Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art

Seventh and last in a series of “pet loss and grief told from personal experience”

pastel painting of cat on windowsill

Suncatcher © B.E. Kazmarski

I simply have the observation that every time I’ve lost a cat, I’ve gained something in my life. I’ve made decisions about my career, began working in a new medium and found new friends, all around the time of a loss.

Perhaps the trauma of the loss caused me to see things from a new perspective, or to break an old habit and begin reorganizing my life, or just gave me a new perspective on myself so my same old life felt new again. I really think it was a gift from them so I might be distracted from my grief.

It began with love

I have a degree in English and wanted to be a writer and go on to study linguistics and comparative arts. Life took a different turn and presented other possibilities, and where I had neglected my interest in art before I suddenly had the time to practice.

A few years out of college, at night after work, I chose to pick up a pencil and paper and put them together because I felt the need to start expressing myself in images.

At the same time, inspired by my love for Kublai who had rescued me, I had been rescuing and fostering cats and, of those I picked up from streets and midwifed into the spare bedroom, a rag tag bunch of six had come together to share my life. Because of my experience with Bootsie I was busy learning as much as I could about feline health, diets, history and allopathic and naturopathic medicine so that I could give them the best care possible and not miss a single symptom of anything.

pastel painting of a cat on a bed

Sunday Morning © B.E. Kazmarski

And while they may have looked like common garden variety cats to everyone else, I thought they were the most beautiful beings to ever walk the earth. I had always loved cats because of their quiet grace and independent nature, but the opportunity to know these cats had rendered it from the general to the specific.

Images of my cats kept appearing in my thoughts as pencil drawings and paintings and I decided to draw what I was envisioning. The need to express and the subject matter came together at just the right time and I began producing images I could never have imagined I was capable of rendering, moving from pencil, the only medium in which I had any skill, to ink to pastel because I could leave them every day and return the next night without worrying about drying time or too much set up or clean up.

I worked faithfully on learning my technique and sharpening my inner vision as I spent years painting my cats. Learning each new medium, technique or style has been based on a vision of one of my household residents before I moved off to another subject, flowers or landscapes, usually. With their guidance, I’ve mastered pencil, ink, chalk pastel, oil pastel, watercolor, acrylic, oil, collage, mixed media and photography.

It continued with loss

I realized with my first loss after beginning to sketch and paint the power of a portrait, and while they had started out as expressions of love, they became also expressions of remembrance, and as I lost that original family of muses that this was the greatest gift of all, giving them a sort of immortality.

Through the years my cats have been the subjects of dozens of works, and others, seeing these works, want a similar piece with their own animal companion as a subject. I have had the pleasure of creating more than 100 commissioned portraits of cats, dogs, cats and dogs, and cats and dogs and people. They are gifts for loved ones, memorials to cherished companions who’ve gone before us, and lovely pieces of artwork featuring an animal a person loved. You can find out more about my animal portraits in the “Custom Pet Portraits” page on this blog or by visiting my website where I have a demonstration and images of cat and dog portraits.

.pastel portrait of cat

Bandit

pastel portrait of dogs

Sophie and Ellie

watercolor portrait of dog and two cats

Washburn Trio

Now Stanley watches over my studio in “After Dinner Nap,” Kublai forever rolls on the floor like a goof in “Are You Looking at Me?”, Fawn peeks out from under the dust ruffle waiting for me to walk by in “Waiting for Mom,” and there is also Moses and Sally and Sophie and Namir whose portraits I can smile and look at. I have two new portraits planned, of Allegro and Nikka that I intend to work on this spring, now that I’ve found the best reference photos.

The animal sympathy cards

But there was one other project that had been waiting in the wings all these years, and with the loss of Namir I felt as if I had finally, somehow, come full circle and arrived at the point where I could put my grief in images and design the animal sympathy cards I had always planned to do, but kept putting off until the time was right. I think I wanted to make sure that I had enough experience and perspective so I wouldn’t design something I’d turn my back on later, thinking it was incomplete or immature. Of all cats, Namir doesn’t appear here except for his pawprints in “I’ll always walk beside you”. But I wanted to make sure I memorialized Lucy, the little black kitty you see twice below, who I lost at 15 months to FIP, right after I had lost my four oldest friends.

animal sympathy card

No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

animal sympathy card

The sweetest memories often come in quiet moments.

animal sympathy card

Remember the best moments with love and joy.

While I am a fine artist, I have actually worked as a graphic designer for more years than I want to tell. Designing everything from letterhead to websites every day, the task of designing these cards was second nature to me. I was glad, for once, to use my commercial art skills to create something for my offering of animal art, especially since my poor neglected cats could just expire all over my desk before I took my eyes off the computer.

animal sympathy card

always in your heart

animal sympathy card

They find a comfortable spot in your heart to live in forever and ever.

animal sympathy card

They find a comfortable spot in your heart to live in forever and ever.

I’ve found, to my surprise, that these cards are sometimes purchased for the loss of a human, or even a “thinking of you” card for persons who like animals—I never considered this. Using the images of my own cats for these cards, especially ones who had passed, was a little frightening; if one of the designs was not at all popular it could feel like a rejection of that kitty, who I loved so much. I am so glad I waited until my sentiments and designs were more universal, not so personal, to create these cards. Some are more popular than others, but I have reprinted all of them so no one has been left behind.

animal sympathy card

I will always walk with you.

animal sympahty card

Remember the beautiful moments with love and joy.

animal sympathy card

No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

I intentionally chose to use photos rather than paintings for most of the designs. I like the softness and little bit of fiction I can work into a painting, but somehow I felt the realism of a photo was needed when expressing deep and sincere emotions of these cards.

animal sympathy card

Remember the beautiful moments from all those years together.

animal sympathy card

No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way again.

animal sympathy card

They leave their mark on us, don't they?

Each of the cats depicted here was or is one of mine and the dogs are ones I’ve come to know through friends and art customers. I am currently working on more dog images as well as images of home and nature where we remember our animal companions best. There are more cats than dogs because I live with cats and have lots of material, but more than that I am careful with the images I use, not only that they are easily recognized and accepted, but that I know the animal well enough to use its image for this purpose. They are conveying a heavy thought, and I don’t take the relationship with my subject matter lightly.

All animal sympathy cards can be found in my Marketplace under Animal Sympathy Cards.

Other images used for sympathy

And in addition to the intentionally-designed sympathy cards are the blank greeting and note cards I have available portraying a special moment of one of my cats I’ll always remember.

pastel drawing of a cat on a bed

Afternoon Nap

pastel painting of a cat looking out a window

Winter Window

oil pastel drawing of cat in the sun

Warm Winter Sun

pencil drawing of a cat on a windowsill

Sleeping Beauty, my Sally, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

pencil drawing of striped cat

Stanley's Stripes

pencil drawing of cat sleeping

Don't Wake Me Up

We have each other to thank

Animals give us so much in everyday life, but my cats have given me my career.

Pet loss and grief told from personal experience

When I was losing a pet and making decisions, and after I had lost a pet and was dealing with grief, I was most comforted by hearing stories from others about their experiences. Sitting with one of my cats in the middle of the night, trying to determine if they were suffering in any way, if they were ready to let go, struggling to make the decision about euthanasia and what to do after they died, I felt so alone and only hearing what others had experienced and what they had decided helped me put my own situation and decisions into perspective, and let me know that I was not the only person to experience the anguish I was suffering. I’ve composed this series of articles in the hopes that others find comfort in my experiences and those of the others mentioned here, and that information included about services and products may help them in their decisions.

Read the other articles in this series:

To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long: my first and worst lesson in pet loss

Starting with pet loss—before the loss: begin preparing yourself for loss by being proactive about care and providing palliative care yourself at home

Options for “After Care”, featuring Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: aftercare, and a profile of a business and a person I find exceptional, and exceptionally comforting

Heal Your Heart After Pet Loss, a Remarkable CD and Guidebook: your grieving process, and a very special CD and guidebook for those times when you need a comforting voice

Turning Loss into Creativity with Ingrid King and Buckley’s Story: how grief can become the catalyst for change, turning grief into a creative effort

Pet Loss Support Information: ideas and resources for where to find comfort and support in your loss, including books about and inspired by the author’s personal experience

Pet Love and Pet Loss, and How it Gave Me My Art: my own experience turning multiple losses loss into multiple creative endeavors

About the images used in this post

All of the images used here are of my artwork, from portraits to designed cards. It’s one of the things that helps me with losing them, to know that their image goes out in the world and they are thereby, in a way, immortal. To see the art visit my website and look under “Fine Art and Portraiture” for the gallery, “My Cats“. Also look under “Photography” for the five galleries of “My Cats“. You can browse prints and notecards in my “Marketplace“.


Prose Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Longer pieces don’t get finished as quickly, especially the short story and the illustrated children’s book…but here are three essays that I wrote in direct response to things in my backyard wildlife habitat.

photo of cooper's hawk on brush pile
A Death in the Neighborhoood

There was a death in my neighborhood recently–right in my own backyard.

I glanced out the door to my backyard on a still, brilliant January morning, the open air sparkling with fine snow flurries glistening like tiny diamonds floating aimlessly in no hurry to reach the ground,…

photo of peas in soil
On Planting Peas

It is early March and I am planting peas. The wan spring sun is finding its heat and lays like a warm hand upon my back as I work. Signs of approaching spring fill my senses in the mild air on my skin, the scent of damp soil and the shrieks of children as they run in frenzied circles of freedom, much like the birds swooping and circling above whistling their mix of songs.

photo of two cats in the grassMy Cat Has Become a Serial Killer

Despite my lectures about not letting your cat hunt, mine don’t roam but Namir found a way to catch and kill little voles during our brief morning outings…

He prances across the yard with the little gray bit of fur in his mouth, ears cupped forward, eyes in slanted slits, tail straight up in satisfaction, despite the fact that he is fourteen years old with congestive heart failure and a compromising bladder condition—and he’s only been out in my backyard for about five minutes.  …

Read all the articles in this series

An Introduction to Backyard Wildlife Habitats

What’s in Your Backyard? The First Step in Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat

What Else is in Your Backyard: The Fauna That Fill It

Bringing it All Together: Enhancing and Developing Your Habitat

Art Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Photography Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Poetry Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Prose Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat


In the Back Yard, in Autumn

Cookie onthe Picnic Bench

Cookie on the Picnic Bench

Cookie and I spent some time in the back yard, she supervising my leaf and garden cleanup from the vantage of the picnic table. She and I haven’t spent too much time out there since Namir has been gone; she didn’t seem to have the heart for it, nor did I.

Cookie Watches

Cookie Watches

But time passes, and now that the season has changed it’s put a bit of a distance to our loss and let our memories come forth, and we remembered him and his antics, imagining what he’d be doing on a lovely day like this. Neither Cookie nor I have sat at the picnic table where the three of us spent many mornings, but this was a good day to return.

Cookie Wtih Sunbeam

Cookie With Sunbeam

Cookie really doesn’t like to have her picture taken, and when she sees the camera come out she looks everywhere but at me. However, in this one moment she looked straight at me and a sunbeam passed down through the thinning tree tops, catching the slight haze in the autumn air. He was with us, I think, in this beam of sunlight, the three of us together again.


Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

After the loss of so many cats it’s healing now to be a part of a loving and sincere effort on the part of someone who is a licensed counselor and has prepared a recording and book of inspirational readings and information and affirmations for those who have also lost a pet. I had the opportunity to illustrate this wonderful recording, and to assist the author in publicizing and promoting it.

Ironically enough, I began the project just as I knew I would soon lose my Namir after four years of working with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and congestive heart failure (CHF). I can attest to the CD’s effectiveness. His loss followed the loss of five others a few years before.

Back cover background of Heal Your Heart CD

Back cover background of Heal Your Heart CD

That loss, and illustrating this CD, also led me to embark on a new offering in animal-inspired art and products: animal sympathy cards. I used the background art for the back of the CD as the background for one of my cards, and also used a number of my feline photographs.

Read about the CD and its author, Karen Litzinger, below. I’ll also be posting a e-mail newsletter she published this month, and I encourage people who love animals to visit her site and sign up for her newsletter.

Animal Lovers Comforted by New Pet Loss CD

Our animal companions have become more respected members of our society in recent years. From recognizing that people will not evacuate even a life-threatening situation if they can’t take their animals to realizing that a close bond with an animal can help people heal from both physical and emotional traumas, we’ve come to accept animals not simply as possessions but as friends or even members of our families.

A Rainbow and Row of Hearts

A Rainbow and Row of Hearts

Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet by Karen Litzinger , MA, LPC, is a newly available CD and booklet combination which helps to guide the pet owner through the process of grieving their lost pet. The CD includes Litzinger, a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Bereavement Facilitator, reading comforting messages, pet-focused affirmations, and even a guided meditation along with comforting accompanying harp music. The booklet provides supportive suggestions, information explaining the stages of grief and resources such as books and hotlines to assist the grieving person.

Litzinger’s product is unique in pet loss support offerings. Many books have been written on the subject of pet loss, but few are published in audio form. And while other recorded products offer support in the form of affirmations to carry away or a guided meditation for grieving, Heal Your Heart is focused on the loss of a pet, which is unique in materials offering assistance with grief.

Cat Paw

Cat Paw Illustration

Heal Your Heart is one of only a handful of audiobooks in the pet loss publishing market,” states Lorri A. Green, psychologist and author of Saying Good-bye to the Pet You Love. “The unique contribution of the CD is that it goes beyond giving educational information or a personal story. It contains powerful affirmation statements rooted in cognitive psychology.”

Grieving over the death of your pet used to have people rolling their eyes or seriously suggesting a mental health evaluation because “it” was “just a dog” or “only a cat”, a horribly disrespectful and painful comment to a person already in pain over a loss.

Not so today. Our companion animals are recognized not only for what they can do for us, but also for their own individual needs, personality and style, and so their loss is also recognized as the loss of a distinct individual.

Karen, Pepper and Zep

Karen, Pepper and Zep

Litzinger wrote all the text for the booklet and the readings and designed the entire concept as part of her grief response from her own loss.

“The CD is dedicated to my beloved dog children, Pepper and Zep,” Litzinger says without hesitation.

“My inspiration for the Healing Hearts CD came while driving home from the veterinarian with the cremains of my 15 year old dog, Pepper, who I had had since a puppy from a local rescue league,” Litzinger explains. “I was further motivated on my journey to create this CD when my 13 year old dog, Zep, died just four months after Pepper.”

She had originally wanted to create something for veterinarians to give grieving clients right after the euthanasia procedure to supplement the personal support and follow-up sympathy card.

“I created a pet loss booklet for veterinarians, but the CD is what I hope will serve grieving pet owners in a more profound way,” she continues. “Just as I found comfort in listening to a special music CD as I grieved for Pepper, I hope that some part of this CD will help in the healing process for you or the person to whom you give the CD.”

Her loss has not only become the gain of others who will find comfort from her CD and booklet, but also her own gain in finding this new professional outlet.

Dog Paw

Dog Paw Illustration

Litzinger is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania, and although her specialty is career counseling, after her loss and through of the idea of being able to help others she chose to attend a weeklong training through the American Academy of Bereavement to become a Certified Bereavement Facilitator. As part of renewing the certification, she did an internship under the direction of a psychologist through the Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement, an organization that hosts on-line chat rooms about the euthanasia decision and pet loss.

“I have a special interest in ritual as part of the healing process and conducted numerous non-denominational animal blessings and memorial services on a personal and professional basis,” Litzinger adds. “In addition to career counseling, I also offer pet bereavement counseling in the Pittsburgh area.”

The CD and book were positively reviewed by Nancy Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States, noted pet loss authors Lorri A. Green, Moira Allen, and Sherry B. True and animal journalists and writers Darlene Arden and Michelle West. In addition, during the two years Litzinger worked on creating the set, she asked friends and associates to review the product to ensure that the content universally appealed to the greatest number of people.

More information on the CD including reviews and excerpts as well as further resources for healing from pet loss can be found at www.healfrompetloss.com.

At the Rainbow

At the Rainbow


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.


Not a Bad Deal on a Pre-owned Cat

Namir

Namir

I say farewell to a dear friend, my Namir, who was a dear companion and a great inspiration. The art in the header is actually a painting of Namir, and my avatar for Portraits of Animals is Namir’s face from this painting.

I have written a remembrance of him on my website, and invite you to read it and enjoy the art and photos.

It’s rather long, but I write this memory of a remarkable cat because I want others to remember him, still others to know him, and to share some of the more challenging things about living with a cat who has several unpredictable and life-threatening conditions, the time, the finances, the decisions, those last moments, the impact on the rest of my household of cats, and, of course, what a creative inspiration he was for me as a painter and writer and photographer, even as a designer of stylish crochet items.

And woven through Namir’s chronic long-term conditions has been the pattern of my household growing older, developing an end-of-life illness and then each is gone. For about five years I’ve been extremely vigilant, observing appetites, checking respiration rates, taking temperatures, administering sub-Q fluids, giving medications and whatever supportive care was necessary to keep everyone comfortable, often to several cats at one time, as I lost four in one year. Losing Namir is, in a way, the ends of that cycle finally meeting. Loss is only an end if a lesson in the loss goes unlearned, so this cycle has fine tuned my ability to care for all my cats because I have learned many lessons.

Professionally, I have been able to immediately put these lessons into design work which I coincidentally began in April and May. The cremation service I use is also one of my customers for design and photography, and we’ve been redesigning her logo and building up her website to include much more information about her services. Through a chain of connections I was able to illustrate the cover and booklet interior for a pet loss CD, this in turn leading me to work on my long-term idea of sympathy cards for the loss of your animal companion. Reciprocally, working on these projects when I knew I would soon lose Namir gave me great comfort in the last two months.

And I hope to share my experiences for the sake of anything that anyone else might gain from them in lessons or comfort, technical information even, though I’ve kept everything pretty general, and not named any persons or businesses.

Please visit my website and read about Namir.


My Feline Garden Sprites

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.