Somewhere Out There…

black cat looking out window

Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight...

Mlle Daisy Marguerite, mon cherie, amore mio…I am thinking of you this evening. I hope your move to the city goes well, and I hope you do not forget me…

[Miss Daisy truly is moving this weekend to a new apartment, in a city with a university, galleries, bistros…Giuseppe is just a young kitty, and so far away…]

Read the continuing love affair between young Giuseppe and his Canadian love.

And the Affaire Continues

Giuseppe Mewses About Mlle Marguerite

Giuseppe’s Secret Admirer

The Mystery Deepens: A Photo of Daisy Marguerite

The Envelope, Please?

A Package to Colborne

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 Creative Cat Welcomes Guest Columnist Karen Sable

Karen Sable with cat and dog models.

Karen Sable with cat and dog models.

In June I took a certification class in Pet First Aid with Karen Sable of Pet Emergency Training, LLC; I had also written a press release about the class for Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation, the host of the class, so I’d interviewed Karen. I was so impressed with her knowledge and experience that I recently asked her if she’d write a monthly column for me on timely topics concerning pet first aid and disaster preparedness for our pets.

But we almost missed the first column for a disaster! She was on call for deployment during the days we watched Hurricane Irene roll up the coast, but thankfully did not have to leave.

Karen’s first column will publish this Friday on the very timely topic of disaster preparedness, and the first Friday of every month thereafter, with perhaps a story from the field in between.

pet first aid class

Our Pet First Aid Class

Certifications and affiliations

Karen is the founder and owner of Pet Emergency Training, LLC, and both teaches the full spectrum of pet first aid and is on call for deployment with several national and local rescue response organizations who arrive after disasters to set up rescue shelters for animals.

Karen holds a Veterinary Assistant diploma, and her training certifications include Emergency Animal Sheltering, Large Animal Rescue, Animals in Disaster, Livestock in Disaster, Hazardous Materials, Incident Command and National Incident Management.

She completed the Pet Tech Instructor program in March, 2011, and is a trained responder with several national animal response/rescue teams, including American Humane’s Red Star Animal Emergency Services Team, United Animal Nations’ Emergency Animal Rescue Service, and Noah’s Wish Disaster Response Team.

She is also a member of the PA/Allegheny County Animal Response Team and Westmoreland County Animal Response Team, and is a volunteer animal rescue transporter.

Before animal rescue

Prior to Karen’s current career in animal rescue, she did something else entirely, though it was still in a helping profession. She spent 25 years as the Human Resources Director at Mayview State Hospital in Bridgeville, PA.

“I don’t know why I didn’t go into animal medicine, but I started out in pre-med, and was bored out of my mind, I just wanted to skip all the boring stuff and go right into surgery—at 17 in college, how do you know what you want to do with your life?” she said. She studied labor relations and attended the University of Pittsburgh for graduate school in Human Resources, and began her career in Harrisburg working with labor relations, eventually moving on to her position at Mayview.

“But ever since I was a little kid I’ve always had a thing for animals—I was the kid who brought all the strays home,” she remarked. “My mom raised canaries, and she was the woman in the neighborhood to whom all the neighbors brought their sick animals. I remember using a toothpick to splint the leg on a canary,” Karen recalled.

While in her position as Human Resources Director, Karen decided she wanted to begin a career change and finished two full semesters in veterinary technician training.

Next, she needed to complete a 200 hour clinical practicum to graduate, but Mayview State Hospital was closing, a long and complicated process in which the Human Resources Director plays a big part as departments are closed and union and non-union employees are released. She and her department were putting in 10 and 12 hour workdays, coming in on weekends.

“That made it impossible to put in 25 hours a week in a practicum, and you have to do it within a certain period of time,” she explained.

Once things calmed down moved over to veterinary assistant training and graduated with her certification.

bandage on dog model

A successful bandage.

Then came Hurricane Katrina

While she had begun her training in animal medicine a few years before the event, “I got involved in disaster response watching Hurricane Katrina, seeing animals on rooftops, knowing people had to leave them behind and that many of them would die without help,” Karen explained. “I decided that the next time something like that happened I wanted to be a part of it.”

Hurricane Katrina changed the way disasters are handled for both people and animals, Karen noted.

“That was the first time anyone realized that people wouldn’t leave without their animals, and if they didn’t do something for the animals they’d be rescuing a lot of people who decided to stay behind,” she said. “And it was truly a wonderful thing that so many people just went to New Orleans and did what they could, but we learned that the effort needed to be organized.”

While the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was passed to set standards for human disaster relief, the PETS Act amends that legislation “to ensure that State and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.” It also “authorizes FEMA to provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals, and to the household pets and animals themselves following a major disaster or emergency.”

This was an immense change in the way our society considered animals, especially domestic pets, and it also led to basic standards for organizations who specialized in assistance for animals after a disaster. Some organizations had always been there, ready to deploy to disaster sites, such as the American Humane Association and Humane Society of the United States. New organizations formed, such as Noah’s Wish created in direct response to Hurricane Katrina, and basic standards for training were set so that rescuers could travel with any of the organizations and know the procedures.

In order to comply with the PETS Act, states and municipalities form an agreement with one or more of the rescue organizations so that they can call on them at the time of a disaster. Trained individuals become affiliated with one or more groups and are on call to be deployed if needed during an emergency.

woman muzzling dog

Student learning to improvise a muzzle.

Deployments so far, disasters and rescues

“I set up with Allegheny Response Team during the flooding in Pittsburgh in 2004 and I spent a few days recently in Arkansas after the tornadoes there,” Karen said. “The organizations set up the shelter and I provided first aid and care to the animals in the shelter.”

But deployments are not always around disasters—often they are rescues as well.

“In rural southeast Ohio, over 260 pit bulls were rescued from a breeding and suspected dogfighting ring, and kept for a number of weeks in a shelter until the animals could be adopted and taken by rescue groups for adoption,” she said. “And there was a huge hoarding situation in Elk County [PA] where we set up a shelter to care for about 400 cats.

“In these cases the animals often need to be kept for a longer period of time because they not only need to be rescued, but they are also evidence in a crime,” she said.

While the PETS Act only provides for domestic pets and service animals, “There’ve been times when we’ve had dogs and cats and cows and emus to take care of, we just do our best with whatever animal needs help.”

And while being on site after a disaster or seeing the results of hoarding or dogfighting can be traumatic, “You meet some of the most awesome people in rescue situations,” Karen remarked.

Not just natural disasters, and preparedness for our pets

Speaking of fairly weather-calm southwestern Pennsylvania, Karen said, “We live in an area where there aren’t those big natural disasters—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes—but we do have these other possibilities to consider.

“What if you live near railroad tracks? Remember ‘Snowmageddon’? Marcellus gas wells are popping up everywhere and there have been fires and chemicals associated. There are a lot of things that happen locally that we need to be aware of,” she continued. “What if the police knocked on your door and said you had 15 minutes to evacuate?”

Obviously, being prepared for disasters is something we all need to do for our pets and ourselves and there might be much less rescue as a result. In addition to her first aid classes, “What I’m hoping to do is put together sort of a 90-minute presentation on pet disaster preparedness to help people get materials together and be ready to leave if they need to,” she said.

Caring for senior pets as part of pet first aid

“Animals, because we’re taking better care of them, are living longer,” Karen said. Senior pet care is offered as part of the eight-hour Pet Tech “Pet Saver” class, but she’d also like to do a 90-minute segment on senior pet care. ” Some folks may not be able to fit the full five-hour certification class into their schedule, but may have a senior pet, and would like to at least learn about things they can do to improve the quality of their senior pet’s life,” she said.

karen's cats

Two of Karen's current household.

Karen’s pets

Karen’s pets must be the luckiest pets around to have such a skilled mom! Because of her schedule she always kept only cats, and even now that she is retired from her position at Mayview, her teaching and deployments keep her away. She lives with four cats at the moment, and is about to foster two more for a relative who is expecting a child, plus she feeds a number of strays and ferals in her back yard and is an “aunt” to two schnauzers, Maddy and Rocky.

She did put a good many of her skills to the test for one of her own cats a few years ago. “Sometimes there is a pet who becomes that special part of your life, and Lacey was that for me,” she recalls. “First she was diagnosed with hyperthyroid disease and she’d spit out her medicine, so I had the radioactive treatment done,” Karen explained. “She came through that fine, but two years later developed nasal lymphoma, and after chemo that went into remission for a couple of years, then it showed up in her intestine and we did chemo for that.”

Lacey never had any reaction to the chemo and remained “queen of the house”. “You could do anything to her, she was fine and dandy with whatever they did at the vet’s and they just loved her.” Lacey needed tube feeding after the treatments started. “For years I had an IV hanging in my living room,” she said.

As for the cats she feeds in her back yard, “They have it like Club Med back there—the three that I see nearly every day that are out there waiting for breakfast every morning, and I’d better never be late!” she said. She bought a feral cat feeding station and for winter has a heated water dish for the cats, heated cat house, as well as heaters in bird baths. “They are all are well taken care of,” she said, including the raccoons, groundhogs and other animals which come to visit.

Meeting Deb Chebatoris and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Karen and I are both families whose cats have been cared for by Deb Chebatoris and I asked how she first found out about Deb.

“I saw an article in the paper and cut it out and kept it because I knew I’d need it sometime,” Karen said. “It came time for Cagney, my first cat, and I called her and discovered what a wonderful setup she had.”

I look forward to bringing you Karen’s articles beginning this Friday on the topic of Disaster Preparedness. October is National Pet Wellness Month, November is Senior Pet Adoption Month, December is the holidays, full of dangers, and Karen will also be writing on these topics as well.

Karen’s website is

Mother and Daughter

two black cats

Mother and Daughter

Mimi was purrfectly content on the box by the window until Mewsette came to “share” it with her by practically lying down on top of her and throwing a really big shadow over her. It’s a good thing Mimi is small, having such large children, but she is one patient mom. They can enjoy the morning sunbath together.

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.

Donation to a WPHS Event and a Visit to the Cat Colony Room

me with kittens

Help, I'm surrounded (there's one behind me too)!

Help! I’m being mobbed by kittens!

Not that I mind, in fact that’s kind of the point of the Cat Colony Room at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society (WPHS)—to get you in touch with your inner kitten, and hopefully with your next kitten or adult cat best friend.

I recently visited in order to drop off my donation to the WPHS Best Friends’ Calendar 2012 Preview Event upcoming on September 13 (details below), a certificate for me to create a commissioned portrait for the winner.

kitten on shelf

He blends right in!

The Cat Colony Room

Of course, I couldn’t pass up a visit to the newly-developed room which opened just this past June with the purpose of providing more room for 10 or more kittens to live together and run and play, and a space for people to walk in, sit down on the floor and have kittens crawl all over them so they’ll just be able to get to know them a little better before adopting.

“This used to be a storage room full of cabinets to store food and things for the cats and rabbits and sinks to clean the litter boxes,” said Gretchen Feiser, Director of PR and Business Relationships for WPHS who took the time to give me a tour. “We had only one room for meeting cats, and on a busy Saturday people get frustrated with waiting—and we certainly don’t want that if they’ve come here to adopt!”

orange kittens on shelf

Kittens wake up, ready for play!

They made a decision in spring to create a second feline meeting room room in time for the dreaded “kitten season” to help with housing the overflow of kittens and the occasional backup of adopters.

“These kittens have come back from foster homes,” Gretchen continued, explaining that they try to get litters of kittens brought in for surrender into foster homes “until they are a good age and good weight for spay or neuter.”

Normally there are many more kittens in the Cat Colony Room, but this morning there were four, all girls, all spayed and ready for homes. The brown tabby who greeted us at the door and had a thing for my shoes was Zipper, at 11 weeks. The three orange kittens were all 12 weeks and all from one litter: Ringo, the orange and white girl; Lala, the orange tabby; and Sasha Fierce, the cream tabby—now there’s a name to tell you about a kitty!

gretchen with kitten

Gretchen with Zipper.

The importance of foster homes

The kittens chewed on our shoes and pulled on our earrings and climbed all over us, apparently secure in the knowledge that humans are just big cat toys, as Gretchen explained the importance of foster homes for kittens and all other animals in the shelter.

Kittens often come into the shelter too young to adopt, even needing to be bottle-fed, they may have illnesses common to young kittens, may have been found orphaned and need nurturing, or they may have been born outdoors and never been socialized with people. Kittens do much better in a home situation in the hands of people who are willing to feed and cuddle and play with kittens to socialize them and introduce them to children and other pets and a true home situation so that when they are adopted they know how to behave.

“We have a great group of foster homes,” Gretchen said, adding that they numbered over 100 at the moment, ready to take pets of any age for wellness, socialization and cage breaks.

“But we need more, especially at this time of year,” she continued. “We took in 48 cats on Tuesday [August 23], and we adopted out 11.”

Those foster homes help take care of the overflow of animals, especially cats during the summer. A typical foster session may be only days to give an cat a break from being in the shelter, or it may be a week or two if they are being treated for an illness such as an upper respiratory infection and need medication, or it may be a month or two in the case of young kittens. In all cases, WPHS covers the cost of medication and veterinary care in their own shelter clinic.

“And then they come here like this, friendly, healthy and ready to play,” said Gretchen as she cuddled an orange kitten.

“If you want to adopt but can’t, or you want to help out but can’t come here to volunteer, you can always foster,” she added.

volunteers with kitten

Volunteer Cat Cuddlers


While we were there two Volunteer Cat Cuddlers, Siobhan and Sean, came in to play with the kittens.

“We come in about twice a week,” said Siobhan, “and we really do hug kitties!”

person with kittens

Sean with kittens.

“We take them out of the cages and visit with them too,” Sean added as a kitten was hanging off his glasses and another was climbing up his back.

We continued playing with the kittens until they started piling up for a nap.

The wonderful adult cats

Next we visited the cages in the main cat room and played with as many kitties as we could.

yoshi and miko

Yoshi and Miko

Yoshi, a long-haired tortoiseshell, 8 months, and Miko, a long-haired tabby, 2 years, had come from a home where there were “too many cats”. They were a beautiful pair of kitties, playful, gregarious, curious—anyone who adopted these two would have a home instantly full of the loving and playful companionship of two cats who were best buddies, ready to be best buddies with you.



Peaches, white with a few orange spots, looked cool and distant at first, until she fell down on her side and began begging for pets, nearly falling out of her cage!



Gizmo is a big and quiet kitty, long-haired tabby with white, but I could tell he had a lot of mischief in him, and the way he made direct eye contact told me he’s ready to be best friend with a human.

I could hear Ursula purring all the way down the row of cages, and while she appeared to be a plushy gray kitty rubbing back and forth and being as cute as possible, on closer inspection I could see she was a dilute tortoiseshell. Unfortunately, her photo didn’t come out well. It’s a shame I can’t sometimes be Lakshmi with several extra hands to hold kitties and take photos at the same time!

Of course, there were other kitties, and I visited last Thursday, so there may be new kittens and adult cats for adoption, but I can assure you that any of the cats I met would make a wonderful companion! Stop over at the shelter to visit, adopt if you can, or consider being one of the Humane Society’s wonderful foster homes.

The 2012 Best Friends’ Calendar

Each year the WPHS creates a wall calendar featuring photos of wonderful pets as a fundraiser for the shelter through sponsorships and sales. The Preview Event on September 13, 2011 will be at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and will feature hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar, calendars for sale and an auction of donated items, such as my portrait certificate, to benefit the shelter. For all this, tickets are only $25.00 each. Visit or call 412-321-4625, ext. 248.

Open Door Shelters

“Being an Open Door Shelter means we never turn away an animal in need. We currently take in over 14,000 animals each year and have been helping people and pets since 1874. Visit the Open Door Shelters website.”

sample portrait certificate

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

Donation of Commissioned Portrait Certificates

As my way of giving to shelters, I donate a limited number of commissioned portrait certificates to shelters and rescue groups every year to sell or auction in their fundraisers. The certificates are worth $125, the minimum cost of a portrait, and typically auction for well more than that. The winner receives a presentation folder with the signed certificate, a thank you letter from me for supporting the organization, one of my brochures and the invitation to begin the process of a portrait of their design.

I have to limit the number of certificates I donate because of the amount of time I put into each portrait, but I also offer commissioned portrait certificates at a reduced cost to other shelters and rescues when my yearly quota is reached. I like to help as many organizations as I can, but the kitties need to eat too! Please contact me if you are interested.

All images used in this article 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.

Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

gray and white cat in the sun

Sunwashed Namir

Hurricane Katrina, Namir, a household of cats and my personal creative inspiration

Namir was the inspiration for The Creative Cat, and while I had been posting articles once in a while for a few months prior to this it wasn’t until I wrote this article, and in the memory of Namir, that I began writing in earnest and developing The Creative Cat into what it is today. I originally wrote this article in August 2009, two months after I lost Namir; his loss represented the end of a cycle of loss, and every year at this time I remember him and all the cats from this era of my life.

I remember the night Katrina was headed toward New Orleans, partly scoffing at the hyperactive media reports and partly worried that the storm of the century really was heading for the Gulf Coast and knowing that, if it did, many people, most people, would not take it seriously. For all the dire warnings, natural disasters rarely fulfill their potential so it’s easy to sit back and wait for a while, much easier to stay in the place where you feel the most safe and guard the things you hold most dear; just stay home. At the beginning, we can never know the final impact, or what the disaster will encompass.

"Awakening", block print

"Awakening", block print

And sometimes a public event marks a time or a circumstance in your life, in fact stands as a metaphor for your circumstances, even though it has no connection with you or your life at all;  yet, whenever you encounter a remembrance of that event, it brings back that time in your life as if it was a slideshow playing for your review.

I don’t have a television. I heard about the storm on the radio and read about it on the internet, then visited The Weather Channel to actually look at the meteorology of it. I would naturally avoid all the hype of 24-hour news stations making a story out of possibly nothing in the slow news flow of late August.

The only reason I saw any television coverage was because it was on in the waiting room of the animal emergency hospital where I was waiting for the diagnosis of Namir’s sudden, frightening condition. I paced all night long between visits from the attending veterinarian as they x-rayed, blood tested and medicated Namir, then placed him in an oxygen cage. The veterinarian’s face was blank to grim, though no final word was given until nearly dawn.

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

I’d noticed that he wasn’t his goofy self for a few days, just subdued, then on that day he had begun crouching on the floor instead of sitting on my lap or my desk. I noticed his breathing was shallow, he wouldn’t eat dinner. He had had a compromising bladder condition for several years so I always observed his activity and took action with whatever seemed appropriate, but these symptoms were not indicating that condition. He looked up at me imploringly in the evening, those lovely, slanted, gentle tourmaline eyes telling me this was serious. I called the emergency hospital, packed him in a carrier and drove with cold, stiff fingers and my own shallow breathing, knowing this was not good.

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

As the veterinarian and technicians went through their paces and I watched Katrina spin toward New Orleans, I was sure, in my middle-of-the-night fearfulness, that the world was really coming to an end. I took hope for both New Orleans and Namir when the storm was reduced to a Category 4 sometime in those hours; even the smallest improvement could have a vast positive outcome.

Yet as the dawn began to open details in the black outside the windows the veterinarian told me that Namir had developed congestive heart failure through hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I fully understood the detailed explanation the vet gave me, following his sketches and descriptions in my own visual language, visualizing Namir’s damaged heart inside his delicate feline chest, struggling to move the blood through but not quite moving all of it every time, the blood circling and swishing around in the chamber, the walls thickening, the fluids building up instead of washing away. I understood that Namir was in very serious condition, that the condition could not be cured.

The hospital closed at 7:00 a.m. being only for overnight emergencies, but in the same rooms the specialty clinic opened at 8:00 a.m. Namir would stay there and see a doctor who specialized in his condition the next day, have more comprehensive diagnostic tests done.

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

They allowed me to say goodbye to him in the oxygen cage. I couldn’t touch him, and he didn’t come to the window but crouched close to it with an IV in one leg and several shaved patches and looked at me with those same eyes, but instead of the worry, near panic, I’d seen earlier, I saw hope, and perhaps he saw the sadness and fear in my eyes temper with it. We would work together on this, no matter what happened.

Katrina was reaching landfall as I drove home through the growing dawn and early morning traffic and I equated the gray misty light with the howling gray images I’d seen of New Orleans and elsewhere along the coast, pondering the veterinarian’s prognosis of Namir’s recovery: about a month with no treatment, six months with medication and careful observation, perhaps a year if we were lucky. Even with recovery his quality of life might not be optimal, he might actually experience a lot of discomfort and even great pain. I would know more the next day after an ultrasound and other tests.

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

In August 2005, I was occasionally dosing Stanley with sub-q fluids for chronic kidney failure, but he was overall well—amazing for being somewhere past 20. All the others were fine, Moses at 19, Sophie at 16, Cookie at 13, Kelly at 9, and even the two new senior fosters, Peaches and Cream, estimated at 15, were adjusting well.

In the following year I would lose four members of my household, my four oldest cats, and three of them my oldest friends, Moses, then Cream, then Sophie and finally Stanley, and shortly after Stanley, the kitten I’d taken in and simply adored after all that loss, Lucy, at 15 months.

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Namir lived almost four years with his condition, and hardly evidenced any discomfort though he hated his twice-daily medications and needed to stop back at the emergency hospital for a tune-up now and then. I don’t know how many times in those four years I said, “Namir was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure the night Katrina hit New Orleans…” Namir and I certainly had a better outcome and what we experienced in no way compares with what happened there, but whenever I hear about Hurricane Katrina I remember that night when my own storm began, my own little life inexorably pulled apart by circumstances beyond my household’s control, but in much the same way as the aftermath of Katrina it was the hidden reserves of strength that determined the final outcome, individuals pooling and sharing their strength and supporting each other.

Cookie, "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess"

I heeded my own natural disaster as best I could with the warnings I was given. Now I hope that my storm is finally over for a while. I know that I will have losses again, and with older cats likely I’ll have a few illnesses to treat. Even though Peaches hasn’t seemed to age a day since she came here and can still jump right up onto the kitchen island where she eats, she is 19 years old. Cookie hasn’t seemed to age since she was about 3, but I can see her slowing down and experiencing a little hearing difficulty, though we act as if we don’t notice. Little Kelly, who has to be at least 13, hasn’t shown any diminishing of ability and it’s hard to imagine her as a senior. My “Golden Girls” as I classify them…And I now have a big jump in age to Mimi, who is likely 6, then her kids, who just turned 2, though as I learned with Lucy and FIP that illness and death have no recognition of age.

After all this I was surprised I haven’t been in pain over Namir’s loss, considering the big personality he was and how close we were. He left strict instructions with “the kids” on my care and feeding, however, and I have never felt alone since Namir’s been gone—I’ll be writing more about this later, now that I have a perspective. But it hasn’t been just Namir’s loss, but all the others, too, all of them together, through it all knowing that I’d lose Namir, too, and finally I feel that process is complete.

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

The one thing I can’t avoid is that in two months I haven’t done much that’s creative—no blog entries, no new poetry, I’ve had to drag myself into my studio and still I’ve only done one piece of artwork, only a few photo sessions and all the other things I’ve done daily for years to keep my creative intellect in shape have just been neglected.

I know why that is. That’s the very core of myself, and in opening myself up to those creative experiences I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. It’s easy just to live on the surface as if floating on clear water, able to look at the beauty of the depths but frightened to go there, even though the risk, the plunge, the exploration and the return with new insights to share far outweighs any pain that might be experienced in the endeavor.

Now that the deepest part of my grief has passed, I’m ready to finish and fulfill the things I’ve planned, and to move on with new things. The hardest part of grief is letting go and feeling that who and what you leave behind will be forgotten, but we leave behind and let go in a million ways every day without ever knowing. Namir came to me one year after I lost the love of my life, my Kublai, and if I had kept myself closed off and held on to Kublai’s memory for fear of his being forgotten, I would never have known Namir, which would have done none of the three of us any good, or any other of the foster cats who became loves, or the people or the places I’ve known and experienced since then.

So I’m a little out of shape, but it’s never taken me too long to get back into it before. I love this time of year, and probably most inspired by it, when summer changes to autumn and I can feel the pace of life slowing a little.

And I have a wonderful feline portrait with which to begin my new season. I’ll post the first update in a day or two and update the images and other thoughts regularly.


That portrait was Madison, and I had a wonderful reunion with an old friend with which to begin that new season. This year is another year of plans and work, and loss as well, losing Peaches last autumn, and considering Cookie’s condition at the moment, but they will never cease to inspire me to create, to share, and to love.

Cookie Love

tortie cat with parsley

Cookie has Parsley Eyes.

Cookie and I had a wonderful morning on Sunday. Instead of the heavy wind and rain that might have come our way from Hurricane Irene, we had fast-moving majestic clouds with bright sun and deep shadow and capricious breezes that tossed the maple tree branches, sounding like ocean waves.

tortie cat in grass

No, Cookie, you can't hide behind that blade of grass.

Cookie has accompanied me on mornings when I go outside practically since she’s been with me, but lately we’ve been battling a flea infestation and Cookie’s flea allergy is worse than ever. We’ve got things under control at the moment, but even with all my precautions outdoors to keep flea populations at a minimum, they are still out there and I don’t want Cookie to start her cycle of scratching, pulling fur and general skin irritation at the bite of just one flea. Today, it just seemed right.

I had intended just to hang out for a bit with my cup of coffee so we began on the deck but were soon down the steps and out into the yard, moving easily from the deck to the yard as Cookie explored and I did a little cleaning, transplanting and reorganization. Cookie would occasionally saunter out to the end of the yard and give me a sidelong glance, ready to slip off into her wild area under the trees, but for the most part she supervised what I was doing and downloaded her pee-mail.

tortie cat in grass

Cookie downloading her "pee-mail".

This year we had a sudden flea infestation in July from boxes I’d carried down from the attic wherein squirrels had nested, leaving behind bazillions of hungry fleas who wasted no time going to work on their new blood source. Cookie’s age and health were a bad combination for my 19-year-old tortie best friend—after nearly a month of treating the house with diatomaceous earth, constant vacuuming and combing and bathing the other cats were holding their own but Cookie was the target of too many fleas and began suffering more than just the skin allergy.

tortie cat in profile

Cookie's profile.

She would bite viciously at herself, pulling fur out in clumps, trying to scratch the same area she was biting and lacerating her tongue with her hind paw, and sometimes falling off of the table, my desk or a chair in her frenzied effort to get rid of the torture.

Cookie also developed an anemic condition from blood loss from all the bites and would leave blood spots behind wherever she slept. Using Frontline it was pointless to bathe her because it would wash away the effectiveness of the medication, and I could comb her all day and not get rid of enough fleas to make a difference.

We had almost had her heart rate under control with her hyperthyroidism medication but likely the anemia and stress of the situation pushed her heart rate up again, and worst of all she slipped into renal failure.

I used Capstar, an insecticide in a pill, that kills all the adult fleas on the cat within hours. I am horrified to use all these chemicals, especially on Cookie in that condition, but that was what worked to stop her reaction with thankfully no side effects, and the resulting conditions could finally be successfully treated.

tortie cat looking through railing

Cookie playing games.

I had a pretty frightening week in late July when, to try to treat all the conditions, I was dosing her with sub-cutaneous fluids twice each day in small doses to not overburden her heart, checking her heart rate regularly and administering double doses of high potency liquid vitamins, getting a few reiki sessions, using flower essences, using everything I had on hand, hoping she’d start to eat more and awake from her lethargy, just look at me like Cookie again, make a Cookie noise, and by the end of the week, she began feeling better.

Still, all through August, she kept wavering back and forth between feeling like her old self and just being a little tired, not as active, and certainly not doing all the Cookie things I’m accustomed to. I had to dose her with fluids now and then, and had to resort to Capstar again as even just one or two fleas could start the reaction again.

So this morning, she wanted to go outside and so did I, her Capstar should take care of fleas today, and I’d learned from years of senior cats that the little walk around the yard in the morning can make for a great day all around, so out we went.

After our initial session I told myself it was time I went inside and “get to work”, but I instead decided to grab my crochet and recorded book and sit on the swing with Cookie for a while. It’s been years since I had the chance to even just sit on my swing for any length of time. Cookie happily napped on my lap while I followed the story and crocheted, listening to the whoosh of the breeze and watching the shadows and sunlight play across the deck and yard.

tortie cat on lap with crochet

A relaxed hour on the deck.

After our relaxation, Cookie and I actually went back out to the yard for a while longer, and when I decided I really did need to go in—one cup of coffee can feel like a gallon if you wait too long—I had to carry Cookie inside at her protest. She hadn’t had her medications yet and she and Kelly needed their lunch, plus, even though it was cool, I’m always concerned about Cookie’s hydration and body temperature at her age.

Even after I carried her upstairs—because she would not go herself, even when I waved the bit of raw venison and the can of food in her face—she worked her way down from the drafting table where she and Kelly eat and wanted out the door of the studio. I opened it thinking she might want to use the litterbox in the bathroom, but she headed directly down the stairs and to the back door, sat down and looked longingly outside.

cat drinking from bowl

Cookie loves her water bowl.

Most of the time, you can trust animals to let you know what they need and I might have decided to go outside with Cookie for a little more time. But their decisions aren’t always the best, and sometimes you have to offer a little direction. Cookie has never liked to be carried so she protested again as we went up the stairs and back into my studio and closed the door and doled out lunch. She ate, then curled up on a blanket I’d put on the table for her, had a bath, and fell asleep. And slept, and slept, and slept. I checked her heart rate and hydration thinking I’d let her be out for too long, trying to decide if I needed to do something, but she gave me the tortie eye and eventually she got up, stretched, had a drink, ate a good bit of canned food, had another bath and went back to sleep.

I’ve continued the full flea assault on the house and all the cats, including using Capstar once a week but on just Cookie and Kelly. The girls have been staying in my studio, which was pretty thoroughly cleaned to begin with because of my renovation and easier to clean than any other room because I set it up that way. It’s been odd for them not to be part of the household most of the time, but once the fleas were under control downstairs, and Cookie was sufficiently strong and recovered enough, it was wonderful to see Cookie coming down the stairs and joining me at my daily tasks again. Best of all, she’s been sleeping next to me again.

But I can see she’s not back to her full self, and she’s compensating quite a bit for the discomfort of these conditions. After consulting regularly with my vet, I have continued the fluids and vitamins daily, and we’ve increased her methimazole which has brought her heart rate down.

For now it seems the renal failure isn’t just a temporary situation, but a chronic condition. I’m not sure if the situation with the fleas caused it, or if she was headed for it anyway as we had discovered in her exam in June, but in any case, to say it makes me very sad is one of my life’s biggest understatements.

I know that Cookie is 19, and I’ve been watching her lose abilities and agility slowly for the past few years. She had a difficult kittenhood, and I’m a little surprised after all her early health issues and physical limitations that she has gotten to be 19 without any problems. She’s never had a lot of strength or flexibility in her hips and hind legs, never been able to run and leap but she’s always improvised in every way she can find, stepping from one thing to another to get onto my desk, the cabinet in the kitchen, my bed, or the washer and dryer, always cheerful and completely ready for whatever comes next.

But even though I knew our time was getting limited, without anything specific I didn’t worry about how much time we had, just a little bit of fooling myself. Now with a chronic, end-of-life condition our time is finite, though that is mutable as well—Peaches lived six months after we began treatment, Stanley lived four years, diagnosed at about age 21.

tortie cat with serenity prayer

Cookie with my Serenity Prayer plaque from the garden—do you think Cookie is trying to tell me something?

At this point, she is still easily tired and her hind legs have less strength than before, wobbling a little more and threatening to take her down sometimes, and she can’t or won’t get up on some things she recently enjoyed, like the kitchen cabinet, her favorite hangout. Unless by some miracle we clear up this condition sufficiently, Cookie won’t be literally getting into things in the kitchen anymore, something she’s done all her life, and I will miss that part of our relationship more than I can say.

She won’t be following me around the house to supervise every little thing I do; I’ll be on my own. That and many, many more thoughts of everyday things…Cookie has always been with me in the house, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, my impish little spirit familiar, my little Cookie-roo, Cookie-flower, Cookie Dough, Cookie Baby…the list goes on.

For now, when I look at her, my Cookie is still there, even if she’s not playing the same little Cookie games as before. And she has even done a few of her sweet interactions with me which she hasn’t done in some time—hopped onto my back and walked around and purred when I leaned over, and sat up on my lap, put her paws on my collar bone, looked me in the eye and given me a precious nose tap. She’s telling me not to worry. I am listening, but I need a little other reassurance as well.

We’ll see the vet again soon for tests and discuss a few other symptoms, see if there is anything else we need to do. I lost Peaches less than a year ago and I lost my mother in January, and I told Cookie I’m just not ready yet, she has to get better, this was just a practice session. But for certain at this point our schedule will change, and just like this wonderful morning out on the deck, every moment will be precious.

All images used in this article 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.

Fromage Being Cute

black kitten under chair

Fromage Under the Chair

Yesterday I visited with my niece-kitty Fromage, my little neonatal bottle baby from two years ago. Here she is, all grown up and acting as cute as a self-centered little black kitty can be. For some reason she chose to settle on her back under the wicker chair like this, just watching to see if anyone noticed. We did! Who could resist?

Actually, I visited Fromage’s mom, but a visit to a home where I have a relationship with the kitty also constitutes a kitty visit.

I wrote about Fromage’s rescue and subsequent bottle feeding and raising up right. Actually, she was right on the ball with a lot of things. Click here to read the articles and see the photos of her for the two months she was with me.

A Little Baby Foster Kitten

A Little Life Saved

An Update on Fromage, My Little Foster Kitty

This photo gave me an idea to play around too–after a little modification to the contrast ranges in the photo, I used the “cutout” filter to create this quick design. Neat block print or screen print!

posterized image of black cat under chair

Fromage illustration.

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. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

Mr. Sunshine’s Whiskers

black cat with whiskers

Mr. Sunshine shows off his clean whiskers.

Mr. Sunshine has just washed his whiskers and wants to show them off to you, all shiny in the sun.

Unfortunately, I could not impress on him the need to keep still so everyone could see how beautiful they were when there were all spread out in a big fan around his face, but kitties will be kitties, especially when it comes to their best assets.

Mr. Sunshine’s long, straight whiskers never cease to amaze me, especially when he fans them out like that.

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.

As Natural As Possible: Outdoor Flea Control

two cats scratching

Mewsette and Mr. Sunshine have a good scratch.

Have you had a flea infestation this year? If so, you’re not alone. The damp spring and early warm temperatures in many areas meant that flea eggs laid last fall hatched earlier than usual this year, before their natural predators, spiders and ants, were ready. Your pets don’t even need to go outside—fleas can ride in on you! Whether or not your cat or dog goes outdoors, that’s where fleas begin and where you can begin to control their populations with a few non-toxic annual practices.

Why are fleas in your yard and how did they get there?

Fleas begin in the great outdoors, even in the nicest yard, and simply because you don’t let your pet outside, or it’s only outside for a short while, don’t think fleas won’t find them. Fleas are tiny and can hop up to a foot to get to a warm body for their blood meal, they can ride in on your own body though they don’t generally feed on humans, and encountering another animal that has fleas either on a walk outdoors or even an indoor place can infest your pet without it ever setting a paw in the back yard.

Fleas can’t fly, they can only hop, and while they can hop up to a foot it’s debatable if they can take over the world one foot at a time. They ride around on other cats and dogs and wildlife, and wherever they hop off a host animal is generally where they will lay their eggs if they get the chance. After that they’ll colonize your yard if a flea host wanders through often enough for them to feed, lay eggs and die.

Integrated Pest Management

photo of two cats in the grass

Namir and Cookie in the yard.

The two basic steps in managing any pest that outgrows its controls is to find out where it lives and destroy that habitat to any extent possible, and then find its natural predators and encourage them to inhabit and flourish, forever if possible.

I’ve always taken one or more of my cats into my back yard, so I’ve always included fleas in my pest management. Adult fleas are very particular about moisture and temperature, but flea eggs can live through a lot of punishment and still hatch and carry on the next generation so they need to be managed from year to year, not just for the summer.

Aside from the dangers of insecticide toxicity, using an insecticide generally kills off all the insects in an area, not just the ones you are targeting. Where fleas are concerned, an insecticide just kills the adult fleas which are only about 10% of the total flea population. There may be some residual left to kill the eggs and larvae as they mature into adults, but with unpredictable weather it’s often washed away before it does any good.

Pest insects have adapted to reproduce more quickly than their prey so the fleas will return long before their predators return, resulting in a more serious infestation than before. Without any predators you really need to keep applying the chemical, but all you do is knock down the numbers, never winning the game, and often completely kill off all predators, and not just those of fleas, while building up toxic levels in your soil.

It’s obvious that species have been kept in balance for millennia by some means outside of human controls. I am a Master Gardener and began years ago to start my own plants, identify seedlings, diagnose pests and diseases and build soil. I manage my little yard as a wildlife habitat, friendly to all native species as well as the plants I choose to grow and have always called on the forces of nature to manage the populations as an ecosystem, allowing it to find its own balance, and this has worked for managing fleas as well as other insect pests in my lawn, vegetable garden, flower beds and natural areas.

Flea Habitats

Fleas live in moist, shady areas in the yard, in the thatch in your lawn, debris piles, leaf litter, cord wood stacks and even under your deck or porch unless it’s completely dry. They’ve often overwintered in these areas and with the moisture of spring eggs start hatching as soon as it’s warm enough and shady after trees and shrubs have leafed out, about when temperatures rise above 60 degrees at night or 70 degrees during the day.

Spring Cleaning

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise spring clean up.

One of the first things I do in spring, way before fleas hatch, is clear off all the debris in the yard and toss it in the compost pile, which as the materials break down heats up to a point that kills any eggs or seeds within it. I leave native plants standing for wildlife through the winter, but in spring it’s all taken down, even mowed if possible, then raked in order to remove possible pest habitat (including plant diseases which may have overwintered). If you don’t have a compost pile you can throw the material away in a bag, but just don’t keep it around, piled in a corner, or it can become a breeding ground for everything that laid eggs in it last year. This helps immensely with reducing the initial populations and you’ve also destroyed a lot of eggs and habitat for many other insect pests.

This also helps to delay the onset of fleas in your yard, but they’re going to start hatching some time regardless of chemical or organic controls, so be prepared with methods to manage flea populations through their life cycle.

Manage Areas Fleas Prefer

gray kitty under bush

My neighbor's kitty visits.

To start with, try to minimize or eliminate damp and densely shaded areas in your yard—underneath a shrub, for instance, often a favorite place for pets to hang out on hot days because it’s cooler and the soil is a little damp. It’s absolutely flea heaven, especially if you’ve either left the leaf litter from last year or added some decorative bark or wood chip mulch. This one area can support three stages of the flea: eggs can be laid here, the larvae can live on organic matter, and they can build their cocoons here as well, hatching into adult fleas that feed on your kitty taking a nap in the shade.

My yard tends to be very damp and I also have a slug problem (that’s an understatement), and for years I’ve sprinkled diatomaceous earth (DE) in all the moist shady areas for the slugs that feast all night, also taking care of a good many fleas. This product is not soil at all but the shells of diatoms, tiny sea creatures, crushed to a fine powder. Sea shells are actually formed of minerals and while the powder looks like dust it is actually very tiny, very sharp particles that cut into the exoskeleton of the flea, causing it to dehydrate and die. It does the same thing to slugs, but other creatures, from earthworms to birds, simply digest it with no ill effect, and it’s completely a physical effect with no chemical effect at all.

Diatomaceous earth has a short-term effect outdoors, though, because it mixes with soil and other organic matter, diluting its effect, and is washed away by rain or even heavy dew, but generally sprinkling it weekly in damp shady areas through the summer is a good plan. Just make sure it’s the DE intended for gardening use NOT pool use because this has chemicals added, and wear a mask when you sprinkle it because prolonged inhalation can cause some respiratory discomfort.

At one time I used pyrethrum-based products to control fleas and other insect pests indoors and out, and while pyrethrins break down quickly in sunlight and are diluted by water, tests later showed that if they are not in conditions that break them down they can build up in soil and in the home, and can be toxic to some flora and fauna outdoors, and children and pets indoors. Many organic gardeners quit using them, though they are still sold for outdoor treatment as well as specifically flea control products. I have included a link to the CDC report at the end of this article.

Modify Your Lawn

Also manage your yard, especially your lawn, to encourage flea predators. You can apply beneficial nematodes to damp and shady areas as well as the DE, especially where you can’t change the conditions by trimming shrubs or cleaning up debris such as a bed of heavy ground cover like ivy or pachysandra, or where you’ve landscaped with mulch, sand, gravel or small stones. You may need to reapply every year or two; this was my experience, but they definitely keep populations down while they persist.

Natural Predators

cat in grass

Namir in the backyard.

You can also encourage the flea’s natural predators to come and live in your lawn and garden. Insect predators include ants, spiders and ground beetles, other species include amphibians such as toads and salamanders, reptiles such as garter snakes, and even birds that feed on the ground.

Hmmm… you don’t like spiders and snakes, and everything else sounds like something you don’t want anywhere near your house, except maybe the birds? Trust me, they are much more interested in their natural diet than they are in you, and unless you go looking you’d never know they’re there—except that you’d have fewer fleas and other pest insects generally.

Welcome them by managing your lawn in a way that might be different from the typical grass-only buzz cut, incorporating native plants and herbs and allowing your lawn to grow a little taller. My lawn is only about half grass, while the rest is a mixture of short native plants and ground covers, plus opportunistic peppermint, pennyroyal and marjoram escaped from my herb gardens and the seedlings for next year’s forget-me-nots, daisies and other biennials and spring ephemerals. This diversity of flora encourages a diversity of fauna and eliminates large areas of one type of habitat so nothing has a chance to overpopulate.

Because I have less grass, I only have to cut the lawn about once a month after May. The native plants have a predetermined growth habit, most of them staying below six inches, and after the spring flush of growth the grass grows much more slowly. I can cut it higher than two inches, the minimum height to encourage ants and spiders, the main predators of fleas. Cutting the grass taller and less often helps the predators develop habitat and do their job on the fleas.

I also feed birds year-round, and while I always credit them with keeping vegetable and flower pests under control, I know they also peck around through the grass eating fleas.

Even if you’ve done all this you can still expect a few fleas, but you’re suddenly totally infested—what else can it be?


groundhog in cage

One of many groundhogs, about to be moved.

It’s that darned squirrel that hangs out on your deck, or the groundhog that’s burrowed underneath it—or the opossum that nested in your piled-up porch furniture until spring, or the little field mice and voles who sacrifice themselves to your cats in the basement. This was actually the source of my infestation more than once.

I had sprinkled the house with diatomaceous earth, bathed and combed the cats regularly, washed everything washable, swept everywhere just about daily, removed throw rugs and pillows and such, tossed non-washable things into a hot dryer, and removed as much from my house as possible. This was all I needed to do for years and the flea population never reached an infestation.

But this year the fleas kept coming back, and increasing all the time. Where were they coming from?

I began to notice that when I walked out on my deck, my legs were immediately covered with fleas, a dozen or more at a time. Fleas don’t fly, they jump, and in a situation like this you can move around and check the numbers of fleas that jump on your skin (or wear a pair of white socks so you can see them easier) to help pinpoint exactly where they are coming from. I started stepping around the deck, knocking fleas off my legs into a cup of water, then stepping again to see where numbers seemed the worst.

Most wild animals harbor a few fleas, and some species are typically infested. My squirrels spend about half their time scratching, and wild rabbits, chipmunks, gophers, mice and voles are also heavily infested with fleas. The squirrels hang out on my deck trying to get into the bird seed, the rabbits hop around near the basement door, and I always have a juvenile groundhog who excavates under my deck before I can trap it, chipmunks run around chirping everywhere, and field mice and voles really do show up in my basement.

And I really did have an opossum on my deck this winter. Being nocturnal, we didn’t cross paths though I saw her through the back door now and then. With the unusually heavy ice and snow I didn’t have the heart to encourage her to find another home, and I didn’t unpack all my deck furniture this year, so I have no idea how long she stayed.

black cat at door

Mimi at the door, before the infestation.

It was the area right in front of the door—right over the groundhog den under the deck—and on one side of that unmoved pile of things for my deck. The groundhog had left my yard to eat someone else’s vegetable garden, but left the fleas behind. I began deconstructing the pile of porch furniture and found evidence of nesting, though not recent. In both places, a heck of a lot of fleas.

So this was the source of my infestation, right outside the door that I kept open for most of the summer, locking the screen door at night and when I was away. Fleas could hop in when I opened the door, and ride inside as I walked in and out the door. My basement door has a space at the bottom because the concrete walk just outside is lifted and the bottom of the door jammed against it, so I trimmed the door.

Normally every spring I clean off my deck, sweep, wash and apply water-based waterproofing to the wood, then move things back, but this spring’s schedule didn’t allow the time. Once I cleaned off the deck, swept and washed it as well as hosed down all the items that were there, the constant re-infestation stopped. Whew!

Some Resources for Chemical-Free Outdoor Flea Control

You can get ten pages of results or more in an internet search on flea control, diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins and so on though much of it is from manufacturers and sellers, but I try to find studies or information from non-commercial sources to cite. has a series of articles about dealing with fleas in your yard, and the article about preventing fleas in the future is especially informative—plus the site is a great resource for dealing with all sorts of pest problems in your yard.

Even though this article is from 1986, it gives a brief history of the use of diatomaceous earth from a study project at McGill University that is still applicable today about the effects and usage of DE.

CDC Report on pyrethrins and pyrethroids:

If you’re interested in more information about Backyard Wildlife Habitats, please visit the Backyard Wildlife Habitat page on my site with articles on developing your habitat and articles showing the photos, paintings and sketches I’ve done that were inspired but my backyard.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission.

Some Serious Thinking

two black cats in profile

Some serious thinking is happening here.

Giuseppe and Jelly Bean literally put their heads together. Should I worry?

They may be planning something, but what they usually end up doing is taking a nap. I don’t think I have too much to worry about.