you’re in Pittsburgh, consider attending this event at Max’s Allegheny Tavern on Friday, October 8 where your ticket supports the PAC’s efforts to support animal-friendly candidates, plus you can meet other like-minded people and meet a few legislators who have made a difference with their votes. Visit the Humane USA site to read more or RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also RSVP at Humane USA’s Facebook page for the event.
Share the link or find similar organizations in your state
Please pass the information along to others as well. If you’re not local, perhaps your state also has a PAC who can help you find information about the issues and the candidates who support humane treatment of all animals.
I am proud to have designed this invitation, and I support the efforts of this organization.