Heart-Shaped Cats

heart-shaped cats on afghan

Heart Shaped Cats on the Afghan

My Fantastic Four are famous for their heart-shaped hugs and cuddles, but the two most famous are Mr. Sunshine and his sister Mewsette, featured here in just a few everyday cuddles.

This is only a portion of my personal heart-shaped cat collection. Mr. Sunshine and Miss Mewsette have always been cuddle buddies, and they’ve always had this habit of curling up together cheek to cheek and chest to chest and wrapping their little arms around each other, even crossing tails in the front. They are a somewhat elongated heart here on the afghan with the heart right-side up, but looking at them below they are a more typical heart shape only with the heart upside down!

heart-shaped black cats

Heart-shaped cats the other way!

Mewsette is clearly posing, but Mr. Sunshine isn’t as concerned, he just wants to cuddle. Unfortunately, they don’t always cuddle together in the best light or against a contrasting background, and they are black, absorbing all of what’s available and not giving much back, making photos a challenge. Look closely, though, Mewsette has her arm right under Mr. Sunshine’s chin and he has his below hers, then he has his hind leg tucked into her belly and she has hers wrapped around his hip, then they have their tails layered on top of each others’, completely interwoven.

Here they are one night in my studio as I was moving furniture and cleaning, supervising what I was doing.

two heart-shaped black cats

Mr. Sunshine and Mewsette curled again.

And then the view from the top shows them heart-shaped again, but Mimi is sleeping behind them so they look a little misshapen.

two heart-shaped black cats

Heart-shaped again!

I found one very early photo of them as they were apparently developing this wonderful way to cuddle, though Giuseppe in the background looks a little miffed at the attention they are getting. I can assure you that I only got one shot because Giuseppe got up and sauntered between me and them.

black cats curled together

Early stages of the heart-shaped cat.

And finally, the photo of them I took on the night before Valentine’s Day in 2009 where they have their technique fully developed. Too bad that old camera wasn’t so good in low light conditions! Still, I couldn’t believe how sweet they were.

two black cats curled together

The original Heart Cats

Sometimes when I get a good photo composition that’s blurry or otherwise unclear, and not in a way that I can use for effect, I play around with it in PhotoShop. I never get enough time playing in PhotoShop so I’ll take any excuse. I liked the way this series of filters and adjustments clarified the image, even though it’s no longer photographic. The black outlines and areas of color remind me of the illustrations from some of the books I looked at and read as a child.

illustration of two black cats curled together

The original Heart Cats illustration.

I liked this so much I used it to print on a tote bag for sale.

And, of course, this very photo went on to become a Valentine note card, available all year round as a greeting card for when you need to send a note to that special heart cat.

two black cats with one heart

Heart Cats note card © B.E. Kazmarski

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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.


Heart-Shaped Cats

heart-shaped cats on afghan

Heart Shaped Cats on the Afghan

Here’s my personal heart-shaped cat collection. Mr. Sunshine and Miss Mewsette have always been cuddle buddies, and they’ve always had this habit of curling up together cheek to cheek and chest to chest and wrapping their little arms around each other, even crossing tails in the front. They are a somewhat elongated heart here on the afghan* with the heart right-side up, but looking at them below they are a more typical heart shape only with the heart upside down!

heart-shaped black cats

Heart-shaped cats the other way!

Do you think Mewsette likes to get her photo taken? Mr. Sunshine isn’t as concerned, he just wants to cuddle. I’ve only caught a few photos of them because they don’t always cuddle together in the best light or against a contrasting background, and they are black, absorbing all of what’s available and not giving much back, making photos a challenge. Look closely, though, Mewsette has her arm right under Mr. Sunshine’s chin and he has his below hers, then he has his hind leg tucked into her belly and she has hers wrapped around his hip, then they have their tails layered on top of each others’, completely interwoven.

Here they are one night in my studio as I was moving furniture and cleaning, supervising what I was doing.

two heart-shaped black cats

Mr. Sunshine and Mewsette curled again.

And then the view from the top shows them heart-shaped again, but Mimi is sleeping behind them so they look a little misshapen.

two heart-shaped black cats

Heart-shaped again!

I found one very early photo of them as they were apparently developing this wonderful way to cuddle, though Giuseppe in the background looks a little miffed at the attention they are getting. I can assure you that I only got one shot because Giuseppe got up and sauntered between me and them.

black cats curled together

Early stages of the heart-shaped cat.

And finally, the photo of them I took on the night before Valentine’s Day in 2009 where they have their technique fully developed. Too bad that old camera wasn’t so good in low light conditions! Still, I couldn’t believe how sweet they were.

two black cats curled together

The original Heart Cats

Sometimes when I get a good photo composition that’s blurry or otherwise unclear, and not in a way that I can use for effect, I play around with it in PhotoShop. I never get enough time playing in PhotoShop so I’ll take any excuse. I liked the way this series of filters and adjustments clarified the image, even though it’s no longer photographic. The black outlines and areas of color remind me of the illustrations from some of the books I looked at and read as a child.

illustration of two black cats curled together

The original Heart Cats illustration.

I liked this so much I used it to print on a tote bag for sale.

So there they are, all my Heart Cats to date, though I’ve no doubt that I’ll have more to show next Valentine’s Day, now that I’m on to them!

*(This isn’t the same afghan you see so often in photos of them, as in “Muted Colors” and “Cozy”. That was the wool afghan my mother made which was damaged in a flood so all the colors blended. This is the afghan I made years ago because I liked hers so much and I wanted one just like it, though mine is made of acrylic yarn. It’s made of all the scraps from other afghans I’d made, plus odds and ends of yarn I’d bought because I liked the color. Each square, and therefore the pattern, is bigger than the wool afghan, and the colors are brighter; those yarn colors from the 70s were downright garish, but the afghan is welcoming nonetheless, and as with all crocheted things the kitties LOVE it, though they prefer the wool one.)


More Valentine Cards for Cat Lovers, and Lovers with Cats

two black cats with red background

Nuzzles and Purrrrrs for Valentine's Day!

Here are four more designs to finish out my set of Valentine note cards and greeting cards, as always inspired by and based on images of my household of felines!

As an artist I turn to my surroundings for creative output, and what better to do with a family of five black cats during the festive Halloween season? I posted many of these photos on my blog, The Creative Cat, for my daily photos. Each of the cats depicted here is one of mine. My cats have no choice but to be models, especially “if they like to eat” as I always tell them when they roll their eyes.

Nuzzles and Purrrrrs

The operatically romantic Giuseppe and the French-Canadian belle femme Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite have been carrying on a long-distance affaire since the summer of 2011; they always conclude their correspondence with “nuzzles and purrrrrs”.

I photographed Mewsette and Giuseppe cuddling on my desk while I worked at my computer and posted them as a daily photo on The Creative Cat. So many readers immediately said “Valentine” that I thought I’d oblige with a design! And even though it’s Mewsette and not Mlle. Daisy, Mewsette still knows when her brother needs a hug.

These greeting cards are 5″ x 7″ and are printed on 14 pt. matte-coated stock. The message inside is “NUZZLES AND PURRRRRS” in a really fun font. Each card comes with Autumn Red 70 lb. text weight acid-free envelopes which are inkjet/laser compatible. They are packed in a clear-top vinyl greeting card box. I sell them as a set of six in my shop on Etsy.

two black cats with heart on yellow background

Heart Cats, featuring Mr. Sunshine and Mewsette.

Heart Cats

The siblings of the Fantastic Four often cuddle and hug, cheek to cheek, but this design adapted from the original heart-shaped cats photo of Mr. Sunshine and Mewsette is still my favorite; the background color of the card is adapted from the color of their eyes.

I photographed these two in the bathroom at night in poor light, but no matter, such a sweet photo I’d do my best. Since then I’ve adapted the two into many different designs and colors. Here, for Valentine’s day, they are solid black with the solid cerise of their eyes, and just one red heart as they hug.

These are note cards at 4-1/4″ x 5-1/2″ and are printed on matte-coated stock. The message inside is “YOU ARE MY HEART CAT” in a really fun font. Each card comes with Autumn Red 70 lb. text weight acid-free envelopes which are inkjet/laser compatible. They are packed in a clear-top vinyl greeting card box.

They are available as a set of 12 in my shop on Etsy.

black and white photo of cats

Steal a Moment With a Kitty You Love

Steal a Moment

This photo was originally an unfocused mistake but I liked it better than the focused version, and so did many readers of The Creative Cat!

These greeting cards are 5″ x 7″ and are printed on 14 pt. matte-coated stock. The message inside is a simple “HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY”. Each card comes with Autumn Red 70 lb. text weight acid-free envelopes which are inkjet/laser compatible. They are packed in a clear-top vinyl greeting card box. I sell them as a set of six in my shop on Etsy.

card with moon and silhouette of two cats

Silhouettes for Valentine's Day.

Silhouettes for Valentine’s Day

I originated this design as a Halloween card using autumn shades in autumn 2011, but with a little color change it suits Valentine’s Day! It features my photograph of the Harvest Moon and the silhouettes of two of my five black cats.

These greeting cards are 5″ x 7″ and are printed on 14 pt. matte-coated stock.

This card is blank inside, ready for your message.

Each card comes with Autumn Red 70 lb. text weight acid-free envelopes which are inkjet/laser compatible. They are packed in a clear-top vinyl greeting card box.

They are all on Etsy

In addition to the four cards featured here you’ll find other designs on Etsy. Read about them on Portraits of Animals Marketplace.

Purple Cats Valentine Note Cards

Block Print Valentine Note Cards

And a special issue of a block print matted and framed for Valentine’s Day:

Awakening, a Special for Valentine’s Day

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All images and text 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.


All Cats on Desk

seven cats on desk

All Seven on Desk

Okay, there were the five yesterday, and today I had the opportunity to get all seven, which is the typical morning arrangement. They’re not as nicely grouped, but that’s partly because I had to stand up to take the photo, which caused Mimi and Jelly Bean to also get up and get ready to accompany me wherever I was going.

Cookie had been trying to get back on my lap, but I’d never be able to get up then. She and Kelly had been on my lap, and I was trying to keep them both on the keyboard shelf so that I could quickly stand up and take the photo.

From the back this time are Mimi and Kelly on the shelf; on the desk are Jelly Bean, Mr. Sunshine, and Mewsette and Giuseppe cuddled in a heart shape. Cookie is on my keyboard shelf, getting ready to jump down to my chair since it’s nice and warm after me sitting in it.

heart-shaped cats

Heart Cats on Desk

I think the heart shape cuddling is usually Mewsette’s idea. In every photo I have of two of them cuddling in a heart shape, Mewsette is one of the kitties!

Nonetheless, this is what my mornings are like. I gave up keeping my desk neat because anything that is set on it is moved around for kitty comfort. I’m actually looking for a new desk, shelves and whole workspace in this little corner with lots of cubbyholes to tuck things out of kitty reach, so I’m not too concerned at the moment.

As I said about yesterday’s photo, I’m sure they all like me and enjoy spending time with me but I know their dedication to my desk has to do with the “kitty keep-warm lamps”. During the summer I don’t use the task lights very often because the room is generally bright enough, and the lights are just too darned hot. As the air cools and the sun drops down lower in the sky, my office is suddenly darker with all the trees outside. From then I turn the lights on, and if I ever needed a passive cat-herding apparatus it would be these lights. I have actually set up lights elsewhere just to see what happens, and they are immediately popular.

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.


A Valentine That’s Good for Your Cat’s Heart

gray and white cat in the sun

Namir in the sun.

I’m sure plenty of kitties will be receiving heart-shaped treats and toys this February 14, and of course they will be grateful for our enthusiastic generosity for their welfare.

But you might benefit your kitty, and many others, with another type of heart-shaped gift—a donation to the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund which funds research into Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart ailment among cats, and a very common disease among cats in general. This research will potentially save thousands of feline lives by studying the genetics of the disease and prolong thousands more lives while providing realistic treatment for cats who have been diagnosed with this disease.

namir's bedroom eyes

Namir

You may have read my articles about Namir and his four-year struggle with, and ultimate death from, HCM in July 2009. Cats deal with illness and discomfort so well we might never know there was a health issue, and Namir had no time for any suffering, but behind our everyday activities was a lot of pain and discomfort on his part, and worry and watching on mine. There was also four different medications twice a day, occasional trips to the emergency room when he developed congestive heart failure, watching him lose weight and muscle mass and ultimately know that he had no time left, and that I had to choose euthanasia rather than watch him suffer his last hours or days.

I was lucky to have Namir for years before the symptoms showed even though we’d found the heart murmur early, and he lived to be 15. Others are not so lucky because it is not unusual for a cat to be diagnosed with HCM as a kitten and only live to the tender age of four or five. So it was with Steve Dale, nationally known and syndicated pet writer, radio show host and owner of Ricky, for whom the fund is named.

photo of steve dale and his cat Ricky

Steve and Ricky, compliments of Steve Dale

As Steve writes in one of his blog posts: “In 2002, I lost my best friend – a cat named Ricky. He was a unique dude. Long before Nora, he also played the piano (improvisations jazz). Being a social guy who didn’t relegate his musical skill to his own home – he performed ‘in concert’ at places like Petco and PETsMart. Ricky knew how to do as much as most dogs, the list included jumping through a Hoola Hoop, sitting on command, giving ‘high-fives’ and more. He helped to demonstrate cats can learn just as much as their canine cousins.”

Steve commented after a recent meeting of the Winn Feline Foundation’s board,

“I am gratified that in Ricky’s memory, we’ve actually raised over six figures for the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund, and scientists have been able to prevent some cats from ever getting his horrible disease. But we still have a long ways to go to prevent all cats from ever being diagnosed. Or to find an effective drug to treat feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Right now, HCM is among the most common causes of death in middle aged indoor cats, perhaps the most common. That has to change.”

Read the rest of the above post, including more about Steve Dale and the Ricky Fund on Steve’s blog in Celebrate Valentine’s Day from Your Heart to Your Cat’s Heart and Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Research, and on the Winn Feline Foundation website where you can also make a donation.

Ricky sounds as if he was a really unforgettable character, playing the piano and doing tricks and more. Read about Ricky on Steve’s website at Ricky Showed Us What A Cat Can Be (careful, it’s a real tear-jerker, but well worth the read!).

Visit the Winn Feline Foundation for thorough and reliable information on feline health and health studies, and sign up to receive regular updates on their research.

More cats are kept as pets than dogs, but cats get less veterinary care and fewer studies are done on behalf of feline health (Catalyst Council). Research needs funding, some of which comes from foundations and government sources, but some of which needs to come from individuals like you. Cat owners need to show support for research and treatment in order to change this.


Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight

black cat with pillows

Lucy Tosses the Toss Pillows

This is the final installment of my story about Lucy, the Most Exceptional Kitten the World has Ever Known, including Meet Lucy and Lucy Inspires a Book.

A little problem

black cat at snowy window

Lucy Birdwatching

Normally I’d have a cat spayed at about four months, six at the latest depending on the circumstances. So much else was happening with the seniors in my feline family that I didn’t even think about spaying Lucy until—surprise!—she went into heat in early March. I applied to a subsidized spay and neuter program and had her spayed on what I presumed was her first birthday, April 1.

She was exactly six pounds at that time, tiny, lithe, active and social. I figured she’d always be a small cat if she was that small at one year.

A few days later I heard a noise in the basement, and Lucy seemed to be a little sheepish and subdued but otherwise fine. I was concerned, thinking she had fallen and landed on something or in a way that had injured her internally, especially so close after her spay. I called my veterinarian and described what I noticed and she described some symptoms of internal injuries for me to look for.

A week went by and I noticed that, though she hadn’t quite returned to her former activity level she was still social and affectionate, but she wasn’t eating normally. Then one morning exactly two weeks after she had been spayed she suddenly fell off the edge of normalcy and just lay on my bed in the morning, breathing heavily, looking scared and confused.

Diagnosis

black cat on table

Lucy on Wardrobe

I called my veterinarian as soon as possible that morning. I think she knew just from my description what was happening, and in fact told me that there weren’t too many options for the labored breathing, lack of appetite, failure to thrive so suddenly in an otherwise healthy kitten, and FIP was at the top of her list.

We were on the phone as she drove to her first appointment, and she changed her offer of an appointment from later that day to right after the appointment she was headed to, apparently deciding Lucy was more critical than the next appointment; I could hear her shuffling things around and I knew she’d have to call others and rearrange her schedule. I was grateful to my veterinarian’s dedication to her clients—I wanted Lucy seen as soon as possible, but I’d wait for my veterinarian. And if it was bad news, I wanted it coming from my veterinarian, not a stranger.

I remember it was pouring rain that day, and after my veterinarian arrived and examined Lucy and told me to get her to a hospital right now, not later, one that could x-ray, tap Lucy’s chest if necessary, even do an ultrasound, I drove blindly through the rain and my tears thinking how unfair it was.

The hospital tapped a total of 200cc of fluid from her little chest, uneven amounts from each side, and just a look at the fluid, typically sticky and straw-colored, told the veterinarian the likely possibility. She ran a test, and also sent out a test, but we knew what it was. Lucy really did have FIP.

What to do next?

black cat on braided rug

Lucy About to Pounce

I was advised to have her put to sleep as soon as possible, even right there. There was very little chance she would survive effusive FIP for long, it was known to be fatal within a short period of time, and that time would likely be uncomfortable, even painful for her with the effects of the disease, her lowered immunity and her organs slowly deteriorating. The fluid had put a strain on her body already, and she was open to infections, her immunity quickly taken down.

I looked at Lucy, who looked frightened but determined, and we went home.

I called my veterinarian, who knew I’d put up an effort to at least keep her comfortable for a while, also that I’d firmly believe, at least for a while, that we could beat this. How else do you beat back the darkness, but by looking for the light?

What is FIP, anyway?

black cat on table

Lucy As Centerpiece

I had heard about Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP, before then. With the overcrowded shelters of the 1980s and the awareness of Feline Leukemia Virus, or FeLV, in that decade, we had suddenly learned of a whole alphabet soup of diseases that could kill our cats, and there was no known cure, even the transmission wasn’t easily understood. We had actually gotten a grip on FeLV, FIV, Feline Aids and related diseases, but FIP continued, and still continues to, elude researchers in how it mutates into the deadly form, why some exposed cats seem to be immune, and how it can be treated, even cured.

FIP kills up to 1 in 100 cats under age 5, and cats coming from more crowded or stressful situations such as shelters or catteries are at five to 10 times greater risk of contracting and developing the disease. It is virtually 100% fatal, meaning no cats have been known to survive for more than a few months beyond diagnosis without symptoms, and while a vaccination has been developed it is hardly effective enough to make it worth the effort and risk, symptoms can be treated but the treatment is palliative, not curative, and so there is no treatment or cure.

This was not going to happen to my beloved, innocent little Lucy, the light of my life after losing my elders. She would stay with me as long as possible, and who knew, maybe we’d be the ones to win. So I had to learn more.

FIP begins as a Feline Enteric Coronavirus, or FECV. A coronavirus, in short, replicates itself by invading the actual cells of a mammal or bird species so that it replicates as a part of each cell and the host’s body may not recognize the infection and often doesn’t fight it. By contrast, a cold or influenza virus simply embeds itself somewhere in the body and begins breeding in tissue such as mucous membranes of the sinuses or lungs while the body sets up an immune response to what is clearly an invader. A complication is that the disease may sit dormant for weeks to years with only vague symptoms or no symptoms at all before it manifests.

black cat on edge of rug

Lucy Ready to Rock

About 90 percent of cats who come in contact with FECV have only minor symptoms or develop other diseases which can be treated. It’s what happens to the other 10% after the initial invasion of FECV that makes it the deadly FIP—the virus somehow—and that’s what’s currently being studied—somehow mutates within the cat’s own body into FIP, and the mutation is apparently different for each cat, even among siblings, which is what prevents setting up a standard treatment or formulating a vaccine. It’s currently suspected that a genetic factor causes or allow it to mutate into the deadly form.

There are two forms of FIP, referred to as granulomatous, or dry, FIP and effusive, or wet, FIP; the first has no apparent symptoms, the second form causes fluids to build up in the abdominal or pleural cavity, which is what I saw in Lucy near the end of the two weeks of symptoms leading up to her diagnosis. This fluid can be drained but will usually return, and the fluid itself puts a strain on the body’s function, as Lucy had trouble breathing and no doubt it put a strain on her heart, and on the immune system. The dry form has little to no fluids developing in the body, but lesions develop on the internal organs and these lesions variously affect the organ’s function and lead to secondary infection.

Whew. I looked at Lucy and she looked at me. That was a lot to take in. And it wasn’t looking very positive.

And the other concern: she had had siblings, her mother was still out there, and I had other cats in the house, all of them seniors, and Namir with his advanced heart condition. Who else was at risk? And how the heck did she get it? Where? And when? Should I confine her from the others?

Lucy in Action

Lucy in Action

I was relieved to find that FIP itself, because of the nature of the coronavirus mutation, wasn’t “laterally transmissible” from one cat to another, meaning she couldn’t pass FIP directly to another cat, so she hadn’t infected my household, though she could transmit FECV and I would have to observe the others to see if anything would develop (nothing ever has). The disease is only transmissible by contact with the feces from an infected cat, and it could be carried on fur and clothing, surviving for up to two weeks after the feces were passed, but because the disease could sit dormant for a period of time it was hard to tell where she might have picked it up. I have ten litterboxes in my house, and every so often one of the older cats, especially as they had come near their end, had had accidents. All my cats have been rescues, coming in contact with everything nature had to offer, any one of them could have been a carrier of sorts.

I don’t think I’ll ever know how she got the disease. I gave up trying to figure that out in the interests of finding out what I could do to help her in the moment.

Taking what measures I could

black cat on windowsill

Lucy on the Windowsill

Once the fluids had been drained from her chest, she was almost back to normal, and for most of the next three months she really just seemed herself though I could see a decline in her appetite and activity level. We went to work making up for time we wouldn’t have later.

I always had my little kit of antibiotics, fluids, prednisone, vitamins, flower essences, homeopathic remedies and so on, and through the years I’ve variously used acupuncture, T-touch, reiki and other healing treatments, and I looked and asked around to see what others had done with allopathic and naturopathic medicine in the case of a cat with FIP. I was willing to try anything.

I immediately began feeding her a raw diet, though I noticed that she had trouble eating the meat or canned food that I also offered. I had to back off to dry food because she seemed to have some issue in her sinuses that impaired her breathing while she ate wet food, something I had occasionally seen with Namir during a bout of congestive heart failure as well. I still gave her little “treats” of raw meat, though.

Most veterinarians had prescribed antibiotics and I had her on B-complex injections and interferon.

black cat with heart

Lucy with Heart

I did my own intuitive test to see if a gem or crystal would help protect or heal her body, and I envisioned the color amber and a heart, perhaps because the fluids had been somewhat amber-colored and in her pleural cavity, but oddly enough I had a heart-shaped piece of amber on a satin cord that had come from a family member’s visit to Poland where some of the oldest and most beautiful amber is found. I tied this around Lucy’s neck to hang against her chest and she wore it without complaint until her last day.

There didn’t seem to be any other medication or treatment that would accomplish anything, and I really didn’t want Lucy’s time to be taken up with treatments and shoving things in her mouth. She seemed comfortable and relaxed at the end of April, so we just went on as if nothing was wrong.

Around the beginning of June at an animal event I encountered an animal intuitive I had known and worked with a few times before, Renee Takacs, and explained my situation with Lucy and Namir. She did a long-distance TAT, or Tapas Acupressure Technique, session for each of them and for both together. She mentioned that Lucy felt some blockage in her sinuses, way up inside there, and we needed to keep an eye on that. I remembered her difficulty eating, but it was impossible to diagnose at the time.

We went on about the same for the next month. I did what I usually do—took lots of photos, did a few sketches, and it was in this time when Lucy was always with me still being a kitten though a little subdued, that I began my sketches for her book, the ones I’m working with now.

An Okay Three Months

black cat with table

Lucy the Art Cat

At the beginning of July it was clear that Lucy was having more trouble eating and swallowing both food and water, and she was losing weight and was dehydrated, and was also developing anemia, one of the side-effects of FIP. An exam and x-ray showed nothing encroaching in her mouth, but my veterinarian suggested it was in her sinuses (as warned above), and I imagined an infection had managed to get into her nasal cavity. Perhaps the amber had protected her heart as she never developed any more fluids in her chest, but the infection in her sinuses had likely been there from the beginning.

And I had just taken down the bag of subcutaneous fluids in the kitchen, but now I put one back up, beginning the tradition of always leaving one hanging in the kitchen to “ward off the evil spirits”. It seemed that I no sooner took the bag down than I needed one again.

I did my best to keep Lucy comfortable as she had increasing trouble eating and drinking for what would be her last week. She was quiet and blinked her eyes frequently, and I imagined a kitty headache.

On the evening of July 9, she and I had a little collision in the kitchen, I was turning on one foot with the other in the air as she came around the corner of a cabinet and we lightly bumped, my foot to the side of her face, and she seemed okay, though confused. A little later I was on the deck and heard a commotion inside, coming in to see Namir looking startled and concerned and blocking the doorway to the living room, then to the basement as Lucy reeled around the room.

Was it a seizure? Had I knocked her harder than I thought with my foot? Or had this started before that when she blindly came around the corner of the cabinet and simply grown worse in a few minutes?

Black cat

Lucy Pumpkin

I rushed her to emergency, and the reeling episode had ended but her eyes were oddly moving back and forth, reminding me of the silly cat clock where the eyes and tail move back and forth with the ticking of each second. Aside from telling me things I already knew about her general condition, the veterinarian couldn’t tell me much about this condition except it meant that the possible infection in her sinuses might be affecting her brain by adding pressure in her skull, or it may have even infected her brain. The eye movement was a form of strabismus, meaning that she had lost neural control of her eye movements and likely would not regain them. I have since learned that when the fluid collects in the pleural cavity, rare enough, it will also sometimes collect in the eyes and even in the central nervous system, rarer still, but this is likely what happened.

He sternly added that I could not leave her like this for long, and needed to consider euthanasia.

We went home, of course, and as I sat up with Lucy that night she had two more bouts of what now appeared to be vertigo. She looked frightened, and as we settled on the bed waiting for morning to call a friend for an opinion, to call Renee Takacs just for reassurance and then to call our veterinarian for “that” call, I could tell that Lucy accepted what would come. No doubt she had been holding symptoms off and dealing with her body the best she could for all for the past three months, and could no longer.

The Transition

blakc cat with rainbows

Lucy with rainbows in doorway.

My veterinarian asked me if I was sure of my decision, but she made space in her schedule at 1:00 p.m., and I followed with a call to Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. It seemed sudden to each of them who hadn’t seen the slow transition, then the previous day’s sudden change, and Lucy still looked healthy. I was almost heartened when my veterinarian looked her over and over, trying to find a reason not to have to euthanize a young kitty, but the eye rolling and vertigo continued and I knew Lucy was ready.

Namir paced nearby, then jumped up onto the arm of the recamier where I was laying with Lucy on my chest. They were buddies, and he was my comfort, so he cuddled above my head and purred and we sat quietly for a while as the others wandered by until it was time to hand her to Deb Chebatoris.

two cats at screen door

Lucy and Namir at the Door

I slipped the amber heart from Lucy’s neck before I left and held it in my hand all the way home. On the sewing machine in my bedroom I have photos of family and friends and all the cats who’ve gone to the Bridge, gently lit at night by a small lamp. I would choose a photo of Lucy later after I’d had time to think about it, but for now I slipped the satin cord of the amber heart over the round finial of the lamp and laid it gently against the dark verdigris finish of the metal shade.

After an awful night’s sleep I awoke and looked at the heart, then later as I made the bed, without Lucy’s help, I reached over and cupped the heart between my hands. It was warm, very warm, and I knew that Lucy was home.

My own transition, and Mimi and her babies

black cat on striped rug

Lucy Pink and Gray

For the first time in about 20 years, I had only four cats. From February 2006 to July 2007, I had lost five, more than half my household, all my oldest, then my youngest, and it was a transition for me too. Suddenly I just had too much time on my hands and too much time to think.

After that much loss, it was hard to imagine that anything lives long enough to love it, or that it’s worth the risk. I still had Peaches, Cookie, Namir and Kelly, aged 17, 15, 13 and 11, Namir with his HCM, the others senior approaching geriatric, and I knew that if I didn’t do something, and soon, they’d all become objects of fear and pain to me.

On July 11, the day after I let Lucy go, I was in my basement with the door open, Kelly sitting by the screen door, and I saw Lucy’s mom on the brick patio outside. She came near the door and she and Kelly had one of those cat conversations where they both crouch quietly and perfectly still and don’t look at each other, but you know an immense amount of communication is happening.

Later on my deck, I looked down and noticed Maia, her name then, waddling down the brick path and realized she was expecting—again. I need to take her in, I thought, and even as I dismissed the thought of taking my neighbor’s cat and kittens and the trouble and expense of raising them and finding them homes I could picture them inside and I pictured Lucy inside.

I didn’t run and grab Maia then, instead I called my veterinarian.

“I’d like to take in Lucy’s mother,” I said.

“O-kay…?” she said slowly, giving me time to explain.

“She keeps having babies, they’ll never get her spayed,” I said, “that has to stop. And aside from that, we’ll never know where Lucy got the FIP, but if her mom carries the genes to allow the mutation, and keeps passing it onto these kittens, the least I can do is get her and them off the streets and we’ll have that many fewer cases of FIP out there.”

“Yes,” she said, “I think that’s a good idea.”

profile of black cat

Lucy's Profile

I shook my head in disbelief. My veterinarian never agrees with me right off, at least she discusses things, and I was certain I’d get a lecture about keeping my numbers down and taking care of Namir and the older ones and so on. Maybe she felt sorry for me, maybe she agreed with me, after all she had been through each of the losses right along with me, but either way, we agreed that my household had already been exposed to FIP and it couldn’t get any worse, and getting Maia off the streets was a good thing to do. Scrub down the house, especially anything to do with cat litter, and that should take care of any traces. I’d ask around to see if there were any other risks associated with bringing in Maia with her next litter.

No one gave me any reasons not to, so I asked my neighbor if this time, instead of giving me the kittens to find homes, if she would just give me the cat. She said that would be fine.

No room in my house accommodates kittens well except the bathroom. I actually wasn’t sure what Maia would be like since she wasn’t particularly friendly outside, and I wanted to keep her in a situation where she couldn’t get out into the rest of my house. It took me a few days to clear out a space in my studio large enough to put a large dog cage and outfit it with basic stuff for birthing and babies, plus food, water and litter for Maia.

As it happened, the kittens were born before I was ready to take them all, but that’s another story I’ll tell one day soon.

I will say, though, that the day I brought them in, Lucy was in the room with us. More on that when I introduce the new family.

For more information on FIP I recommend several resources:

SOCK FIP, http://www.sockfip.com/, the official page of the genetic study of FIP at the University of California at Davis led by Dr. Niels C. Pedersen. This site explains as much about FIP as the researchers know and is regularly updated with information. They also accept DNA in the form of cheek swabs from cats who have FIP or who are related to cats with FIP, and the data gathered from the DNA is entered into the study. They are especially interested in freely-bred cats who pass genetic information randomly in addition to cats bred at catteries.

The Winn Feline Health Foundation, http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/, which supports and funds studies of all feline health issues. You can read through articles (http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Health/FIP.html) about FIP, especially one published by Drs. Susan Little and Melissa Kennedy in January 2010,  (http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Pages/FIP_Web_2010.pdf). You can also donate to the Bria Fund for FIP research (http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Pages/BriaFund.html).

The American Association for Feline Practitioners, http://www.catvets.com/search/search.aspx?Search=go&Submit=search&q=fip, has links to articles on FIP research and treatment as well.

Steve Dale features one-hour interviews with each Dr. Niels C. Pedersen and Dr. Diane Addie which you can access as podcasts (http://www.stevedalepetworld.com/print-archive/tribune-media-services/boxes/428-fip-update). Also search FIP on his website, http://www.stevedalepetworld.com/.

And well-known pet health and behavior author Amy D. Shojai has two detailed but easily understood articles on her website at http://www.shojai.com/articles-index.html.

These are the sources I used for this article, and also back when I initially researched FIP. From Cornell University’s Veterinary School to Tufts University and other research schools and programs in between, you’ll also find plenty of other information out there about FIP.


We Remember Amber

amber

Amber

It’s never welcome news when a friend’s cat is ill, especially when the friend is a skilled caregiver providing all the requirements for a healthy life. Logic or intuition, or both, may warn you that only the most virulent diseases could get through the defenses your friend has provided her cat, and the outcome may not be good.

Yesterday our friend Ingrid King said goodbye to her precious Amber. Ingrid always described Amber as “a wise old soul in a feline body”, quiet, loving, gentle, purring constantly, providing comfort and support for her human mom though times of great change and other loss.

ingrid king and amber

Ingrid and Amber

You could see Amber’s inner peace in any photo of her, always composed and calm. A tortoiseshell cat, Amber had the typically unique markings, and Ingrid found her name from the heart-shaped amber spot on the top of Amber’s head.

image of book cover

Buckley's Story

I’ve gotten to “know” Amber through reading her posts on Ingrid’s blog, The Conscious Cat, in Amber’s Mewsings, but I feel as if I just “met” Amber through reading Ingrid’s book, Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher. I really appreciated getting to know the loving and free-spirited Buckley who inspired Ingrid to change her career and then to write the book, but always in the background was Amber, quietly providing support and love, never questioning, always devoted to Ingrid. I’ve known cats like her, and aside from all the other lessons in the book I came away loving Amber very much.

A chronic illness can prepare you for a loss, but an acute disease, especially with non-specific symptoms, can send you and your veterinarian scrambling for answers, and the loss can be a shock. After noticing some non-specific symptoms about ten days ago she began treating Amber for laryngitis and coaxing her to eat, but Amber ended up in feline intensive care and was diagnosed with a virulent calcivirus, complicated by an underlying heart condition.

Ingrid has also been a supportive mentor for me as I’ve learned social networking, blogging and using Facebook.

It’s hard to believe Amber gone so quickly, and Ingrid and her new kitten Allegra must be feeling very lost, so my household will send them love.


A Valentine That Goes Straight to Your Cat’s Heart

I’m sure plenty of kitties will be receiving heart-shaped treats and toys on Sunday, and of course they will be grateful for our enthusiastic generosity for their welfare.

But you might benefit your kitty, and many others, with another type of heart-shaped gift—a donation to the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund which funds research into Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart ailment among cats, and a very common disease among cats in general. This research will potentially save thousands of feline lives by studying the genetics of the disease and prolong thousands more lives while providing realistic treatment for cats who have been diagnosed with this disease.

namir's bedroom eyes

Namir

Many of you have read my articles about Namir and his four-year struggle with, and ultimate death from, HCM in July 2009. Cats deal with illness and discomfort so well we might never know there was a health issue, and Namir had no time for any suffering, but behind our everyday activities was a lot of pain and discomfort on his part, and worry and watching on mine, not to mention four different medications twice a day, occasional trips to the emergency room when he developed congestive heart failure, watching him lose weight and muscle mass and ultimately know that he had no time left, and that I had to choose euthanasia rather than watch him suffer his last hours or days.

I was lucky to have Namir for years before the symptoms showed, and he lived to be 15. Others are not so lucky because it is not unusual for a cat to be diagnosed with HCM as a kitten and only live to the tender age of four or five. So it was with Steve Dale, nationally known and syndicated pet writer, radio show host and owner of Ricky, for whom the fund is named.

photo of steve dale and his cat Ricky

Steve and Ricky, compliments of Steve Dale

As Steve writes in one of his blog posts: “In 2002, I lost my best friend – a cat named Ricky. He was a unique dude. Long before Nora, he also played the piano (improvisations jazz). Being a social guy who didn’t relegate his musical skill to his own home – he performed ‘in concert’ at places like Petco and PETsMart. Ricky knew how to do as much as most dogs, the list included jumping through a Hoola Hoop, sitting on command, giving ‘high-fives’ and more. He helped to demonstrate cats can learn just as much as their canine cousins.”

Steve commented after a recent meeting of the Winn Feline Foundation’s board,

“I am gratified that in Ricky’s memory, we’ve actually raised over six figures for the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund, and scientists have been able to prevent some cats from ever getting his horrible disease. But we still have a long ways to go to prevent all cats from ever being diagnosed. Or to find an effective drug to treat feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Right now, HCM is among the most common causes of death in middle aged indoor cats, perhaps the most common. That has to change.”

Read the rest of the above post, including more about Steve Dale and the Ricky Fund on Steve’s blog in Celebrate Valentine’s Day from Your Heart to Your Cat’s Heart and Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Research, and on the Winn Feline Foundation website where you can also make a donation.

Ricky sounds as if he was a really unforgettable character, playing the piano and doing tricks and more. Read about Ricky on Steve’s website at Ricky Showed Us What A Cat Can Be (careful, it’s a real tear-jerker, but well worth the read!).

Visit the Winn Feline Foundation for thorough and reliable information on feline health and health studies, and sign up to receive regular updates on their research.

More cats are kept as pets, but cats get less veterinary care and fewer studies are done on behalf of feline health (Catalyst Council). Research needs funding, some of which comes from foundations and government sources, but some of which needs to come from individuals like you. Cat owners need to show support for research and treatment in order to change this.


My Valentines

Heart-shaped Cats

Heart-shaped Cats

Brother and sister Mr. Sunshine and Ms. Mewsette cuddle on the crumpled bathroom rug, arms about each other and tails entwined. Honestly, I couldn’t have posed this, but it will certainly be a piece of artwork in the future!

Cookie’s nose making a cold, wet dot on my wrist as she exudes happiness. Namir swatting my elbow so I’ll come close enough for him to tuck his paw in my hand while he gazes up at me. Jelly Bean sitting next to me loudly purring and blinking his eyes in bliss. Kelly talking her way through her upward-downward cat postures when I enter the room. These are my valentines, and then some. How could I miss that I am adored?And they don’t need a special day to let me know about  it.

I didn’t take this photo on Valentine’s Day, but close enough; I just wish the light had been a little better. However, the greatest Valentine’s gift my cats give me is the constant inspiration of their activities and personalities.

Thanks, everyone! It was a great Valentine’s Day!