My Feline Garden Sprites

photo of two cats in a garden

Namir and Cookie inspect my gardening.

I first posted this article in April 2009 as Namir and Cookie and I finished cleaning up the garden for another gardening year and republished it again in 2010 in honor of Peaches 100th birthday, and now in 2011 in honor of Senior Pet Awareness Month. A number of cats have grown to their senior years here, and one of the treats they get is to carouse in the backyard with me as I garden; the sunshine and fresh air is so invigorating for them and we can enjoy that little bit of extra time and special memories.

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

It’s a joy to share the time and the experience with them, but with a flicker of sadness, to watch Namir sprint across the yard just for the joy of running and Cookie patrol the garden paths, even in the late winter when strewn with weeds and debris. It means they are old enough to want to stick with me while I’m out in the garden, old enough that our time is limited and these will be our golden memories. It’s a tradition when the old ones get to be this old that they also get to enjoy time outdoors with me.

Because animals live shorter lives than we do, chances are we will outlive them. And if we adopt and foster a number of animals, we’ll live through that many losses. It never gets easy, but with the awareness gained from each loss, watching the oldest grow into their senior years is less shocking and painful. Animals are so graceful about aging, not like us fretting about gray hair and memory loss. The brevity of their lives may seem unfair to us, but that span is normal for them. The lesson is to enjoy them in this moment while preparing for the unavoidable, but not to dwell on either.

Read the rest of this entry »


Early, and Late in the Year

cat on afghan

Colorful Nap

Again, remembering my little feral kitty, here is a photo of her from about the age of two, when she’d gotten accustomed to living in the house but was still a little uneasy about appearing out “in public”, generally sleeping under tables and walking behind the furniture to pass from one room to another, occasionally sleeping in the sun on the floor.

A sunbeam, however, managed to draw her out and here I found her in the morning after breakfast, in January as I know by the quince blooming outside the window and my afghan on the back of the couch, warm in the winter sun; it’s a photo I’ve always treasured. It was the very first time I ever saw her in what she’d consider a vulnerable position, out in the open, simply enjoying her space. And because of her difficulties with her hind legs, getting up on the back of the couch was no small feat.

I know she realized I was there, and for a long moment she simply kept enjoying the sun on her fur, her eyes closed, breathing calm and regular. When her eyes opened, even though she actually trusted me and even slept with me, I knew my looking at her was disturbing, so as much as I wanted to enjoy the moment as long as she enjoyed the sunshine, I remember looking down, and backing around the corner. I remember she stayed there for a while, and visited the spot now and then.

photo of cat in sunshine

Late in the Year, black and white photo © B E Kazmarski

And here she is “late in the year”, as the photo is titled, at age 19, in November, and I love this photo just as much.

“Portrait of a senior kitty”…this is a favorite of my black and white photos. Aside from a strict adherence to twice-daily mealtimes, her one and only absolute necessity was a sunbath, preferrably al fresco, every day to help soothe the arthritis that had built in her somewhat hobbled hind legs.

I took this photo during the last warm day in November, just three months before she died. Some viewers have told me they have a difficult time piecing the image together because her features are distorted by age, her eyes set deep, her cheekbones sunken, nose slightly flattened by dehydration and ear tips curved as the skin on those extremities begins to wither, but I knew every hair, every feature.

Between those two photos, she filled my life with love and beauty, all through the year.

—————————————

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way 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.


My Favorite Feral, and My Enlightenment

pastel painting of a gray cat on a pink sweater

A Rosy Glow, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski; a real rarity for Moses to be in the middle of the floor, but for a nap in the sun she'd take all sorts of "risks".

I lovingly remember my first feral kitten each year on Feral Cat Day. She taught me that love is worth waiting for.

“I caught this little gray kitten,” my niece was saying, a little breathless. “I have her in a box, she kind of has diarrhea, but she’s okay. We can’t keep her, can you come and get her?” Jennifer knew I’d move the earth to rescue a cat and didn’t need to ask twice.

It was September, 1987, and my niece had tracked me down at my mother’s house where I was probably doing some sort of work on a Sunday; my father had recently moved to a nursing home and while he’d been ill I’d taken over caring for the house. I was also trying to convince my mother to adopt one of my rescued foster cats now that she was alone in the house. I’d gladly give up cleaning the gutters or whatever I was doing to see a new kitty, and perhaps this could be the kitty my mother would adopt.

I was met at the door of my sister’s house by two excited girls, my niece, Jennifer, then 14, and her little sister Lindsey, then 5—what children don’t like to feel they’ve done good by rescuing a lost animal? My sister was out for a few hours so the girls were taking care of the kitten, but each of them already had a cat and they knew that was the limit for the household.

They took me to the box where they’d stashed the kitten, and a tiny gray wisp with matted fur looked up at me with a tired expression in green eyes. I didn’t see or smell diarrhea, but my niece told me something clear had been coming out of its butt now and then, and the kitten hadn’t really eaten anything.

I picked the kitten up and it fit easily in two cupped hands, wavering unsteadily but without reacting to my handling, the expression unchanged. Jennifer and Lindsey had weighed the kitten on their mother’s postal scale, and she came in at 14 ounces.

I hadn’t rescued too many kitties yet, and to my untrained eye the kitten looked fine, just tired, and I was glad not to be fighting with a raging demon as could often be the case.

The feral colonies at Kane Hospital

pencil sketch of a cat in sunlight

Moses in the Sun, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

Jennifer told me she’d seen this kitten around the neighborhood on her paper route for at least the past month and tried to catch her, but the kitten kept escaping across the street to the old nursing home, now closed.

This had been the original Kane Hospital, a multi-story facility providing nursing care for severely handicapped and elderly patients. It was in a suburban neighborhood on the top of a hill surrounded on three sides by steep wooded slopes, and around that by developed neighborhoods—the perfect recipe for welcoming a feral cat colony. The building obviously provided food services along with housing which meant dumpsters with food scraps, and employees who would see the cats sneak onto the grounds from the surrounding woods and would feed them, as anyone would seeing a stray cat.

For some reason this kitten had decided to visit the neighborhood across the street. Perhaps it had been someone’s kitten and gotten lost, or perhaps it had followed one of the owned or stray cats that lived in the neighborhood and may have visited or joined one of the colonies at the home.

Tangled in grass by a puddle…hence the name

 

cat sleeping by bookshelf

Contentment, another spot in the sun

In any case, that day had been rainy with lots of puddles left behind, wet grass and weeds and damp piles of leaves. Jennifer said she had chased the kitten one more time and it had gotten tangled in tall wet grass at the edge of the hospital property, fallen and nearly landed in a puddle, but the kitten didn’t get up again, just laid there. She was afraid it had died, but it was still breathing when she got to it, and didn’t fight when she picked it up and carried it home.

A cursory glance at the kitten’s hind end showed no trace of stool and no smell, but what looked like boy’s parts on the kitten’s emaciated frame. A closer look at the rest of the kitten’s tiny body revealed loose fur and bones, no apparent muscle or fat, and that tired, aged expression suddenly looked strangely wise. I pronounced the kitten a boy and named him “Moses” for his gray fur, the wisdom in his eyes, and the fact that he’d gotten tangled in some reeds by a puddle. Naming rescued cats can often be a hasty activity, whatever comes to mind for any reason will often become the name, and so it was in this case.

Still having work to do at my mother’s house, I took the kitten and the box back there. We had roasted chicken so I set him on the kitchen floor and attempted to feed him little bits of chicken, which he weakly chewed and swallowed, swaying back and forth, sometimes falling over. Small amounts of clear liquid were seeping out of his butt, and his expression was fading. Though I had hopes of getting him into a good condition and convincing my mother to keep him, I knew this condition wasn’t good so I got him comfortable, finished what I was doing, and took him home.

Distemper, I was thinking, though he hadn’t vomited, but it was the only thing I knew at the time and I’d seen many bedraggled kittens who turned out to have the illness and died. He went immediately into the bathroom, door tightly closed; I had four other cats at the time and though they had their shots it was best not to expose them to whatever the kitten might have. My regular veterinarian was closed, and although they offered an emergency service I decided just to observe the kitten to see if he survived the night, then decide what to do with him.

The Natural Cat, and my first steps into really caring for my cats

cat on patterned blanket

A Colorful Nap

All I had was dry food, and not very good food at that. Oh, the days prior to the enlightenment, but this kitten would open the door for me to a new way of caring for cats. I had just finished reading The Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier and Norma Eckroate, that original version published in 1981, learning all about feline diets, health issues and behavior from an entirely new perspective, but one I’d been looking for. The book reinforced my ideal that cats weren’t just indoor-outdoor disposable/replaceable pets with food and healthcare optional but viable objects of love and affection deserving the best home we could offer any animal companion. At work I was the crazy cat lady so I just kept quiet about my cats, but at home they were becoming increasingly important in my life, inspirations for art and writing, their beauty and affection filling my thoughts, and I was ready to move forward to a new level of living with cats.

I got some canned food, running off to a pet store for Science Diet which had been mentioned in the book and was all that was available then in higher quality canned food. I also cooked up a chicken, and hand fed both to the quiet little kitten along with a few droppers of water. Moses lived through the night and though he stayed curled in his towel-filled box the next day he seemed more alert. He had had some difficulty passing stool so I massaged his hips until he went; mild diarrhea began after that, but it didn’t seem to upset him.

Monday morning I was able to make an appointment for him for that night after work. He was still quiet and listless when I got home and packed him in the carrier, and while I thought he looked great the veterinarian (there were several at this practice) had a skeptical look on his face when I handed Moses to him.

He looked Moses over—to my surprise “he” was a “she”, those protruding pelvic bones were what I thought were little testicles and her fur was so matted I couldn’t see much else. Saying the kitten was a little weak he advised me to take her home and keep her comfortable and “when she feels better”, bring her back for her shots. She didn’t apparently have any illnesses, no signs of distemper or anything, she was just very weak. Feed her and make sure she drank water, he said.

I could do that, so, Natural Cat in hand, I got baby food, more Science Diet, and cooked up a little meal for Moses that seemed appropriate for “recovery”. I also got a case of Science Diet for my other cats. I wasn’t quite ready for the raw diet yet, or to cook meals for them.

A distinct change in personality

pencil sketch of sleeping cat

Pawse, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

Moses seemed stronger each day and the food disappeared, and though I had to teach her about the litterbox she was a quick learner. We were getting along fine, which was why I was shocked on Wednesday morning when she looked up at me as usual when I went into the bathroom, but her expression changed to pure horror and she scurried behind the toilet, hissing. I couldn’t get my hands on her and just had to put out her food, take my shower and go to work. She hid every time I came into the room, no longer hissing but obviously terrified and only a week or two of patiently sitting in there reading helped her finally emerge while I was in there, but only to run past me to her protected box from which she eyed me warily. This was confusing—I’d only seen kittens grow friendlier!

Soon I deemed her well enough to return to the vet, thinking I’d lose the little trust I’d gained by stuffing her into a carrier and into the car and exposing her to more strangers and shots and other handling, but I felt she needed an exam and her shots. I still considered her a foster, not one of my household, and she needed to be ready to adopt, whenever that would be.

Nearly starved to death?

pastel painting of cat in bed

Sunday Morning, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

There were no dramatics at the vet, she just closed her eyes and tried to climb into corners and armpits. The veterinarian was the same as before and looked a little surprised. “You mean she survived?” he asked.

“Well…sure,” I answered confused. What had he expected?

“She appeared to be in the final stages of starvation when you brought her in,” he said. He explained the clear mucous she was emitting at first meant she hadn’t had anything but maybe water in her intestines for a week, maybe more, and her body had begun to shut down. Even with food and water she didn’t have much of a chance of survival because her body might not turn around and begin to function normally again. He knew I rescued and fostered cats and felt the kitten’s best chances were just to go home and be carefully fed and cared for, as he knew I’d do.

I had no idea she’d been so close to death. I was a little angry he hadn’t told me, but perhaps it would only have frightened me.

Even though she weighed about two pounds by that time, he noted that she was a little older than I’d thought, probably four or five months judging by the development of her bones and really needed to gain some weight.

First nutrition, then socialization

More lessons for me to learn. No other cat I’d rescued had ever taken this long to acclimate to its new surroundings and I was tempted to pick her up and handle her to get her used to it, chase her out of her room to play and explore the rest of the house, act like a “normal” cat. Something about her, something in her expression, told me just to be patient, let her work it out. Only years later did I learn the specifics of feral cats, but long before that Moses taught me to let the kitty figure it out first.

The bathroom was inconvenient, though, so after that visit to the vet I moved her to the spare bedroom, transferring all her stuff then gently picking up her box and setting it down in the corner of the room. I used the room for crafts at the time, and while I did spend time in there I also worked a lot of hours and had five other cats to care for when I came home, plus my mother’s house and my father to visit on the weekend. Things would be different today when I work at home and can spend more time with fosters, but for the first few months Moses spent most of her time under the day bed when I was in there, just under the dust ruffle watching me, and very quiet. Eventually she would come out to eat, and finally came out to brazenly sit and look at me but trying to touch her frightened her, and I would rather die than frighten her.

I began leaving the door open when I was in there, and then when I was upstairs, and eventually the other cats wandered in and they could now meet the little soul they’d been smelling on me and under the door. At least I could see that she continued to grow and was much less fearful than she had been, though I thought I’d never be able to touch her again.

Another foster joins us

black and white photo of gray cat on bricks

Moses on her bricks.

The following April a stray and very pregnant kitty wandered down my sidewalk singing pleasantly on a cold night. Aside from the bathroom, my only room for fostering was Moses’ room, as I had come to call it, and it was difficult to keep my other cats from running into the bathroom with me.

Moses had explored the upstairs and sometimes come downstairs even coming to the kitchen for mealtime, and had found a safe harbor in Stanley. I would sometimes see them walking together, Moses cuddling against his side for safety. It might be time to take a chance and see if she had managed to acquaint herself with the house and the household.

She was not in her room so I closed the door, went outside and picked up the mama kitty and carried her upstairs (purring), and installed her in the spare bedroom. Moses was a little frightened when she found her door was closed, but as it turned out she had mingled with the rest of the household enough that she followed their habits of showing up at mealtime and even eventually coming into the bedroom.

The Velveteen Kitty

black and white of cat on deck

Moses on the deck

We did make friends, Moses and I, though she was 12 before she sat on my lap, and I could never pet her with both hands, only one at a time. Long before she trusted me enough to pet her, I was besotted with her shy and gentle personality, and as long as I didn’t make any attempt to pick her up or entrap her in any way, or any loud noises or fast moves, she would sit near me purring and blinking at me happily. I nearly cried with happiness when she did this. With her thick gray fur and sweet personality—“If she was any sweeter, she’d melt,” I always said—I called her The Velveteen Kitty.

When other people entered the house, she sidled off behind something and seemed to disappear. If she was frightened and couldn’t hide she rolled up in a ball and hid her face but never ran away. And she was absolutely silent, only after several years giving a little “silent meow” but only talking slightly to herself late at night when she would play alone with a bizzy ball downstairs.

A slight disability

I initially thought she was simply too wary or frightened to run and play like other kittens, but I also noticed that sometimes her hind legs wobbled. She could jump short distances but certainly not like the others, and she never ran but only trotted and went up and down the steps like a bunny. But when her hind legs didn’t seem to catch up to the rest of her body I asked the veterinarian about it and had her X-rayed. Her legs had seemed to quit developing at some point, the joint not completed and working properly, the bones smaller than they should be, the muscles undeveloped. Whether this was from prenatal or post-natal nutrition, a genetic condition or all of the above no one could know. Though she couldn’t run and play, and could only sit or lie down and only do a partial cat stretch, she never let this get in her way of enjoying her day.

When glucosamine/condroiton supplements became available I gave her the pills for about a month. It made no difference in her ability, and while she tolerated the pill she gave me one of her very direct looks and headed for a spot of sunshine, or asked to be allowed into her outside areas so she could soak in the sunshine. This was her preferred therapy.

Any animal born and raised with the conditions Moses met in her first few months, then left with the resulting physical and emotional challenges, has all due right to complain, act out or simply give up. But aside from a certain stubbornness, none of these was in her repertoire. I have never met a gentler, quieter, more peaceful soul than Moses, the shy feral kitten and timid adult who became the safe harbor for other frightened kittens I’ve fostered through the years.

And I certainly learned to let the kitty figure it out for themselves and not force my attentions on them. I’ve trapped and rescued many ferals and frightened strays since Moses, and I’m ever glad this patient, gentle soul came first to teach me how it works.

My little garden sprite

cat in garden

Moses in her garden

In her later years she was the spirit of my garden, her main goal to find the sunniest spot on some nice, warm bricks and have a really good nap as birds, voles and other creatures went about their daily habits to her sleepy disregard. She quit running when strangers arrived as her hearing and eyesight began to fail in her later teens and she simply wasn’t as aware of them. She made it to her nineteenth year, accepting all of her physical limitations but enjoying life no less than some other cats who race around the house, beg for attention and steal food.

She simply suffered from old age, but had no specific condition. I was surprised—after her beginnings I had expected her to be frail through her life, but as organs began to fail and it was obvious there was nothing I could do but keep her comfortable, my veterinarian reminded me that she lived through her early experience largely on her own inner strength and that was how she had gotten to be 19. She still had that strength and faced her own weakening condition resolutely. The only time in her life she ever made a real meow was the day she literally told me it was time; lying with her back to me, unusual enough, she lifted her head and let out one long, loud meow that raised my hackles and left me with gooseflesh, but I clearly knew what it meant.

Poetry Inspired by Moses

After staying up all night at an emergency clinic one night in January, I had to leave her at another veterinarian for the next day to get her fully stabilized after a bout of congestive heart failure. She’s tough as a rock and, to everyone’s surprise, persisted and recovered. Sitting in the veterinarian’s office waiting to pick her up I could not stop the tears, knowing what I would face. Suffering from an excess of emotions myself, something that’s only slowed me down but never killed me, I had to do something creative or completely burst into tears while…

At the Vet’s, Waiting for Moses

I remembered a moment earlier in the day
even through the fear and pain of your impending death:
in that moment when I reached out to you
and you firmly rubbed your face against my hand,
nuzzled your nose between my finger and thumb
and lifted your chin for me to scratch underneath,
eyes squinting at me, whiskers curved forward, nose crumpled;
you, reassuring me.
The look in your eyes wipes the tears from my face
and I can, for the moment,
spontaneously smile and love you completely as of old,
above our grief.

I was lucky enough to be out in the woods a day or two after we realized it was the final challenge for Moses and she would not have long to live. Assisting a living being through the last course of its life is never easy to watch or to act upon, especially with an animal who doesn’t communicate as we do. Reading the signs and simply performing palliative care can be more difficult than critical care, but with a big dose of love in both directions it is bearable. I wrote the poem below, except for the last two stanzas, when I knew I’d be facing this realization, and only prayed for the strength and wisdom to do the right thing by Moses. I wrote the last two stanzas while sitting up with her the night before I knew I’d have her put to sleep, when I felt I could sum up what we had done.

Things I Found in the Woods

Tiny rivulets of water released from thawing soil
flowing beneath last year’s debris, trickling and gurgling down hills
hurrying before the freeze returns.

A cup-shaped fungus holding a tablespoon of snowmelt
for a song sparrow to sip, giving early practice to its vernal melody
for the time when spring arrives in earnest.

Ferns, newly-green, draped on hillsides,
fluttering like garlands in the caressing, mild breeze
eager to gather a little nourishment to last the rest of the winter.

Fallen trees blanketed with bright green moss,
thick and lush already in the brief January thaw
filling a span of life in but a few days.

Four young white-tailed deer, capricious as the gusts,
feeling the flush of their first spring as adults
even though this intoxicating weather is fleeting.

An understanding of the normal cycles of birth and rebirth,
but also the confidence to grasp the moment for what it offers
even at the risk of pain and loss when the natural season returns.

A fraction of your dignity in accepting the end of your cycle in this existence,
and the courage to accompany and assist you with strength borne of love
as you transition from this beautiful world into the next.

 

Dusk in the Woods

pastel painting of snowy woods with stream at dusk

Dusk in the Woods

Shortly after that I began one of my most soulful paintings, “Dusk in the Woods”. My precious Moses was nearing her end as I worked on it, me all through the night at my easel, her at my feet, every day losing a little more physical control as, at 19, her body just began giving out. I needed a project as big as this to bear the process of her loss, and in turn my strength and calm as I worked helped Moses.

I will always connect this painting with her, and those late nights when I disappeared into this scene in order to paint it from memory. There is more symbolism about the season and time of day than I can list here to associate with loss and rebirth, the cycles and seasons.

Meeting Deb Chebatoris and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Losing Moses was when I first met this wonderful person and business. I had Moses cremated as I do all my cats. As she cremated Moses Deb called, explaining that she didn’t want me to think she was crazy and that she didn’t see visions in things, but Moses’ cremains—the bones left after the flesh has burned away—just glowed and were radiant white, and were the most beautiful cremation she’s ever seen. She waited a bit to process the bones, or grind them up, because she wanted to look at them, and she wasn’t sure about calling me for fear I’d think she was a little loose. I was glad she called. I always knew that Moses was beautiful from the inside out, I just didn’t know it was literal.

My little feral kitty

They all teach me lessons, and hers was one of peace and patience in the face of all that happens; with love, everything works out right.

…and if you’ve read the story, yes, I think she was loved enough to be real…

—————————————

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way 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.


Sunny Autumn Mornings

two cats on the deck in the sun

Moses and Stanley, on the deck in the morning.

Moses, 19, and Stanley, 23, enjoy the gentle September morning sun on the deck in the summer of 2006.

Beautiful autumn mornings always bring memories of earlier days for me, and as Cookie and I have enjoyed our mornings outdoors I’ve been remembering when she had to stay inside so that Stanley and Moses could join me outdoors. My yard is not fenced, and Stanley had a habit of darting off unexpectedly, while Cookie, a youthful 14 at this time, would sometimes wander off in the opposite direction, but Moses, deaf by that time and fairly hobbled with arthritis, happily slept in the sun on the deck. The two geriatric cats had natural seniority and always had their time outdoors. If they came in while I was still in the garden or working on the deck, Cookie could join me, and she did have the opportunity fairly frequently.

Moses always had problems with her knee joints especially, which had never fully formed and always kept her at a slow walk, and pretty much on one level; I set up a series of footstool and chair next to my bed, and she could slowly walk up steps, preferring the second floor. No medications seemed to make a difference and I couldn’t find an alternative practitioner near enough to get her acupuncture, which I sensed would work for her. Instead, she only asked for her daily thermonuclear treatment, simply lying in the sun for at least 15 minutes, even in winter. Only the outdoors would do for this; she preferred the sun-warmed bricks outside the basement door, but the weathered wood of the deck worked for her as well, and her silver tabby fur seemed to hold the heat after she’d come back inside.

Stanley was with me for 21 years when he passed two years after this photo, and we estimated his age between 3 and 5 when he showed up my porch. After seeing many more cats in that age range over the years, I would guess Stanley was closer to the high end of that span in part because of details his eyes and body structure that I recognize now. Three years seems kind of juvenile for him at that time, though his swirly stripes and white paws and chest always made him seem youthful. He had slipped into chronic renal failure at age 21 and I dosed him with sub-cutaneous fluids anywhere from daily to twice monthly from then on, but he thrived even with that, enjoying every moment of ranging about the yard, downloading is “pee-mail” from the foliage and uploading responses.

And my deck hasn’t changed much in these years. I still have the pot of basil on one side and parsley on the other every summer, a cherry tomato plant that grows all over everything and flowers in pots wherever they get enough sun, although the wonderful red-apple hummingbird feeder finally cracked and couldn’t be repaired. I’ve had that since I moved in, and it’s in photos of my deck, yard and house for all those years, like a permanent accent, and whenever I see it in a photo I truly miss it.

—————————————–

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way 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.


Late in the Year

photo of cat in sunshine

Late in the Year, black and white photo © B E Kazmarski

In honor of National Feral Cat Day, I’m featuring this photo of my favorite feral kitty, the one who taught me all cats do not begin life as pets and need to be allowed to find their own way in this human space.

“Portrait of a senior kitty”…this is a favorite of my black and white photos. Moses had been a feral kitty and against many odds lived to be 19. Aside from a strict adherence to twice-daily mealtimes, her one and only absolute necessity was a sunbath, preferrably al fresco, every day to help soothe the arthritis that had built in her somewhat hobbled hind legs.

I took this photo during the last warm day in November, just three months before she died. I’ve seen some viewers have a difficult time piecing the image together because her features are distorted by age, her eyes set deep, her cheekbones sunken, nose slightly flattened by dehydration and ear tips curved as the skin on those extremities begins to wither.

I’ve written about her for National Feral Cat Day on this blog as well.


My Favorite Feral, and My Enlightenment

pastel painting of a gray cat on a pink sweater

A Rosy Glow, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski; a real rarity for Moses to be in the middle of the floor, but for a nap in the sun she'd take all sorts of "risks".

“I caught this little gray kitten,” my niece was saying, a little breathless. “I have her in a box, she kind of has diarrhea, but she’s okay. We can’t keep her, can you come and get her?” Jennifer knew I’d move the earth to rescue a cat and didn’t need to ask twice.

It was September, 1987, and my niece had tracked me down at my mother’s house where I was probably doing some sort of work on a Sunday; my father had recently moved to a nursing home and while he’d been ill I’d taken over caring for the house. I was also trying to convince my mother to adopt one of my rescued foster cats now that she was alone in the house. I’d gladly give up cleaning the gutters or whatever I was doing to see a new kitty, and perhaps this could be the kitty my mother would adopt.

I was met at the door of my sister’s house by two excited girls, my niece, Jennifer, then 14, and her little sister Lindsey, then 5—what children don’t like to feel they’ve done good by rescuing a lost animal? My sister was out for a few hours so the girls were taking care of the kitten, but each of them already had a cat and they knew that was the limit for the household.

They took me to the box where they’d stashed the kitten, and a tiny gray wisp with matted fur looked up at me with a tired expression in green eyes. I didn’t see or smell diarrhea, but my niece told me something clear had been coming out of its butt now and then, and the kitten hadn’t really eaten anything.

I picked the kitten up and it fit easily in two cupped hands, wavering unsteadily but without reacting to my handling, the expression unchanged. Jennifer and Lindsey had weighed the kitten on their mother’s postal scale, and she came in at 14 ounces.

I hadn’t rescued too many kitties yet, and to my untrained eye the kitten looked fine, just tired, and I was glad not to be fighting with a raging demon as could often be the case.

The feral colonies at Kane Hospital

pencil sketch of a cat in sunlight

Moses in the Sun, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

Jennifer told me she’d seen this kitten around the neighborhood on her paper route for at least the past month and tried to catch her, but the kitten kept escaping across the street to the old nursing home, now closed.

This had been the original Kane Hospital, a multi-story facility providing nursing care for severely handicapped and elderly patients. It was in a suburban neighborhood on the top of a hill surrounded on three sides by steep wooded slopes, and around that by developed neighborhoods—the perfect recipe for welcoming a feral cat colony. The building obviously provided food services along with housing which meant dumpsters with food scraps, and employees who would see the cats sneak onto the grounds from the surrounding woods and would feed them, as anyone would seeing a stray cat.

For some reason this kitten had decided to visit the neighborhood across the street. Perhaps it had been someone’s kitten and gotten lost, or perhaps it had followed one of the owned or stray cats that lived in the neighborhood and may have visited or joined one of the colonies at the home.

Tangled in grass by a puddle…hence the name

cat sleeping by bookshelf

Contentment, another spot in the sun

In any case, that day had been rainy with lots of puddles left behind, wet grass and weeds and damp piles of leaves. Jennifer said she had chased the kitten one more time and it had gotten tangled in tall wet grass at the edge of the hospital property, fallen and nearly landed in a puddle, but the kitten didn’t get up again, just laid there. She was afraid it had died, but it was still breathing when she got to it, and didn’t fight when she picked it up and carried it home.

A cursory glance at the kitten’s hind end showed no trace of stool and no smell, but what looked like boy’s parts on the kitten’s emaciated frame. A closer look at the rest of the kitten’s tiny body revealed loose fur and bones, no apparent muscle or fat, and that tired, aged expression suddenly looked strangely wise. I pronounced the kitten a boy and named him “Moses” for his gray fur, the wisdom in his eyes, and the fact that he’d gotten tangled in some reeds by a puddle. Naming rescued cats can often be a hasty activity, whatever comes to mind for any reason will often become the name, and so it was in this case.

Still having work to do at my mother’s house, I took the kitten and the box back there. We had roasted chicken so I set him on the kitchen floor and attempted to feed him little bits of chicken, which he weakly chewed and swallowed, swaying back and forth, sometimes falling over. Small amounts of clear liquid were seeping out of his butt, and his expression was fading. Though I had hopes of getting him into a good condition and convincing my mother to keep him, I knew this condition wasn’t good so I got him comfortable, finished what I was doing, and took him home.

Distemper, I was thinking, though he hadn’t vomited, but it was the only thing I knew at the time and I’d seen many bedraggled kittens who turned out to have the illness and died. He went immediately into the bathroom, door tightly closed; I had four other cats at the time and though they had their shots it was best not to expose them to whatever the kitten might have. My regular veterinarian was closed, and although they offered an emergency service I decided just to observe the kitten to see if he survived the night, then decide what to do with him.

The Natural Cat, and my first steps into really caring for my cats

cat on patterned blanket

A Colorful Nap

All I had was dry food, and not very good food at that. Oh, the days prior to the enlightenment, but this kitten would open the door for me to a new way of caring for cats. I had just finished reading The Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier and Norma Eckroate, that original version published in 1981, learning all about feline diets, health issues and behavior from an entirely new perspective, but one I’d been looking for. The book reinforced my ideal that cats weren’t just indoor-outdoor disposable/replaceable pets with food and healthcare optional but viable objects of love and affection deserving the best home we could offer any animal companion. At work I was the crazy cat lady so I just kept quiet about my cats, but at home they were becoming increasingly important in my life, inspirations for art and writing, their beauty and affection filling my thoughts, and I was ready to move forward to a new level of living with cats.

I got some canned food, running off to a pet store for Science Diet which had been mentioned in the book and was all that was available then in higher quality canned food. I also cooked up a chicken, and hand fed both to the quiet little kitten along with a few droppers of water. Moses lived through the night and though he stayed curled in his towel-filled box the next day he seemed more alert. He had had some difficulty passing stool so I massaged his hips until he went; mild diarrhea began after that, but it didn’t seem to upset him.

Monday morning I was able to make an appointment for him for that night after work. He was still quiet and listless when I got home and packed him in the carrier, and while I thought he looked great the veterinarian (there were several at this practice) had a skeptical look on his face when I handed Moses to him.

He looked Moses over—to my surprise “he” was a “she”, those protruding pelvic bones were what I thought were little testicles and her fur was so matted I couldn’t see much else. Saying the kitten was a little weak he advised me to take her home and keep her comfortable and “when she feels better”, bring her back for her shots. She didn’t apparently have any illnesses, no signs of distemper or anything, she was just very weak. Feed her and make sure she drank water, he said.

I could do that, so, Natural Cat in hand, I got baby food, more Science Diet, and cooked up a little meal for Moses that seemed appropriate for “recovery”. I also got a case of Science Diet for my other cats. I wasn’t quite ready for the raw diet yet, or to cook meals for them.

A distinct change in personality

pencil sketch of sleeping cat

Pawse, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

Moses seemed stronger each day and the food disappeared, and though I had to teach her about the litterbox she was a quick learner. We were getting along fine, which was why I was shocked on Wednesday morning when she looked up at me as usual when I went into the bathroom, but her expression changed to pure horror and she scurried behind the toilet, hissing. I couldn’t get my hands on her and just had to put out her food, take my shower and go to work. She hid every time I came into the room, no longer hissing but obviously terrified and only a week or two of patiently sitting in there reading helped her finally emerge while I was in there, but only to run past me to her protected box from which she eyed me warily. This was confusing—I’d only seen kittens grow friendlier!

Soon I deemed her well enough to return to the vet, thinking I’d lose the little trust I’d gained by stuffing her into a carrier and into the car and exposing her to more strangers and shots and other handling, but I felt she needed an exam and her shots. I still considered her a foster, not one of my household, and she needed to be ready to adopt, whenever that would be.

Nearly starved to death?

pastel painting of cat in bed

Sunday Morning, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

There were no dramatics at the vet, she just closed her eyes and tried to climb into corners and armpits. The veterinarian was the same as before and looked a little surprised. “You mean she survived?” he asked.

“Well…sure,” I answered confused. What had he expected?

“She appeared to be in the final stages of starvation when you brought her in,” he said. He explained the clear mucous she was emitting at first meant she hadn’t had anything but maybe water in her intestines for a week, maybe more, and her body had begun to shut down. Even with food and water she didn’t have much of a chance of survival because her body might not turn around and begin to function normally again. He knew I rescued and fostered cats and felt the kitten’s best chances were just to go home and be carefully fed and cared for, as he knew I’d do.

I had no idea she’d been so close to death. I was a little angry he hadn’t told me, but perhaps it would only have frightened me.

Even though she weighed about two pounds by that time, he noted that she was a little older than I’d thought, probably four or five months judging by the development of her bones and really needed to gain some weight.

First nutrition, then socialization

More lessons for me to learn. No other cat I’d rescued had ever taken this long to acclimate to its new surroundings and I was tempted to pick her up and handle her to get her used to it, chase her out of her room to play and explore the rest of the house, act like a “normal” cat. Something about her, something in her expression, told me just to be patient, let her work it out. Only years later did I learn the specifics of feral cats, but long before that Moses taught me to let the kitty figure it out first.

The bathroom was inconvenient, though, so after that visit to the vet I moved her to the spare bedroom, transferring all her stuff then gently picking up her box and setting it down in the corner of the room. I used the room for crafts at the time, and while I did spend time in there I also worked a lot of hours and had five other cats to care for when I came home, plus my mother’s house and my father to visit on the weekend. Things would be different today when I work at home and can spend more time with fosters, but for the first few months Moses spent most of her time under the day bed when I was in there, just under the dust ruffle watching me, and very quiet. Eventually she would come out to eat, and finally came out to brazenly sit and look at me but trying to touch her frightened her, and I would rather die than frighten her.

I began leaving the door open when I was in there, and then when I was upstairs, and eventually the other cats wandered in and they could now meet the little soul they’d been smelling on me and under the door. At least I could see that she continued to grow and was much less fearful than she had been, though I thought I’d never be able to touch her again.

Another foster joins us

black and white photo of gray cat on bricks

Moses on her bricks.

The following April a stray and very pregnant kitty wandered down my sidewalk singing pleasantly on a cold night. Aside from the bathroom, my only room for fostering was Moses’ room, as I had come to call it, and it was difficult to keep my other cats from running into the bathroom with me.

Moses had explored the upstairs and sometimes come downstairs even coming to the kitchen for mealtime, and had found a safe harbor in Stanley. I would sometimes see them walking together, Moses cuddling against his side for safety. It might be time to take a chance and see if she had managed to acquaint herself with the house and the household.

She was not in her room so I closed the door, went outside and picked up the mama kitty and carried her upstairs (purring), and installed her in the spare bedroom. Moses was a little frightened when she found her door was closed, but as it turned out she had mingled with the rest of the household enough that she followed their habits of showing up at mealtime and even eventually coming into the bedroom.

The Velveteen Kitty

black and white of cat on deck

Moses on the deck

We did make friends, Moses and I, though she was 12 before she sat on my lap, and I could never pet her with both hands, only one at a time. Long before she trusted me enough to pet her, I was besotted with her shy and gentle personality, and as long as I didn’t make any attempt to pick her up or entrap her in any way, or any loud noises or fast moves, she would sit near me purring and blinking at me happily. I nearly cried with happiness when she did this. With her thick gray fur and sweet personality—“If she was any sweeter, she’d melt,” I always said—I called her The Velveteen Kitty.

When other people entered the house, she sidled off behind something and seemed to disappear. If she was frightened and couldn’t hide she rolled up in a ball and hid her face but never ran away. And she was absolutely silent, only after several years giving a little “silent meow” but only talking slightly to herself late at night when she would play alone with a bizzy ball downstairs.

A slight disability

I initially thought she was simply too wary or frightened to run and play like other kittens, but I also noticed that sometimes her hind legs wobbled. She could jump short distances but certainly not like the others, and she never ran but only trotted and went up and down the steps like a bunny. But when her hind legs didn’t seem to catch up to the rest of her body I asked the veterinarian about it and had her X-rayed. Her legs had seemed to quit developing at some point, the joint not completed and working properly, the bones smaller than they should be, the muscles undeveloped. Whether this was from prenatal or post-natal nutrition, a genetic condition or all of the above no one could know. Though she couldn’t run and play, and could only sit or lie down and only do a partial cat stretch, she never let this get in her way of enjoying her day.

When glucosamine/condroiton supplements became available I gave her the pills for about a month. It made no difference in her ability, and while she tolerated the pill she gave me one of her very direct looks and headed for a spot of sunshine, or asked to be allowed into her outside areas so she could soak in the sunshine. This was her preferred therapy.

Any animal born and raised with the conditions Moses met in her first few months, then left with the resulting physical and emotional challenges, has all due right to complain, act out or simply give up. But aside from a certain stubbornness, none of these was in her repertoire. I have never met a gentler, quieter, more peaceful soul than Moses, the shy feral kitten and timid adult who became the safe harbor for other frightened kittens I’ve fostered through the years.

And I certainly learned to let the kitty figure it out for themselves and not force my attentions on them. I’ve trapped and rescued many ferals and frightened strays since Moses, and I’m ever glad this patient, gentle soul came first to teach me how it works.

My little garden sprite

cat in garden

Moses in her garden

In her later years she was the spirit of my garden, her main goal to find the sunniest spot on some nice, warm bricks and have a really good nap as birds, voles and other creatures went about their daily habits to her sleepy disregard. She quit running when strangers arrived as her hearing and eyesight began to fail in her later teens and she simply wasn’t as aware of them. She made it to her nineteenth year, accepting all of her physical limitations but enjoying life no less than some other cats who race around the house, beg for attention and steal food.

She simply suffered from old age, but had no specific condition. I was surprised—after her beginnings I had expected her to be frail through her life, but as organs began to fail and it was obvious there was nothing I could do but keep her comfortable, my veterinarian reminded me that she lived through her early experience largely on her own inner strength and that was how she had gotten to be 19. She still had that strength and faced her own weakening condition resolutely. The only time in her life she ever made a real meow was the day she literally told me it was time; lying with her back to me, unusual enough, she lifted her head and let out one long, loud meow that raised my hackles and left me with gooseflesh, but I clearly knew what it meant.

Poetry Inspired by Moses

After staying up all night at an emergency clinic one night in January, I had to leave her at another veterinarian for the next day to get her fully stabilized after a bout of congestive heart failure. She’s tough as a rock and, to everyone’s surprise, persisted and recovered. Sitting in the veterinarian’s office waiting to pick her up I could not stop the tears, knowing what I would face. Suffering from an excess of emotions myself, something that’s only slowed me down but never killed me, I had to do something creative or completely burst into tears while…

At the Vet’s, Waiting for Moses

I remembered a moment earlier in the day
even through the fear and pain of your impending death:
in that moment when I reached out to you
and you firmly rubbed your face against my hand,
nuzzled your nose between my finger and thumb
and lifted your chin for me to scratch underneath,
eyes squinting at me, whiskers curved forward, nose crumpled;
you, reassuring me.
The look in your eyes wipes the tears from my face
and I can, for the moment,
spontaneously smile and love you completely as of old,
above our grief.

I was lucky enough to be out in the woods a day or two after we realized it was the final challenge for Moses and she would not have long to live. Assisting a living being through the last course of its life is never easy to watch or to act upon, especially with an animal who doesn’t communicate as we do. Reading the signs and simply performing palliative care can be more difficult than critical care, but with a big dose of love in both directions it is bearable. I wrote the poem below, except for the last two stanzas, when I knew I’d be facing this realization, and only prayed for the strength and wisdom to do the right thing by Moses. I wrote the last two stanzas while sitting up with her the night before I knew I’d have her put to sleep, when I felt I could sum up what we had done.

Things I Found in the Woods

Tiny rivulets of water released from thawing soil
flowing beneath last year’s debris, trickling and gurgling down hills
hurrying before the freeze returns.

A cup-shaped fungus holding a tablespoon of snowmelt
for a song sparrow to sip, giving early practice to its vernal melody
for the time when spring arrives in earnest.

Ferns, newly-green, draped on hillsides,
fluttering like garlands in the caressing, mild breeze
eager to gather a little nourishment to last the rest of the winter.

Fallen trees blanketed with bright green moss,
thick and lush already in the brief January thaw
filling a span of life in but a few days.

Four young white-tailed deer, capricious as the gusts,
feeling the flush of their first spring as adults
even though this intoxicating weather is fleeting.

An understanding of the normal cycles of birth and rebirth,
but also the confidence to grasp the moment for what it offers
even at the risk of pain and loss when the natural season returns.

A fraction of your dignity in accepting the end of your cycle in this existence,
and the courage to accompany and assist you with strength borne of love
as you transition from this beautiful world into the next.

Dusk in the Woods

pastel painting of snowy woods with stream at dusk

Dusk in the Woods

Shortly after that I began one of my most soulful paintings, “Dusk in the Woods”. My precious Moses was nearing her end as I worked on it, me all through the night at my easel, her at my feet, every day losing a little more physical control as, at 19, her body just began giving out. I needed a project as big as this to bear the process of her loss, and in turn my strength and calm as I worked helped Moses.

I will always connect this painting with her, and those late nights when I disappeared into this scene in order to paint it from memory. There is more symbolism about the season and time of day than I can list here to associate with loss and rebirth, the cycles and seasons.

Meeting Deb Chebatoris and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Losing Moses was when I first met this wonderful person and business. I had Moses cremated as I do all my cats. As she cremated Moses Deb called, explaining that she didn’t want me to think she was crazy and that she didn’t see visions in things, but Moses’ cremains—the bones left after the flesh has burned away—just glowed and were radiant white, and were the most beautiful cremation she’s ever seen. She waited a bit to process the bones, or grind them up, because she wanted to look at them, and she wasn’t sure about calling me for fear I’d think she was a little loose. I was glad she called. I always knew that Moses was beautiful from the inside out, I just didn’t know it was literal.

My little feral kitty

They all teach me lessons, and hers was one of peace and patience in the face of all that happens; with love, everything works out right.

…and if you’ve read the story, yes, I think she was loved enough to be real…


A Poem Dedicated to an Old Cat

painting of a gray cat with a pink sweater

A Rosy Glow, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Dedicated to the most gentle, loving being I have ever encountered.

Things I Found in the Woods

Tiny rivulets of water released from thawing soil
flowing beneath last year’s debris, trickling and gurgling all around
hurrying down hillsides before the freeze returns.

A cup-shaped fungus holding a tablespoon of snowmelt
for a song sparrow to sip, practicing its vernal melody
for the time when spring arrives in earnest.

Ferns, newly-green, draped on cliffs,
fluttering like garlands in the mild, caressing breeze
gathering a little nourishment to last the rest of the winter.

Fallen trees blanketed with bright green moss,
thick and lush already in the brief January thaw
filling a span of life in but a few days.

Four young white-tailed deer, capricious as the gusts,
feeling the flush of their first spring as adults
cavorting as if winter might not return tomorrow.

An understanding that life and love are cycles,
and that the moment must be taken for what it offers
even if what it offers is not what we expect.

A fraction of your dignity,
and the desire to walk with you to the end of the path
as you transition from this beautiful world into the next.

__________________________________________

black and white photo of gray cat on bricks

Moses on her bricks.

I’ll tell Moses’ full story some day; 19 years of love can’t be condensed easily.

She had been a feral kitten my niece managed to capture, only because Moses was near death from starvation. To everyone’s surprise, she not only lived but thrived, except for her hobbled hind legs—the “knee” joint hadn’t completely finished and the bones kind of knocked against each other.

Just give me good food, no medications, Moses said, but most of all, let me lie in the sun every day. And so I did, indoors or outdoors when I could be with her.

She was healthy and rational until about a month before she died, and she knew what was coming and accepted it; I could see this in her eyes. To appease myself I had her checked by a veterinarian and even emergency when she had breathing difficulty one night. She forgave me for this, and I wrote this poem sitting in the waiting room for them to finish some procedure.

Waiting for Moses

I remembered a moment earlier in the day
even through the fear and pain of your impending death:
in that moment when I reached out to you
and you firmly rubbed your face against my hand,
nuzzled your nose between my finger and thumb
and lifted your chin for me to scratch underneath,
eyes squinting at me, whiskers curved forward, nose crumpled;
you, reassuring me.
The look in your eyes wipes the tears from my face
and I can, for the moment,
spontaneously smile and love you completely as of old,
above our grief.

And just a day or two later I was in the woods photographing the spring thaw in wonderment at the changing of seasons and the transience of life—here it was still winter but it felt like spring and everything that lived was taking advantage of the moment.

So was Moses. So should I.

photo of cat in sunshine

Late in the Year, black and white photo © B E Kazmarski

So I resolved just to let her follow her course and she would let me know what to do.

I have kept this lesson in my heart with each of the older kitties I’ve loved since. I don’t care what’s coming for us. I love them right now, this moment.

Other articles celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday

Bid on this Print and Start Celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday

How Peaches Stole My Heart

Old is Awesome!

Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 1

Beyond Food and Water, Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, part 2

My Feline Garden Sprites

Other articles about Peaches

Peaches Applies for a Job

Get Well Wishes for Peaches

Peaches Says, “Thanks for All the Get Well Wishes, They Worked”


My Feline Garden Sprites

As part of celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday, this is an article I first posted a little over a year ago as Namir and Cookie and I cleaned up the garden for another gardening year. A number of cats have grown to their senior years here, and one of the treats they get is to carouse in the backyard with me as I garden. I keep a close eye on them because once or twice they’ve been known to disappear when my back is turned, but the sunshine and fresh air is so refreshing for them and I can enjoy that little bit of extra time and extra memories. Ironically, Peaches doesn’t even recognize that the outdoors exists!

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

It’s a joy to share the time and the experience with them, but with a flicker of sadness, to watch Namir sprint across the yard just for the joy of running and Cookie patrol the garden paths, even in the late winter when strewn with weeds and debris. It means they are old enough to want to stick with me while I’m out in the garden, old enough that our time is limited and these will be our golden memories. It’s a tradition when the old ones get to be this old that they also get to enjoy time outdoors with me.

Because animals live shorter lives than we do, chances are we will outlive them. And if we adopt and foster a number of animals, we’ll live through that many losses. It never gets easy, but with the awareness gained from each loss, watching the oldest grow into their senior years is less shocking and painful. Animals are so graceful about aging, not like us fretting about gray hair and memory loss. The brevity of their lives may seem unfair to us, but that span is normal for them. The lesson is to enjoy them in this moment while preparing for the unavoidable, but not to dwell on either.

Namir and Cookie are not happy about having to go inside.

Namir and Cookie are not happy about having to go inside.

Out of the mixed bag of the eight or nine rescues I always seem to share my space with emerges a “couple”, a male cat and a female cat, spayed and neutered and totally unrelated except for having spent the better part of their lives together and with me. They become as the prince and the princess of the household and grow old together, growing wiser and closer to me as they age.

I am in my third “couple” now. Cookie is 17, Namir is 15 with congestive heart failure and other complicating conditions. Cookie is apparently fine though not as flexible as before, but Namir has had some close calls and spends a night or two in the oxygen cage in the emergency hospital for a “tune-up” at least once yearly since he was diagnosed four years ago. I’ve had cats live to their late teens and early twenties; even the best of care and love can’t bring back that seeming infinity of youth.

But I’ve always noticed that a trip to the great outdoors of the back yard is an antidote to a lot of ills for them and me, even just a few minutes will do. My yard is a Backyard Wildlife Habitat so it’s full of smells and noises and movement and the noses get to work and ears swivel around and eyes focus on tiny movements, and soon discomfort and infirmities are forgotten in the important business of being a cat.

Cookie pauses to let me see how well the daffodil greens match her eyes.

Cookie pauses to let me see how well the daffodil greens match her eyes.

Cookie (see “The Goddess” for another look at Cookie) has been my lady-in-waiting since she grew from a roly-poly tortoiseshell ball of an abandoned kitten to a generously-figured and poised tortoiseshell adult. She entered my household unresponsive to affection and “nursing” on one of her own toes for comfort, but quickly and wholeheartedly accepted that she was loved and welcome. She spends time on my lap, but more importantly she is always near, always vigilant, I’m not sure what for, but I’ve always been comforted by Cookie’s presence and perhaps that’s all there is to it. We give each other the gift of ourselves, and it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Namir stays carefully on the brick edge after inspecting the new lettuce sprouts.

Namir stays carefully on the brick edge after inspecting the new lettuce sprouts.

Namir (he is in the header image on this blog, and see also “Darling Clementines”) entered my household as a foster from a friend who was returning to graduate school and just couldn’t take her two cats, and though we tried for months for find them homes they ended up here. Now one of the sweetest and most popular cats in my household—he’s even popular at the emergency hospital where, even with tubes and bandages he’s desperate for affection and takes a long goodbye when he leaves—was hardly even social when he arrived here. He’s very loyal and loved his mom, and every time I entered the room he’d stand up hopefully, then crouch and growl at me because I’d apparently taken away his mom. He arrived here in October; it was April before he accepted the situation.

Just recently Namir was back in the hospital and wasn’t responding as usual; after bringing him home I had to take him back. On his second return home he just wasn’t coming around. From his initial diagnosis I’ve been anticipating the final decisions for him, knowing that one day this little tune-up won’t work. This time he seems to have pulled through and is feeling well enough to swat the young men (Mimi’s Children) when they get out of line.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

Cookie and Namir acceded to their thrones a few years ago with the passing of Moses and Stanley. While Cookie and Namir displayed leadership potential from a young age, Stanley had been abused and was a real problem child into his teens, and Moses was a timid feral rescue, physically challenged by the after-effects of near starvation, but was the sweetest, most gentle soul I’ve ever known. These two entered my household a year apart and discovered each other’s gentle spirits when they were still healing from their time on the streets, and through it all were a refuge each for the other.

Moses (see “A Rosy Glow”) had malformed hips and legs from the beginning, and no matter what treatment I found for her, the best thing was simply a sunbath. She was terrified of the outdoors and of other people and things, but when it came to the line of the sun creeping out of the kitchen or basement into the outside, she decided she wanted to follow it, and as often as I could she and I went out into the yard, she to lie on the sun-warmed wood or bricks, me to work my garden. It’s no wonder she was unsuccessful at feeding herself when little velvety voles ran over her paws and birds hopped all around her as she lay there and watched. She adopted one clump of grass at the corner of one of the garden beds to graze on, and it’s still there in her memory. She surprised even me by living to be 19 years old, not showing any serious health problems until just a few months before she died.

Stanley dozes in the early spring garden while supervising my work.

Stanley dozes in the early spring garden while supervising my work.

Stanley’s misbehavior inside came in handy outside, and trips to the outdoors helped stop him from errant watering in the house. He was very territorial, and whenever he saw another cat in his yard, he’d pee on the next nearest thing, inside. When we began visiting the yard he would run around sniffing everything, especially the forsythia which was like a big feline chat room, and after downloading his pee-mail he’d upload a few replies. Apparently this was more direct than giving a reply indoors, and it had the added benefit of keeping most cats out of my yard, and discouraging all but the bravest (or least intelligent) rabbits and little critters from inhabiting my garden.

Stanley (see “After Dinner Nap”) was well into adulthood when he showed up on my porch in 1986, and he was with me for a little over 20 years. He was in kidney failure for his last four years, but I treated him with fluid therapy and vitamins, and he was vigorous until his last few weeks.

And Stanley and Moses took over from Kublai and Sally, the original prince and princess, so noted in one piece of artwork I created simply to commemorate their place in my household, “Awakening”, where you can read their stories. As opposite as you could get, but they were the leaders for years, and in their day the other cats would answer to them before me. Their photos are on regular film, and I’ll have to scan them one day and get them up here, but in the meantime they are the subjects of several pieces of artwork.

Namir and Cookie assist with some outdoor photography.

Namir and Cookie assist with some outdoor photography.

So as I watch Namir chase leaves and harass Cookie for fun, and Cookie cruise around and nap in the leaf litter, and have them both supervise my gardening progress while enjoying their time outdoors, I thoroughly enjoy their presence and remember their predecessors…with smiles more than sadness. Each loss prepared me for the next, and that was their final gift to me, and to the household in which they had lived. While I still miss all of them, even the ones who didn’t rise to royalty, I know that someday, perhaps soon, I’ll be missing Cookie and Namir, too. Loving them in the happiness of just this moment alone builds these smiling memories, and these will be an important element in dealing with the final decisions, and with their loss.

I just wonder who they are planning to pass the scepters on to. For now I tell the young ones who want to join us that someday they’ll be that old, too, and then they’ll be able to come outside.

For other writings on my cats in the garden and gardening in general, please read “My Cat Has Become a Serial Killer” and “On Planting Peas” on my website in the writing section.

Other articles celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday

Bid on this Print and Start Celebration Peaches’ 100th Birthday

How Peaches Stole My Heart

Old is Awesome!

Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 1

Beyond Food and Water, Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, part 2

Other articles about Peaches

Peaches Applies for a Job

Get Well Wishes for Peaches

Peaches Says, “Thanks for All the Get Well Wishes, They Worked”

This is a short list—Peaches appears in many articles I’ve written on my household, on pet loss, and even some silly things I’ve written on my website before I had a blog! Search “peaches” in the search box for more articles.


Perhaps the storm is finally over

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

"Awakening", block print

"Awakening", block print

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.

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.