Little Visits

pastel painting of black cat rolling on floor

Are You Looking at Me? © B.E. Kazmarski

This is the third and final article in the series of articles about my cats visiting me in a spiritual sense, a collective of individual instances through the years.

Working in my office/studio one evening, I heard the door of my refrigerator open—you know how you recognize these everyday noises—and I didn’t think too much of it. Until I remembered that I lived alone and I had not opened the door myself. I slowly turned my head to look into the next room where the refrigerator was plainly in view, and the door was indeed wide open, and…Kublai was standing right in front and looking over the contents.

Kublai, my first black kitty, was a real creative thinker, and between his strength and able mimicry of my movements—opening windows and doors, pulling lids off containers—and my tiny refrigerator, he just decided he’d open it one evening and help himself to the contents.

If I’d had a video camera he surely would have won a prize for the way he’d flip open the door, stand there with all the other cats ranging behind him and “humph”, his message: “There’s nothing good in here to eat.” Well, I was a vegetarian, but he was also a feline garbage dispose-all and stopped at absolutely nothing. He’d eat cooked carrots as well as anything else.

This was cute and funny, but also a great worry since it could be fatal if the door swung shut with him or one of the others inside. A new refrigerator was out of the question because of space, so I tilted it slightly forward so the door would not swing shut if opened, and added a bungee cord wrapped around from the side to hold the door shut for, oh, at least four years. Sometimes I would forget the bungee cord, and the door would always be open the next time I entered the room.

A few months after I’d lost Kublai I finally decided to rebalance the refrigerator, replace the seal and remove the bungee cord. None of the other cats was inventive enough to try to open it. One day soon after, I returned home to a wide-open refrigerator door and laughed, the first good laugh without a twinge of sadness, simply knowing Kublai had gotten one over on me. I’d been thinking about him all day, smiling at all the incredible things he’d done.

How did I know one of the other cats hadn’t opened it, or it hadn’t simply fallen open on its own? I didn’t. I didn’t have any proof, but I trusted my intuition, which Kublai had helped me to hone.

Taking their places again

sketch of two tabby cats

They Miss You When You're Gone, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

From the time I’d moved into this house I’d had a foster cat in the spare cat room, right on the landing between the bathroom and my bedroom. I’d visit the spare cat and dole out some more food right before I went to bed, and the rest of my household caught on to this and quickly convinced me they should have a midnight snack, choosing places in a circle around me. This turned out to be a great idea because they’d all come to bed and settle down for most of the night and one of the things that brought this group of cats, and me, so close together.

I actually lost Kublai and our orange boy Allegro two weeks apart. They were nearly my first losses, I had had no idea Allegro was ill, could barely mourn Kublai who’d been like my life partner, and was totally lost. I was still doling out the nightly snack though it was a constant reminder that two of the nine were missing, and the remaining seven had begun to fill in the open spots.

A few days after Allegro passed I was getting the container of food and visualizing all nine of them on the landing, actually forgetting there were now only seven. I turned around to see they’d arranged themselves as they always had before any losses leaving Kublai’s and Allegro’s spaces open. I was surprised to see they weren’t there, then I remembered, then I smiled. “Thanks for stopping back, boys, I’m glad you’re still together,” I said.

Light as thistledown

pencil sketch of cat in bag

In the Bag, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski, inspired by Sally

Sally had pure white long hair, was genetically deaf and as free as the wind. 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. I lost her at 15 to cancer.

thistle seeds

"Let Go", photo © B.E. Kazmarski

As I 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.

With all the time I spend on trails and outdoors I encounter more than my share of thistle seeds and usually they are just thistle seeds, but every once in a while I still enjoy a visit from Sally as she spins and whirls around my head, sometimes landing near me before again taking flight, borne on the wind.

The hummingbird

painting of cat in sun

Warm Winter Sun, oil pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

On the Wednesday afternoon one week to the approximate hour after Namir’s death, Cookie and I went out in the yard to remember him since we three had enjoyed much time together out there. I hadn’t sensed him around at all, not seen him out of the corner of my eye, not forgotten that he had died and went looking for him, all very strange for the cat with the big personality who had monopolized so much of my time.

Cookie jumped up on the picnic table before I even got down the steps from the deck. At 17 Cookie was very dignified, but not known for her speed. She knew exactly what we were doing.

As we sat there, I heard behind me familiar buzzing and slight chirping sounds, though I couldn’t place them until I turned around and saw a female hummingbird visiting the bergamot, newly blooming right next to the picnic table. I normally have groups of hummingbirds visiting my feeders and all the geraniums and other attractive flowers in my yard, but this year it was July and I hadn’t seen a single one yet.

bergamot flowers

Bergamot flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

In most cultural and spiritual traditions, the hummingbird is known to be a messenger. While it is bound to the immense needs of its body to supply enough nourishment to support its high energy activity, it still transcends this burden to find joy in each day as they always spend some time in play and even seem to play practical jokes. It has adapted to reach far into a flower to find its nourishment, and so we must learn to reach far into ourselves to fulfill our needs. These tiny birds migrate a huge distance, and so tell us that we must persevere, no matter the conditions. Their wings beat in the symbol of infinity.

I was so happy to see the little bird, admiring her olive green against the deep red of the bergamot. And I realized it was Namir visiting us, as all my other cats had done in one way or another, to let me know he was free of his limitations, that I needn’t worry about him any more. No one but me knew all the health burdens Namir carried; like the hummingbird he had transcended the weight of his body in life, and now in death.

She soon left the bergamot to hover around the yard—in all the places Namir had loved so well for observing wildlife. As I pondered the deep significance of this visit I heard a scuffle in a tree and I saw her being chased by a sparrow in the air above the yard as she had apparently annoyed it. I laughed. It truly had to be Namir. As she sped off, I whispered to the sky, “Bye, guy.”

At Twilight

pastel painting of a cat on a bed

Afternoon Nap, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

But my favorite visit is at the end of twilight, when the sun has gone down and the only natural light is that reflected from the sky back to earth, the twi-light being the mixing of day and night together. In this half-light the human eye, strong on color, can barely distinguish shapes from the dim background and the veil between day and night seems to thin as does the veil between this world and the next.

I carefully walked through my bedroom to turn on the lamp on the other side of the room, but just as I reached for the lamp I simply felt lots of cats in the room with me. This was no surprise, I’ve always had six or more, usually nine, and they often follow me as I do things and also hang out on the bed in my room.

But I could actually see and hear the cats who’d come in the room with me, and as I glanced around the room to see what other cats were there, they shifted around and I couldn’t see a single one, though I could swear there’d been more than one on the bed…I stood there, not focusing my eyes on anything but simply sensing that I was sharing the room with a good number of my feline family, past and present, on the bed, on the windowsill, on the floor, even rubbing on my legs in the darkness near the floor.

This last light fades very quickly no matter where you are at this time of day. Full darkness came in just a minute or two, and with it all our visitors faded and left, leaving only my current family settling on the bed for a bath and acting as if nothing unusual had happened. I turned on the light and thought about the last few minutes, glad I’d been able to experience it.

And I have again a few other times through the years, always in the same conditions of deep twilight. While one might think I’d plan to be there at that magic time of day every day just to be with them again, it really doesn’t work that way; even when I’ve come a little early and realized the time was soon and I would wait, they don’t show up on a schedule.

But when I have no inkling of the desire, when I am emotionally ready, I sometimes find myself walking through the softened shadows of my room, and sense all around me my precious companions as if they’ve planned that I would appear at exactly that time, when the edges disappear, the veil thins, and in those few moments when day and night mingle, so does past and present and our loved ones can once again share an existence with us, however brief.

Cross My Palms With Salmon Fillets…

black cat with pumpkin and lamp

Madame Mewsette will tell your future now.

…and I will tell your future in my pumpkin crystal ball.

This is what Mewsette is dressed up as to celebrate this evening’s events. And she didn’t even have to put on one embarrassing garment or accessory.

When I attended Catholic grade school, we were to dress up as our patron saint for All Hallow’s Eve, and dressing up as St. Bernadette was pretty easy for me as I already tended to wear peasant-style clothing and St. Bernadette didn’t suffer any dire injuries or horrible torture like some of the other saints, she just lived to be very old, despite Lourdes.

Well, I think Mewsette is dressed up as one of her patron kitties—she is quiet and introspective, unlike her brothers, and I can just see her in the role of a familiar or a gypsy fortune-teller!

Help, Mom’s Gone Crazy

black cat with pumpkins

Is this what you want me to do?

I just can’t figure out what she wants me to do but it has something to do with these pumpkins! Sometimes mom gets these crazy ideas and she chases us around the house and tries to get us to do things that we don’t understand, and she’s been after us with these pumpkins for days. I can’t wait till Halloween is over and mom gets back to normal!

Yesterday while mom was working on her computer I saw a few kitties wearing silly costumes. It’s just a really good thing she didn’t try that, and that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

Enter: Three WITCHES

Three cats with pumpkin and lamp

The Three Witches

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Guess the kids have been getting into my literature textbooks again. I thought my Riverside Shakespeare was too heavy for them, but there is no getting in the way of a determined reader. Now that they’ve mastered Act 1, Scene 1 of MacBeth, I can’t wait to see how they interpret Scene 2.

Maybe reading to them as kittens really did work.

Actually, Mimi, Mewsette and Giuseppe were gathered around the lamp “to keep warm” as they said, because the temperature was all of about 65 degrees. Time to get out the cozy beds!

Taking Sally Home

pastel painting of cat bathing

A Warm Bath, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Second in a series of stories about visitations for the Halloween season.

So many visitations happen around the loss of an animal companion that it’s difficult not to dwell on the loss itself—but that misses the point of the visit. They’ve returned to tell you not to dwell on their loss, and to know of their peace and happiness. I’ve yet to hear of a single visit where the pet was unhappy.

But some visitations happen before the loss, or just at the time of the loss where you may sense another presence and understand it’s somehow related to your animal companion.

Sally had developed a bony tumor on her lower jaw, and after six months she was in such discomfort that she simply told me one evening that she couldn’t take it any more. I had scheduled an appointment for euthanasia for the early afternoon of a Saturday in June.

We had just lost Fawn in March of that year, and she was still on my mind. Two years previous, we had lost Kublai, my first black cat, the household leader and prince to Sally’s princess and my best friend, and Allegro, our gentle, silly orange boy, two weeks apart. They were my first rescues and the first of the group who had moved in this house with me to leave us, and as Sally neared her end I thought of them more and more.

The day came but did not feel heavy or sad, it was instead a beautiful day, feeling strangely full of promise. I thought perhaps I had prepared myself for this well enough, I knew that Sally was ready, but I had no idea why I wasn’t on the verge of tears, thinking it would hit me all at once at some point in the day.

A butterfly

tiger swallowtail black form

The black butterfly with blue spots

On that lovely, sparkling June morning, Sally and I took our last walk around the garden she had loved, then sat on the deck while the day was still cool. Butterflies were not unusual, but I had noticed a certain black butterfly with blue spots on its wings that kept flying around Sally as we walked, and now that we were on the deck it was visiting all the flowers in the planters and even flying around on the deck. Now and then it would land and slowly spread its wings wide then fold them, and fly off again.

Sally soon tired and the summer heat began to build up on the deck, so we went inside the house.

An exchanged identity

As we walked in I saw Namir on the kitchen island cabinet, and as most of us probably do in greeting our cats I simply said, “Hello, Allegro,” as I gave him a quick pat on the head and walked on behind Sally for a few steps before I realized I had called him by the wrong name. Except that I had seen Allegro in him as I looked at him and felt Allegro’s presence and even then was ready to call him “Allegro” again.

pastel painting of cat on windowsill

Suncatcher, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Namir was a foster who’d arrived two years before, and one year to the day after Allegro had died, and I had always emotionally connected him with Allegro for that coincidence and because he kind of reminded me of Allegro with his quiet silliness and amiable sociability. I had never in two years called him by Allegro’s name, though, and no one would confuse them physically with Allegro’s large rangy build and rich red tabby fur with white patches compared to Namir’s slighter, slender build, dark gray tabby fur with white patches.

While I stood there petting Namir I caught sight of movement outside the door and saw the black butterfly flitting around on the flowers once again.

Sally went to lie down on the cushion next to my desk which she’d been inhabiting for the past few days. I headed for the second floor for a clip to pin up my hair in the increasing heat.

The joy of sunshine

The sun was shining brilliantly through the tall narrow casement facing east, filling the small landing and the stairwell with a cascade of sunlight. Even though it was heating up the house I still found it beautiful and welcoming, and was that a cat I saw playing in the sunbeams and dust motes? Moses perhaps? no, she was downstairs.

cat in sun

Fawn in sun on the landing.

As I walked up the stairs looking into the sunshine I remembered how Fawn had loved just this, the sunlight on the landing, how she would dance around in it, roll around in it, talk about it and call for me, which she always did when she found something she liked. And I realized the kitty I’d seen in the sunlight was Fawn.

And then it all came together—Fawn was there, and Allegro and Kublai too. They were here to welcome Sally and escort her on.

The black butterfly was Kublai’s lustrous black fur, the light blue spots like his light blue-green eyes, hovering around Sally, leading her around the garden then continuing to flutter around her favorite spots when we’d gone inside.

I had called Namir “Allegro” several more times, even when I consciously tried to remember not to. Namir had simply become Allegro for the time.

And the sunshine at the top of the stairs was Fawn, just as surely as anything tangible I knew she was there.

For the first time in a very long time my household felt full again, though counting Sally I had eight cats in the house in a physical sense and it should have felt full already. But it felt complete that I could sense the presences of the three who had passed as if they were just in the next room and that wonderful group who had moved here were once again together.

My regular veterinarian was away that weekend, but I had found another who agreed to make a housecall. She soon arrived and we followed the procedure there on my office floor. Sally, who had always been a very free spirit and resisted being touched or handled willingly submitted to the first shot and quickly fell into a deep sleep, seeming to welcome the relief it would give her.


I sat with her for a while after the veterinarian had left, quietly stroking her lovely silky white fur. The other cats wandered in and out and took in the experience in their own ways, and I thought about the butterfly, Namir’s identity sharing, and the sunshine, which I could see was waning in the stairwell. I sensed Kublai, Allegro and Fawn in the room and Sally too, then as suddenly as the sun in the stairwell faded they seemed to all sweep up the stairs together and leave. No inkling of them was left. My house felt empty again, Namir was Namir, and I was aware of the quiet of a hot summer afternoon.

Had I really experienced these visits? Was it just the product of wishful thinking, of deeply remembering those recently lost and the comfort of that particular group of cats who were my first teachers? Reality can be a fluid thing in the midst of strong emotions and a certain amount of denial as we tend to be at the time when we accompany one of our beloved animal companions in their transition from this world to the next.

But from that point little visitations continued to happen, reinforcing what I had experienced. Why wouldn’t the bond we had all shared, they with me and, more importantly, they with each other, continue after death? The idea that Kublai, Allegro and Fawn were still around in some form, and that they had come for Sally in forms so joyful and free, was such a comfort to me that I can hardly help but believe it.


All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

The Balloon

cat peeking out from under bed

Waiting for Mom, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

For the days prior to the Feast of All Hallowed, Samhain, the Day of the Dead and other celebrations of the dimming of the veil between this world and the next, I am sharing a few stories of visitations, the mysterious returns of my cats after they’d transitioned. None are scary, unless you’re afraid of something that isn’t physically there, but all include elements I can’t explain and only accept…and am glad to have experienced.

torbie cat


One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat politely but confidently asked me if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course I said yes, and I witnessed the entrance to this life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie, my Fawn.

Ten years later, a friend sent balloons to my workplace for my birthday. The whole bunch was too big to take home, so I took one home and tied it to a lamp in my studio.

My birthday was also, sadly, the day an exam definitively diagnosed that Fawn’s cancer had come out of remission, and the chances of it responding to treatment a second time were slim.

On the morning I had Fawn put to sleep at home, my veterinarian brought her one-year-old daughter, not having day care accommodations that early in the day, and a friend agreed to babysit the little girl down in the studio while my veterinarian and I were upstairs. They untied the balloon from the lamp and played with it all during that time, then let it float freely around the studio. My other cats didn’t respond to the balloon aside from a few swats at the string, and it came to rest in a corner of the room.

Eight days later, I awoke once again with the daily dread of remembering that my little girl was gone and had not let go very easily, but I didn’t feel the deep sadness which had been with me all that time, especially upon waking. By habit looking over at the jewelry box on top of the chest of drawers where Fawn had spent many sleeping hours during our time in this house, and most of her last few weeks, I noticed the balloon hovering over that spot. Either it had been carried upstairs by one of the other cats or it had made quite a circuitous journey on its own because it was roughly exactly above where it had been hovering on the first floor.

This meant it traveled about ten feet along a wall to the foot of the steps, dipped down a foot to get through the archway, made a u-turn into the stairway and floated up the steps, made a right turn and moved about a foot in that direction while not floating up to the full ten-foot ceiling height so that it could make a jog through my bedroom doorway, turned left and floated about three feet to a spot where there was nothing to hold it in place.

My heart was in my throat, and a little tingle of joy in my heart. I had a sense of what it meant but was not fully awakened to its meaning.

balloon and photographs

The balloon over Fawn's photo

When I came home that day the balloon was still in its spot. I replaced a photograph of Fawn, which I had been carrying back and forth to work, on the sewing machine across the room where I kept photos of family and all the cats I’d lost. Instead of the sadness I had felt in that room I felt a capricious and happy spirit; that had been Fawn’s room since the day we had moved here, and my “yittle girl” always waited for me under the bed, pouncing out when she thought I least expected it and prancing around the room, playing hard to get.

I returned to the room later that evening to find that the balloon had moved across the room and was hovering over Fawn’s picture with the ribbon touching it, where it stayed, on its own, for two weeks until it was completely out of air, lasting much longer than all the others in the original bunch. None of the other cats ever touched the ribbon or the balloon, though they’d normally grab it and run.

pencil sketch of kitty on chair

Fawn wants the ceiling fan.

When Fawn discovered “up” as a kitten, she got “up” on everything as often as possible—narrow shelves on the wall, inside open transoms, on the top edge of an open door, she even had her eye on the ceiling fans. Balancing in place she would call for me to come and see her and gaze down smugly as I praised her, even if she needed my help in getting down.

Fawn was not ready to leave, and I wasn’t ready for her to go. For those eight days I felt her unsettled unhappiness and my own grief would not ease. Fawn chose to return to me as a symbol of cheerful celebration, an object which freely floats as high up in its space as it can, and I can only be reassured that the bond we had when she was here carried on to the next existence, that she loved me enough to let me know she had finally accepted and was enjoying the same antics she always had while here. How else would I be sure it was her, silly human that I am?


All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Pumpkin!

black cat with pumpkins

Mewsette approves of these pumpkins.

Get some fresh organic pumpkins now to process for your pets, snacks for yourself, and free bird seed for your feathered friends!

If you haven’t noticed, pumpkins are in season. In part it’s because they are elemental in our Halloween tradition, color, shape, jack-o’-lanterns and all, but reverse that and you’ll see they are part of our traditions at this time of the year because this is their season of abundance, and they are a most versatile and nutritious fruit.

Pumpkins actually originated in Central America where related seeds at least 5,000 years old have been found. Native Americans planted them as one of the “three sisters” of corn, pole beans and squash interplanted to support each other. Apparently, a good thing can’t be kept hidden because European explorers learned of them from Native Americans in North, Central and South America and took them back to their respective countries. They are grown all over the world, and in many cultures they are much more than a seasonal decoration but are a principle food source because of their ease of growth and high nutrition.

Pumpkin for your pets

carved pumpkin

Cat and Moon jack-o'-lantern

Speaking of pets first, pumpkin is highly recommended to keep on hand for bowel issues, namely constipation or diarrhea, especially in older pets. The fiber in pureed pumpkin flesh works the same way as a fiber product for human use, softening the stool and cleansing the colon in the case of constipation and helping bind loose stool by absorbing excess fluid and soothing inflamed intestines in the case of diarrhea, without the use of any drugs.

Add to this effect the level of nutrition delivered in a readily accessible form: it’s obviously bursting with beta carotene and also rich in vitamins A and C and in potassium. Pumpkin may not be a natural part of your pet’s diet, especially for carnivore kitties, but considering that the bowel conditions described above often result from an illness or chronic or acute disease, these particular nutrients in an easily digestible form can only help your pet.


Pumpkins at Market

And not only that, but cats and dogs often really like it since it’s not icky chemical-tasting medicine. And if they won’t lap up enough of it to make a difference you can always fill a syringe with the right amount and gently dose it right into their mouth.

The basic dose is about one teaspoon per 15 pounds, so most cats and very small dogs would get one teaspoon, larger cats and small to medium dogs would get two teaspoons, and dogs larger than 30 pounds would get three teaspoons or one tablespoon. Cats larger than 30 pounds need to lose some weight.

It’s safe enough to give every day, and if they don’t need it it certainly doesn’t do any harm.

You could get a can of pumpkin, or you could buy fresh, buy local and visit your local farmer’s market or farm stand and patronize a local grower, even finding one who uses completely organic methods.

Choosing your pumpkin


Large Variety

From the grocery store to the farmer’s market you’ll see all sizes of pumpkins from small and deep orange to large and warty and yellowish. The flesh of all the pumpkins you see have about the same amount of fiber and nutrients, with varying amounts of natural fruit sugar. Usually, the larger the pumpkin, the less sugar and the coarser the fiber.

The smaller pumpkins—not wee tiny but about the size of a small plastic play ball, around three pounds and 20 or so inches in circumference—are bred to be “pie pumpkins” with thick-walled sides, fine smooth flesh and more sugar that average. These are the most versatile since you can use them for pies and other baked goods and use them for your pets. Most sellers have these sorted separately and marked for pies, so don’t worry about taking a lot of gear to weigh and measure.


Medium-sized Pumpkins

The medium-sized pumpkins, like the ones you carve into jack-o’-lanterns, are usually field pumpkins and often fed to livestock. The flesh wall is a little thinner, the flesh itself a little coarser and lighter in color with usually about 75% as much sugar. They aren’t good for pies, but they work just fine for constipation.

The extra-large ones that are often seen in competitions aren’t good for much but gawking at where most of us are concerned, though they are also used for livestock feed. They are raised for size and weight, not nutrition, though they do have fiber and buckets of seeds inside.

pumpkins and gourds

Gourds Displayed in Bins at Market

Be careful of gourds, since there is a gourd that looks like a small pumpkin and some medium-sized ones that are nice to look at as well. Gourds are edible but you probably wouldn’t want to since as they mature they grow more bitter and simply don’t have any of the nutrition or fiber you’d find in pumpkin. Better to let them dry and varnish them for decoration and use as homemade maracas!


Winter Squashes

Consider other winter squashes in your search. Pumpkin really is a winter squash just like butternut or acorn, the two most commonly found in grocery stores or farmer’s markets, and all have about the same amount of fiber and nutritional value. Butternut and acorn have slightly thicker and harder skin, or rind as some call it, and this helps the squash keep raw in your refrigerator or a cold cellar through the winter. Pumpkin has a thinner, softer skin and generally will not keep for more than a month or two.

Preparing your pumpkin

For ease of instructions, I’ll figure you found an average-sized pie pumpkin about the size of the one Mr. Sunshine is investigating or the one in front of it or up on the stand. The fourth one works just fine but is smaller and will yield less puree.

black cat with pumpkin

Mr. Sunshine inspects the pumpkins

Mr. Sunshine’s pumpkin, meant for pies, has flesh about 1” thick or more, weighs about three pounds and measures about 20” in circumference. It feels solid when you pick it up and when you knock on it (not too hard, please).

A pumpkin this size will yield about two cups of pureed pumpkin by either method below.

I roast my pumpkins just like roasted butternut or acorn squash because it takes less time, it’s much neater, it slowly evaporates the extra moisture but leaves enough to make a puree that generally doesn’t separate when used for cooking, and it carmelizes the sugars, which is better for pies than for your cat, but still not bad for them.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, cut your pumpkin in half from top to bottom, pull off the stem and toss on the floor for a cat toy, scoop out the seeds and keep in a bowl (directions for those later). Place the two halves of the pumpkin in a shallow pan with about ¼-cup of water, cover with foil, roast for at least one hour. It’s done when it’s tender by poking with a sharp knife. Let cool, peel, cut into chunks and mash or puree in food processor.

cat jack o lantern

Another Jack O Lantern

Stewing works just fine but you need to have several hours to watch over and stir your pumpkin as it cooks down; when it cooks down to a puree it can spatter, and hot flying pumpkin puree is not fun to deal with, though this is the centuries old method for pumpkin pie filling.

Halve and quarter your pumpkin from top to bottom, toss the stem to the dogs, scoop out the seeds and keep in a bowl. Peel the skin and cut the flesh into 1” chunks, place in heavy pot and add about one cup of water. Set on medium heat, cover, and check about every 15 minutes to stir the chunks and see how they are softening, mashing as they do. When they are all pretty much mashed remove the lid and cook for about an hour to allow the moisture to evaporate. When completely cooked, let cool.

Storing your pumpkin

For your pet’s use, scoop tablespoons of the puree into the sections of an ice cube tray. You can remove the cubes one at a time to thaw and know how many doses you have for the pet in question.

For larger amounts, freeze by the cupful in plastic containers. A 9” pumpkin pie takes about two cups of pumpkin with other ingredients added.

pumpkins with kittens

Kittens and pumpkins

Using other pumpkins

These kittens at my local Agway are modeling slightly larger pumpkins than pie types but not quite jack-o’-lantern sized. With these, you’d simply do the same procedure, but if roasting cut it into smaller pieces.

How about a snack for you? Pumpkin seeds!

Who doesn’t remember the boxes of white pumpkin seeds that were so salty they made you pucker just to smell them? I loved them anyway, and when I found a way to roast my own without all the extra salt I began making a jar of them every year. The nutmeat is very sweet and nutritious, and by the name of pepitos it is included in some recipes. Here you soak the seeds in strong salt water, which helps to soften the shell but just leaves enough salty flavor that doesn’t overpower the nutty flavor.

Rinse the seeds and remove as much of the muck they are stuck to as possible. To a bowl that will hold about twice as much in seeds as you have add a quart of water and ¼-cup of salt. Stir to dissolve; the water can be warm, but not hot. Add the seeds and let soak for 30 minutes to an hour, drain off the liquid. Preheat the oven to 30 degrees, lightly oil a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer, bake for 20 minutes, stir, bake for 20 minutes more. Let seeds cool. Store in tightly closed jar.

cat jack o lantern

Another Cat Face Jack O Lantern

And free bird seed!

Birds LOVE pumpkin seeds and the seeds from any squash or melon. I read about this in one of my birding magazines and tried it with squash seeds I’d saved, placing a quarter cup at a time in the trays of several feeders. There was a sudden bird riot and the squash seeds were gone in minutes.

To prepare clean and soak the seeds 30 minutes in salt water deep enough to cover to soften the seed coating, drain. Roast as outlined above, store for mid winter. You can just let them dry, but it’s difficult to tell they are completely dry so it’s safest to turn on the oven.

And next year…consider growing a few!

Big Cats love pumpkins!

Who would think big cats would play like kittens–with pumpkins! Pretty big pumpkins, swatting them like bizzy balls and chasing them in the water like beach balls! Each year Big Cat Rescue is lucky enough to receive left over pumpkins from stores after Halloween. Pumpkins are a great source of enrichment for the cats, as well as a great source of entertainment for the staff and volunteers at Big Cat Rescue. Watch this video on YouTube: BIG CAT HALLOWEEN!

Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye

cat with grass in planter

Peaches enjoys her snack in the sun © B.E. Kazmarski

Today is one week that I said goodbye to Peaches, at about 11:50 a.m., so I am posting this final article in the series chronicling her battle with renal failure and about caring for a chronically ill pet. This article is rather long because it was intended to be three separate articles spread out over time, but we never really know how much time we have. Peaches’ final time was very quick and I know this was partly her decision; I didn’t want to let her go until she was ready, but I also didn’t want to watch her suffer for any length of time.

After Peaches’ last temporary decline she didn’t recover as quickly as she had in the past; usually I could get her to where she felt better in a day, and back to eating regular cat food in two. The most recent recovery took nearly a week, and though she came all the way back in diet and activity she was weaker than before and I knew there wouldn’t be many more little recoveries. We had had a good year, but I seriously had to start preparing myself for what I knew would come.

Peaches let me know on a Saturday she’d arrived at the final stage and her passing was imminent and I had begun this article about that experience, about “knowing when” and giving support at the very end of an animal’s life while not giving in to your own fears. But things move quickly for a kitty the size and age of Peaches, and I truly believe they can direct a certain amount of the process of what happens with their body. Peaches had everything organized, so I had only to be there and follow along, however unwillingly. I had no time for an article, only for Peaches. This article includes that revelation, her transition and the aftermath but it is not full of sadness; Peaches would have none of sadness.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Peaches was only with me for five years, and came to me at age 15—it seems as if she’s always been with me. We packed a lifetime into those years, beginning on that day as a senior foster when she decided to start a new life as part of my household.

Being prepared

calico cat on stool

Peaches Wants Attention, Now

One of the most frightening things in life is facing the unknown, and in losing your animal companion you take a big scary step into a lot of unknown territory even if you’ve been through the experience already. You may know your animal companion has a chronic illness and their death is eventual if not imminent, and you will literally have life and death decisions to make about a being very dear to you, but you have no idea where or when or how their loss will occur or what you will have to do. Your companion knows, though, and you only need to use your own human intuition and trust your bond of love.

My self-employed schedule is overbooked and erratic, and while I can often rearrange things and most of my customers understand, there are also plenty of times when I’ll be gone for most of a day and I’m really not sure what I’ll find when I get back. This year has been particularly hectic and the last thing I’d want to do is to fail Peaches at this critical time. Where would I be? Would I be ready?

Understanding the disease and symptoms

I had nursed my Stanley through nearly four years of chronic kidney failure when he was in his twenties and Peaches’ sister Cream just ten months after they joined us, and I had also nursed Moses through old-age decline including kidney failure, so I had an understanding of what was happening to Peaches and an idea what to look for as we neared what would likely be the final failure of her kidneys and her distress once that happened.

photo of calico cat on wooden floor

Precious Peaches

Kidneys in any mammal, including humans, have a tough job of filtering waste from the body’s fluids and producing and excreting what becomes urine. They also balance electrolytes, produce erythropoietin which helps stimulate bone marrow to build red blood cells, and renin, an enzyme that helps control blood pressure. The organs can actually perform all this with only 30% of their capacity, but once they are in chronic failure it’s easy to see what can happen to the body if the condition is not somehow treated on a regular basis; likewise when they have failed you can see how that failure will affect the body with toxins building up in the blood and circulating through the entire body, blood pressure increasing without its natural regulator and the heart and other muscles losing function with the imbalance of electrolytes. It’s paralyzing and painful, and not something you want your animal companion to endure for any length of time.

An early visitation

And as I saw Peaches moving into the end stages, needing fluids more frequently but not tolerating big doses, greater nausea, weakness, the odd temporary seizure-like activity and seeming neuropathy in her hind legs, I also had less tangible warnings.

Peaches' Nap Spot, pencil and watercolor

Some time in September, for three or four mornings in a row, I sensed a kitty walking behind me as I sat on the floor and doled out breakfast. With nine hungry cats all milling around it’s hard to follow where everyone is. I thought it might be Cookie since for her own personal reasons she would often walk around behind me to eat next to the stove. I turned around to see who it was, but Cookie was accounted for, as was everyone else, and there was no kitty there.

I stood leaning against the stove contemplating the visitor while Peaches continued happily with her breakfast. I wondered which of my kitties who’d transitioned might be visiting as that happened now and then, but I felt I’d recognize any of them and I did not recognize this visitor. I knew then that it had to do with Peaches and that her time would be soon, I can’t explain why or say that this has ever clearly happened this far in advance with my other cats, though it has happened on the day they transitioned. I just knew that the kitty was coming to welcome Peaches to the other side, and perhaps to reassure me. I wondered if it might have been her sister, Cream, but the visitor didn’t give me the sense of her; Peaches had 15 years before she came to me and it could have been any kitty from all those years. I remembered that I was visualizing a rather small kitty, perhaps dark in color, putting its tail in the air as it walked behind me and I realized the visitor seemed a lot like Peaches herself and thought it might have been her mother.

The unexpected sign

photo of calico cat

Peaches Wakes Me Up

Peaches had been eating well, was very active and alert and even that embarrassing issue, bowel movements, hadn’t been too much of a problem for the first time in a long time. First thing Saturday morning she was milling around in the bathroom upstairs with everyone else, drinking at all the water bowls and looking at me, blinking, to inquire about breakfast. We all went downstairs together and it still amazed me as it had from the beginning that she ran with the big cats, literally, and tiny as she was and playful as they were she’d never been even accidentally hurt. She had a great breakfast, jumping up onto the food tin then to the table and to her position on the cabinet to pace around making her little “hmmpf” noises that were as close as she ever came to a meow, leaning off the edge with her ears and whiskers at full alert and her big round pea green eyes focused on the can of food, even swatting at it and nearly falling—“Give me that now!” She always ate one good serving then several smaller servings through the rest of the day until dinner (every 42 minutes), coming to find me and lead me into the kitchen if I wasn’t aware her food alarm had sounded.

In the early afternoon she trotted up to the bathroom and curled up in the cat bed, though on a Saturday she’d normally be in the kitchen or she’d follow me around as long as she had patience for it.

Because she was always near me or would come to find me I could easily and frequently check her condition through the day, but by late afternoon I realized she was still sleeping in the bathroom and hadn’t come to ask for food. This meant something was the matter, whether she was experiencing nausea and reflux again or she was constipated again, if she’d vomited and her throat hurt, all symptoms that were part of her advanced kidney failure. This was what had happened two weeks before, and if these conditions weren’t somewhat resolved within hours she would begin to lose ground rapidly, quickly dehydrating, developing greater nausea, physically weakening and losing a little more normal kidney function.

She was very dehydrated and her breath smelled strong, that particular uremic odor that is associated with renal failure in animals as well as humans. I gave her 75cc of fluids—she’d been having some difficulty absorbing 100cc of fluids, and I could give her more later—one quarter of a Pepcid, took her temperature (normal) and invited her downstairs to eat. I preferred to see how they moved when I was trying to assess their condition so I wanted her to walk, to watch her movements and see if she followed her usual routine.

She sat on the landing, a little crouched, and her fur had that peculiar sticky look of an animal who is ill, her eyes not fully open and a little glazed and unfocused. Yes, she was feeling pretty bad, but I’d seen this before and it would just take some gentle nurturing and nutrition to bring her around to feeling well again.

Eventually following me down the stairs and across the living room though not at her usual brisk trot, she hesitated as she passed through each room and again when she reached her little stepping sequence of food tin-table-counter, but eventually made it up and stood and looked at me. This was actually a good sign; even if she didn’t eat, or didn’t eat much, she was showing up which meant she was willing to work on it.

photo of cat on table

Your 42 minutes is up.

I started with the food I’d opened that morning which she’d eaten with gusto a few hours before, but she just sniffed it and looked at me. Okay, maybe it wasn’t fresh enough, next food. I have never been successful with any renal diet so I prefer to feed my usual brand of food, but in Peaches’ condition she often needed something a little more enticing so I had little cans of salmon pate on hand in various brands because that was her favorite. As my veterinarian had always said, eating something, even of questionable quality, was better than not eating at all. Beyond these little cans of food I also had several jars of turkey or chicken and broth baby food, and I also had just enough raw venison, salmon and free-range turkey in the freezer to shave off and thaw in my fingers for small meals. And as supplements to these I had NutriCal, a high-calorie paste nutrition supplement in a tube, and CatSure, a milk-based caloric supplement.

She had absolutely no interest in the salmon pate, licked a little NutriCal off the tube, turned her back on the CatSure, which really shocked me because she would lap that up no matter how she felt. This was very unusual since she would usually eat just a little of each thing before she turned away, if only to get me to stop pestering her. I was considering what was in the freezer but gave her another try at the food, adding warm water and waving it under her nose.

She turned her head completely away then looked back up at me. “I’m not going to eat any more,” she said, holding my gaze. These were not words, but I understood it as clearly as if she had said it in that particular way my Kublai had taught me years ago.

And just as clearly as that, I knew we weren’t going to turn this one around. She was aware of her body’s own function and knew that to fight it would be pointless. Time was now finite.

I reached out to pet her, to let her know I understood and agreed and would do all I could to keep her comfortable; this I could do before the reality penetrated my shock. Starting at the top of her head and running my hand down her spine had become like petting a picket fence, her hip bones protruded, she couldn’t keep her fur clean any more, even standing she was practically sitting because of the weakness in her hind legs. Up to now she was willing to let my palliative care soothe and heal her body as far as it could be, but she had no interest in suffering or forcing her body to do something it no longer could. In all practicality she would simply wait for the end.

And in that moment I was filled with wonder at the courage of a little cat who could so bravely face this decision and share it with me.

And though I’d been practicing for the past month or so, I began seriously imagining my home, my daily routine, without Peaches. She would be the strong one, but I would be damned if I’d break down and cry every time I looked at her—that would distance me from her and I might not hear some important communication from her. These were our last days, and they would be as good as they could be, I would love her all the more while she was still here. As I had also done during the past few months, I thanked all those who had gone before Peaches who taught me the importance of this.

And though Peaches didn’t like to be picked up and hugged and kissed, I gently picked her up and held her close, burying my face into the top of her head and kissing her little cheek. She was so tiny she was lost in my embrace. She understood and let me persist for a few seconds, then struggled to get her own footing again. We shared a long look.

End of life palliative care

That didn’t mean I’d just let her starve and sink deeper into the pain of her illness. The effects of end-stage renal failure are painful as the toxins slowly build up in the body, so for as long as she would want to get up and go about her day, however minimal, I’d keep her comfortable. That meant managing her nausea with Pepcid and slippery elm bark tea, continued doses of fluids, and even small doses of prednisone to help her manage her pain and move around more easily.

four black cats and calico

The Big Four With Peaches

Through Saturday night and Sunday I regularly offered her the cat food, baby food, raw meat and supplements, but she only licked a little NutriCal and seemed to enjoy it. She hadn’t been able to sleep with me because she was uncomfortable on my bed, and I’d been putting her and Kelly in the bathroom overnight with canned food so they could eat at will and Kelly could keep her company. That weekend I sat with her for a while in the bathroom each night and even put out a little food, though I’m sure Kelly ate it, but I got up early and brought her into my bed for a nap together in the morning, a compromise, but sleeping on me or next to me had always been one of her pleasures.

On Monday I called my veterinarian to report this recent change and ask what her schedule was at the end of the week to schedule an appointment for euthanasia, assuming I’d have that much time. I’d need another bag of fluids to get me through the week, which I’d pick up the next day, and I’d keep in touch with her through the week.

An amazing coincidence of supportive events

It isn’t Peaches’ fault I’ve been keeping late hours and early mornings lately, just an overload of work for which I’m grateful; it’s been a slow year. I was up late Sunday night preparing for the Monday morning deluge of calls and faxes at my desk, and Peaches was on my lap for as long as she was comfortable. I slept briefly, then went through my Monday while keeping an eye on her condition.

I had a display of 14 photos to frame to be hung on Tuesday in time for a Wednesday business mixer at my local public library. I had the frames and went to Costco to get the photos in the afternoon.

I also had an appointment with a new portrait customer who had contacted me through Deb Chebatoris at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation where a few of my portraits hang. The man had lost his two Himalayan half-sisters and finally decided he’d get their portrait done. From what he was describing the portrait would be beautiful, and I looked forward to meeting him and his wife and talking to them about their cats and their portrait and Deb. Indeed the meeting was wonderful, hearing about the two beautiful girls and how they’d been so loved, telling them that I was one of Deb’s families as well, and that my little Peaches, right there on my desk, would soon join the others. Their sympathy and understanding were very comforting.

calico cat

Peaches Inspects the Framing

Then I set up the work table and boxes of frames to let everyone explore them before I began working, sat down with Peaches to finish off a few design assignments before I began framing, which I knew would take me into the wee hours. I could have been doing many other things not so enjoyable that particular night, but arranging my photos, making final decisions on which was in and which was out, and seeing them in their frames as the night went on and visualizing the display was probably the most calming activity for a long night of work and vigilance.

And Peaches was there on my desk chair, watching me and receiving her pets when I took breaks, even jumping from the chair to the table while I was finishing things up to investigate all my tools and rub her little face on the corners of frames. It seemed to me that she wasn’t sleeping either though all the others had long since found comfortable places in the room, but was staying up all night with me. This would actually be our last night together, and I will always treasure the memory of her attention to me, her gentle curiosity, and being a part of whatever I did.

More design work the next day, then I fed them dinner before I packed off to hang the photos. Peaches still went into the kitchen for dinner, up on the tin, the table, the counter, even though she didn’t eat. Before I left I put her and Kelly into the bathroom, knowing I’d be gone for hours and she was just weak enough that I didn’t want to risk a fall.

The beginning of the end

calico cat in bed

Peaches in Her Bed

When I returned home around 11:00 that night I could see the change had come. Peaches was curled in the bed, but barely lifted her head when I came in. She made brief eye contact, but put her head back down, breathing easily but with no intention to get up. The final process had started and I had only to be with her, watch and wait for signs.

I left the bathroom door open and sat on the floor next to the bed, petting her in the dim light I kept in there at night. The others wandered in and out and sniffed her and with the exhaustion from several late nights I dozed off and on, leaning against the wall, my hand on her shoulder. At one point she woke up, got up on very wobbly legs, peed on the rug in her favorite spot, visited the water bowl then wandered out the door. With me close behind she visited the water bowl on the landing, looked down the steps, wandered around my room, then stood looking into the spare bedroom, my studio, where she’d started out here, then went back into the bathroom, curled up in the bed again and laid there, not sleeping, just breathing and blinking her eyes, and never left the bed again. I would guess she was saying goodbye to her house.

Had it been daytime I would have called my vet right then, and I considered her condition and a drive to the emergency clinic, but decided that unless she showed some extreme symptoms she was better off here, and I would stay with her. Having been with the others at this point, she could go for hours or even days like this. Cookie curled on my lap and purred, touching my face to comfort me. At one point I went to lie on my bed and came back to find her the same.

My veterinarian’s hours for phone calls begin at 9:00 a.m. and I was waiting for that hour when I noticed that Peaches’ breathing had become more rapid and shallow, and her tail, which had been curled in the bed was now leaning out of the bed, stiffly twisted with the tip twitching.

I had learned from my veterinarian that these sorts of things were sometimes the only signs of pain we might see, this and the rapid, shallow breathing meant she had reached a painful state. I paged my veterinarian, who, though her van was in the shop, agreed to stop by around 11:00 or so that morning as she’d still be doing her calls.

three black cats

The Guardians

Then I called Deb, and while I always kid when I call her—“Don’t need your services today, just calling about the website” or some such—“Deb, it’s Peaches’ time,” was all I could manage. I gave her the appointment time and couldn’t say any more. “So it’s finally the day,” she said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m glad I could be here for you.” I had started to cry at having to say it out loud, and I just whispered I’d see her later.

I couldn’t imagine how this would be without her and my veterinarian both standing as my main supports.

So now it was a matter of hours, though as Peaches’ condition progressed I could feel her slipping away. I continued sitting with her, little by little preparing myself for the day; I noticed that she already felt cold, a certain sign her kidneys had completely failed as her body temperature dropped.

I left briefly to e-mail Judi that I couldn’t be at the shop for my Wednesday hours. I called a friend and asked if he could finish the final details I’d left for hanging the last two photos as I’d run out of wire. I let my friend Maggie at the Library know someone else would be finishing things up but I’d still be there that night, and what was happening. I posted a quick post on my blog and Facebook, all the while crying, hoping I’d get it out of my system so I wouldn’t cry in the room with Peaches.

door with patterns

Patterns of Light and Shadow

Then I sat with her for the last time and all the other cats except Mimi came in and checked on us, the three boys standing guard outside the door, a little confused and concerned. I watched the shadows of leaves on the wooden door right in front of me, light and shadow and shape ever changing. Watching it greatly comforted me, and it seemed to describe what was happening with Peaches just then.

My veterinarian arrived and came upstairs. We shuffled around in the tiny little bathroom, and Peaches opened her eyes one last time and looked in my direction as she administered the first injection. When it had taken effect we moved Peaches to my bed where Mewsette and Mr. Sunshine supervised the second injection, and she was gone in just moments. We sat with her for a short while, then Mewsette kept watch as I walked them out the door.

two cats

Cookie Sees Peaches Off

I returned and sat with Peaches, joined by Cookie who curled up next to her. All the others, again except Mimi, came to see her. Soon enough it would be time to drive to CCPC, and after all the late nights and vigilance and emotion and crying I was suddenly famished and had a comforting bowl of oatmeal for strength.

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

I visit Deb’s place so often as we work on projects together, but when I am there as a customer it’s quite different. Deb is her quiet comforting self, willing to sit for a while as I stroke my beloved companion for the last times and tell her stories. But even though I’ve now lost 13 cats and visited Deb six times before Peaches, and I knew Peaches wasn’t in her body anymore and I’d done my best to prepare myself, I still know that when I hand Peaches to Deb it’s the last time I’ll see Peaches, and this truly feels like the final moment. After this, I’ll only have my paintings, sketches, photos and memories, and while they are many, giving up that physical connection for me is the hardest part of letting go. I’m so glad I trust Deb as I do. I left Deb joking that she had now received seven of the thirteen pets I’d lost and she was “winning”.

Time on my hands

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

One of the aftereffects I will always remember from my first losses is that void which had been previously filled with physical and emotional caretaking. It’s only then we realize how much time we were spending doing something for our pet, thinking about them and just being with them, and suddenly the object of all that good intention is gone to be filled with our thoughts and memories, and often that’s when the true sadness starts unless we find some way to deal with that void and turn our thoughts to good memories and positive things. I left everything around the house as it was for a few days, but I wasn’t here much, finding reasons to be out more than usual, and adjusting to the change in my household a little at a time. I was also pretty stiff after sitting on a cold tile floor leaning against the wall for many nights and needed some physical activity to loosen up.

Mealtimes are always worst after a loss, but with Peaches’ constant joy at the event all the years she was with me they were suddenly very quiet so I decided to thaw and feed the meats in the freezer and get some special canned food to fill the silence.

Not feeling guilty about care and cleanup ending

At the end of your companion’s life, along with whatever palliative care you are offering and time you are generally spending with your companion, you’ll often find yourself cleaning up a lot of little messes that are a result of their physical condition. It’s easy to feel frustrated with the amount of time you’re spending, the things that aren’t getting done, the things being ruined, extra money you may be spending on special food that’s wasted, and a long list of other things that may even make you resentful, which in turn makes you feel guilty. This intense caretaking isn’t meant to last forever, it’s physically and emotionally exhausting and while you win small battles you know the end is that your pet will die.

Peaches never practiced proper litterbox etiquette; I always got the feeling her sister dominated Peaches and the food bowl and litterbox, so Peaches responded by not eating much and not using the box. Though she certainly learned to love her meals, she never got with the litterbox habit, using the basement floor for solids and any floor for liquids no matter how I tried to reconfigure the litterbox to meet her specifications. I always had little surprises and was always washing rugs, keeping anything important off the floor. When she went into kidney failure everything went out the window and I was constantly cleaning up, period. I actually said to Peaches, “I won’t miss this when you’re not here any more,” which didn’t make any apparent difference to her but certainly made me feel better, especially as I stepped into another little puddle, or worse…

I finally washed the rug that had been in the bathroom and replaced it with the “good” rug I’d packed away for most of this year. I also put a rug in front of the kitchen sink again, a new one I wasn’t going to use until the coast was clear.

Since then

calico on bed

Peaches Napping

As another part of the set of nurturing circumstances around Peaches’ transition, I was actually looking forward to the business mixer that night because I’d see so many friends, all of whom knew me and my cats and Peaches, and all of whom would be compassionate and understanding. Normally, I’d be at my desk or in my studio, alone but for my other kitties, but sometimes we need the company of members of our own species, and this was one of them. I also had the excitement of my photo exhibit to help fill some of the void. While it may have seemed like an inconvenient time with all that was going on, I thanked Peaches for choosing to leave at a time when I’d have all these comforting circumstances to help ease the first hours my grief.

The next day back in the office, I stood up from my desk in the middle of the afternoon, took two steps and stopped, trying to remember why I’d gotten up, then I remembered that for the past several months I’d now be following Peaches’ lead into the kitchen after she’d walked all over my desk and stared deep into my eyes to tell me it was time to have another little snack, or if she hadn’t alerted me to my oversight I’d go look for her, curled in the cozy bed in the bathroom. I took a moment to picture her walking ahead of me certain I was following, around the cabinet, up on the food tin, on the table, on the cabinet, her own routine which she followed every day until her last, then waiting at the corner of the cabinet for me to serve the next meal. I walked to the kitchen doorway and looked at the spot on the corner of the cabinet where she’d be looking right at me, usually flanked by Kelly and Cookie waving their tails, her tri-color partners in crime, but the cabinet was empty and the kitchen was quiet and still. I savored that moment too, remembering how close we’d become and how we’d worked together for her health and comfort, how completely she trusted me, and how lucky I was to have received her unquestioning love and trust. I wanted so badly just to touch her, but I could feel her there in that moment and I accepted just that.

calico and black kittens

Peaches teaches the kittens what it's like to be ignored.

Peaches dominated my lap and my desk for even longer than she’d been in kidney failure, and except for Cookie it took a day or two to realize the space was open. Everyone has been reshuffling since then, parading across my lap and filling up my desk, and everyone has started seriously playing and galloping around the house.

Because Dickie also went with his mom just a few weeks ago it’s difficult to remember sometimes how many cats I have. I am down to seven, I never got accustomed to saying “eight”, and I’ve actually caught myself saying “nine” still.

And the color composition of my household has changed too. With her pastel peach and gray and white fur, Peaches was truly the light of the clowder; now I have five black cats and two torties, and it’s a little dark in here. Where we had been the “Tri-color Trio” with Cookie, Kelly and Peaches, we’re also back to just my tortie girls, the “Two Torties”, as we were for years before Peaches came along.

Memories appear everywhere

calico cat with plant

Peaches Prepares for a Nap

I browse my photos every day to use for my designs and fill photo requests, and I encounter photos of Peaches all the time as I browse. It’s good to see her around the house, looking amazingly young for her years or doing something I’d forgotten she did.

I was in the grocery store this past weekend. I’m not the biggest grocery store shopper and remembered that the last time I’d been there was the weekend previous to stock up on baby food and Peaches’ favorite treat foods, she’d still been alive and not yet let me know it was time. I didn’t need to go there but I walked to the pet food aisle and looked at each of the foods that had been her favorites, remembering her and echoes of others for whom I’d made the special shopping trips.

I can replace my rugs and tile and other items around the house and gladly, because I can never replace the relationships that changed my life. What they gave me is worth more than anything I own, especially their daily inspirations. I will be painting Peaches for a long time to come.

A Sweet Award

Peaches and Peonies Detail

Peaches and Peonies Detail, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

I was honored and excited to see that “Peaches and Peonies” had won a Certificate of Excellence in the illustration category for my line of feline art cards in the Cat Writer’s Association Annual Communication Contest.

I also won another Certificate in the contest, for my poem “Pawprints and Raindrops” which was published in the April issue of Catnip Chronicles. Kelly is the subject of this poem, and they used “Sunday Morning”, a painting of Moses, as the illustration.

The Cat Writer’s Annual Communication Contest includes self-submitted works in categories from books and articles to websites and cartoons, anything published that includes feline interests as its subject. The Certificates are awarded to works achieved 90 points or above in a scale of 100 as judged by our peers. The entry receiving the highest award in each category wins a Muse Medallion, but this won’t be announced until the Cat Writer’s annual conference in November.

I have also entered Peaches’ image in one of the special award categories focused on senior cats, so we’ll see in November how it goes. I was hesitating to plan for the conference seeing Peaches’ condition as we came into the autumn, but now I can consider it.

Many thanks for your condolences

I’d like to thank everyone who commented, e-mailed, sent e-cards or whatever else you’ve done to let me know you care. Every message is another step to healing, and I’m sure Peaches is off somewhere knowing she deserves the memories. Because she came to me as a senior I knew our time would be brief, but still it’s hard to believe she was only with me for five years—we packed a lifetime into those five years. As she slipped into chronic kidney failure this spring and very slowly gave into it, and especially in the past week, she and I had plenty of time to think about what life would be like without her here and I used these many late nights to convince myself to face this reality. I have the wisdom of the twelve cats who’ve crossed the Bridge before Peaches and who taught me to accept it by preparing myself because they wanted their last moments with me to be moments of joy, not pain, and they didn’t want to see me suffering any more than I would see them suffer. I actually feel Peaches’ elation at being freed of the body that was holding her back.

So for now, and for always, I will remember her in that moment of inspiration that became her portrait, pretty, petite, and simply going about her daily routine.

Future articles

I have had a number of articles in the works for September and October, but Peaches’ constantly changing condition was my priority in the past two months and I was hard pressed to even write the articles about her that I had planned. When she began to refuse food last weekend, I knew her time was imminent and was writing an article about “how you know” and how to prepare yourself. I thought we had a few more days, but with a kitty the size and age of Peaches, changes happen quickly. She was fully in charge and knew exactly what to do and where to go, and I only followed along to support her. I will finish this article with a slightly different ending than I had thought, but I will take a little more time with it.

I will also finish off the other articles I have on hand—I have three portrait commissions right now and some artwork I’ve been planning, I had word that the subject of a portrait I’d done years ago has crossed the Bridge and I’d like to tell you about her, and a friend’s cat is approaching a critical state with his heart condition. I also have information on processing your own pumpkin for your pets, and about getting out your feeders for your backyard birds as well as saving vegetable seeds to feed to them through the winter. And for Halloween, some stories of feline visits.

As I’ve traveled around to shows and festivals this year, I’ve found some truly unique handmade feline-oriented merchandise inspired by actual kitties just as my work is, and I’ll be writing up these stories and providing links on where to find the goods.

I also have lots of feline photos, including many of Peaches looking darned good in her last few days, and the Gang of Four, and sometimes their mom, complaining about the drop in temperatures.

Sweet Peaches

pastel painting of a cat on a table with peonies

Peaches and Peonies, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Please send Peaches lots of love and energy as she transitions this morning. The process began last night, and we are now waiting for our veterinarian; this afternoon we’ll be meeting with our friend Deb at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. I am so glad these wonderful supportive people are here for us now.

Peaches took another little downturn over the weekend, but we didn’t find any solution to helping her to return to comfort and wellness and she began refusing food. I was just preparing another article about knowing the time was imminent, but Peaches took things into her own little paws. She looked at me last night and said, “Don’t worry.”

Until later, thanks for letting us share Peaches’ journey.