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.