A Little Bit About Kelly, Part 3: Saved at the Last Minute

tortoiseshell cat in front of window

Kelly ponders things by her favorite window.

For quite some time I wasn’t so sure my next stop was much better than where I’d been. I was in another wire thing not much bigger than the one the lady had carried me in when we left the other place, and though I had my babies with me we had no safe place to nest. You could see right in, humans walked around all the time and I could see and hear and smell many, many other cats, and off in the distance I could hear dogs! When I looked straight ahead all I saw were more cats in more wire things, some with babies, some without, all of us pretty unhappy.

My frequent urge to talk about things, mostly to myself, became a loud wailing that I could not control at first. I was just pouring out my fear and confusion, my life had always been one frightening experience and another and I had no control over any of it. Worst, I felt I couldn’t even keep my babies safe. I cried and cried until people came to me and though they seemed comforting I ran to hide in the corner, being silent and making myself as small as possible. When they left I began crying again until it seemed I frightened even my babies. Finally, I curled with them and licked them talked to them as they nursed. What would become of us?

To shield my three babies from all these things that were new and frightening to me I used everything that was available to me, covering them with blankets and papers, putting them behind the digging box and even just shoving them in the corner and pressing myself against them while I turned my back on all those horrors.

The difference here was that, although all the humans were big and loud and smelly, they were all, well, nice. There were humans I saw all the time, and others who I never saw again, but I never felt any anger or danger from them as I had with many other humans, though I didn’t like when they touched me and my babies. I hid myself in the corner and couldn’t stop trembling whenever they approached.

The problem with kittens is that they just aren’t afraid, and it takes a good cat mom to keep them under control and teach them right from wrong. But they kept escaping from my careful nests and running around the little place, and people would stop and look at them and make happy people noises. I will admit, my babies were the most beautiful babies I had ever seen, all my babies were, but those human faces were so big and humans are so loud! I just had to run to my corner and hide my face and hope for the best.

So concerned at first that I wouldn’t be able to feed myself, I was very grateful for the food that was always available, without any worry in finding it under a porch or catching and killing something around the place. And between that bowl of food and bowl of water, and the digging box in the corner that I suddenly remembered being taught to use, I envisioned just a little bit of a memory of being a kitten myself, with my mother, and in a place with people, and being very happy.

My kittens were now at the stage when they grew very fast and became as agile as adults and the little place was hardly big enough for all four of us. Humans would come along and actually open the door and take them out—my babies, in humans’ hands! But any mother understands praise of her children in any language, and I could tell the humans were admiring their beauty and sweetness, and though I still kept myself in the back of the place, I watched with pride as humans cooed and kissed them. One by one, I said goodbye and watched them go off with humans, while those humans I’d come to know would try to pet me and always speak softly and comfortingly to me.

At least I felt my babies were now safe, and I could just disappear. I had no interest in living in this strange world of meowing cats and barking dogs. I didn’t even try to escape because I barely remembered anything I might want to run to. I just sat in the back of the little room all day, facing away from everything outside. Even the day soon after my last baby left when someone actually took me from the space and something very awful and unexplainable happened, I awoke in another place feeling as if I’d been in a horrible fight with such pain in my abdomen, I didn’t fight when they took me back to the little room. I just huddled in my corner, managed the deep pain and eventually felt better.

Much time passed, I have no idea how long. All the cats around me left and more came in, even the humans changed. Other kittens and cats appeared in my cage and tried to be friends with me, but I paid no attention. Sometimes humans stopped to look at me but I pressed my face into the corner, squeezed my eyes shut tight and even held my breath until they left. If I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me. If I acted as if I didn’t exist, they would leave. But now and then my cage door would open and I felt hands on me, even lifting me out and holding me. One of the familiar humans would always make comforting noises for me and all the humans were very gentle. Over and over I would hear the story about the cats who were “rescued” from the basement, how I had come in with kittens, all the parts of my own story, even some that weren’t right. But I didn’t care, and I always ended up back in the little space.

Until one day when one of the people who had handled me and put me back in the cage actually came back later. I knew her by her voice and then by her smell, and she was very kind and soft and I knew right away she’d never ever hurt me, though I was still trembling and hid my face against her.

I don’t understand, she’s so pretty, didn’t anyone else want her?

Lots of people have looked at her, but she just rolls up in a ball and trembles and you can’t blame a person for adopting a cat who’s friendly instead. Like I told you, we love this little girl, she’s been here for months and she’s just scared. We keep hoping she’ll open up and trust us. You can see, she’s just trembling while you hold her, but she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, she’s never hissed or growled, never tried to scratch or bite anyone, ever. And when no one’s looking, I guess it’s when she feels safe, she talks to herself! It’s really cute, she just keeps up a running conversation. And she’s always washing herself, it seems to keep her calm. We just know there’s another cat inside her.

How does she feel about other cats? I did mention I have another cat—he’s really friendly, but I’m working so much a friend told me he needed a buddy to keep him company. That’s why I’m adopting. What do you think?

She came in with kittens and was a very good mother. While she’s been here we’ve tried introducing other cats to her cage, from kittens to cats her own age to older cats who are pretty mellow. She never tried to hit them or anything, but she just stayed in her corner. I still think she’s just scared and she’ll never change while she’s here, but if she got out of this shelter into a nice quiet house I think she’d be fine. I’d just hate to see such a nice kitty…we’d just like to see her have a chance.

So she’s kind of “next in line”? I had decided I would adopt “the next kitty in line”, meaning this would be the cat’s last day, just because I knew it would be hard to choose one and I could at least save a life. You mean she’s…

I hate to say it, I’m not trying to scare you, but yes, we have to have this cage for tomorrow. We’ve been getting litters of kittens with mothers in here every day, we have them in bathrooms, in peoples’ offices, even a few foster homes and more keep coming in. It won’t stop again until fall.

And her name is “Kelly”? Where did she get that name?

I don’t know, I think someone here just chose it for her.

Well, it’s a nice name, I might change it.

So you’ll adopt her?

After all that I can’t leave her here.

I felt the woman hugging me tighter and kissing the top of my head, then we were moving and she and the other human were talking as I heard sounds coming and going around us. She held me tightly in her arms; I stopped trembling but didn’t look up until they were putting me in a box as I’d seen around there before. I didn’t want to go in the box and started yelling and waving my legs, grabbing the edges of the box so I wouldn’t fit but they calmed me enough to get me in there.

For the second time in my short life I was in a container being carried by a human, and again it would change my life. If I had only known I was about to meet my soul-mate, my best friend Namir, the cat who would teach me it was good to live with humans and love me every minute to the end of his life, and I’d have all the best things a kitty could wish for I certainly wouldn’t have wailed so loudly in the moving box that she had to stop and comfort me. But I loved her already.

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This person was not me—Kelly was saved by another kind person who ultimately brought her here with her forever friend Namir. In her final chapter next week, we’ll learn how Namir taught her to trust people, and she taught Namir more about being a cat, and eventually she came to live with me. Little Kelly has quite the epic journey! I wrote this section based on shelter records and what the woman who adopted her related to me.

And I mention that she was next in line to be euthanized in the shelter where she’d been taken, but as I know from all the open-door shelters I’ve worked with, the staff used all the means at their disposal to get Kelly adopted, as they did with every other cat and kitten who came through their doors.

Unfortunately, because people don’t spay and neuter their cats, “kitten season” starts earlier every year and lasts longer, and in order to make room for these new cats someone, somewhere, has to make the decision to euthanize a healthy cat—or dog—so that another homeless animal can have a chance at adoption. These decisions are not made only based on time spent in the shelter as many people think. In Kelly’s case, she spent several months in the cage because the staff knew she was a nice kitty who was frightened, but outside of the shelter she’d probably be a sweet and loving kitty, and so she turned out to be, and still is.

tortoiseshell cat curled sleeping

Kelly Really Sleeping

Kelly has been the sweet, quiet presence you don’t see as often as her more outgoing housemates. I’ve long tried to condense her story, but decided that didn’t do justice to a kitty who’s been through a lot. Because her story is long and involves details of the story of a stray and feral colony along with Kelly’s own long path toward learning to trust humans, I’ll be telling it in several parts over the next few weeks for my Tuesday rescue feature. She has traveled a great emotional and spiritual distance to be the kitty you see today, and who is right now curled in a happy purring ball on my lap, head turned upside down and hugging all her legs together.

Read all the chapters of Kelly’s story:

A Little Bit About Kelly

Part 2: The Rescue

Part 3: Saved At the Last Minute

Part 4: A Friend

Part 5: Home

And you can find Kelly in photos and sketches and stories all over The Creative Cat.

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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.


A Little Bit About Kelly, Part 2: The Rescue

tortoiseshell cat at window

Pensive Kelly.

I had feline sisters in this strange place, as it seemed most of us were girls of various ages. I was frightened at first and confused by their sudden outbursts at each other and sometimes at me though all I did was try to get enough to eat and drink and to stay warm as it grew colder, but eventually I learned the way they communicated and what my place was in the group.

bedraggled orange cat on porch

Neighborhood Stray Cat

By that time I had seen a certain pattern in the other girls, the sudden yowling and extreme physical activity which was often quite entertaining even if it was a little frightening. I heard what I learned were male cats who sometimes entered our little place and while I ran and hid and covered my face and my ears and nearly fainted from fear of all the scrambling and screeching and what sounded like killing, I came to understand what was happening. And there were the swelling bellies, the births, somehow it was all connected.

I had watched kittens nurse and grow, and noticed that, even though the mothers found a protected space away from the group at first the other mothers would sometimes help with them, both mothers nursing and cleaning all the kittens even of different ages, and as their kittens opened their eyes and began to walk and tumble about even those without kittens would help to keep them safe, if at all possible, as it sometimes was not.

Watching this, I remembered being with my own mother and the feel of her tongue combing through my fur as she had bathed me while I nursed and we all purred together, how comforting that had been and I unknowingly cuddled close to a big tabby cat as I swam in this sweet memory. She tolerated it for a bit, then swatted me.

cats on sidewalk

Cats from a local stray and feral colony.

But this odd physical affection grew in me and soon I was prancing around and while I talk all the time I was singing now. The sisterhood was comforting and nurturing if still a little rough when to my surprise I came into my time and suddenly became emboldened and wandered, had experiences with violent male cats which were at the same time horribly frightening and more exciting than I can explain; I still bear a few scars on my neck from this time. I had no idea it would lead to my next life experience…my own babies.

My body knew just what to do when I gave birth, and the experience was very natural for me. I kept my babies clean and happy and had the same help from my sisters, but while I was busy being a momcat other things were happening. The weather was turning warmer and suddenly we heard people around the outside of our building and while we couldn’t understand human we didn’t have to—we knew they meant us harm. Some cats ate some food they’d left even though it tasted funny, and later they grew sick and died right there among us. Then a human pulled out one of the windows and pointed something inside, making loud popping noises and I just rolled in a ball and trembled with my babies until it stopped, and some of our sisters were injured and crying afterward.

I never saw the human who had always brought the food that had first attracted me, but many of my sisters did and were actually friendly with her; while I watched from a safe distance, humans were just a bunch of noisy stomping feet with long frightening legs and I never looked any farther. But when this human brought the food for us and discovered what had happened I understood the sounds she made were sorrow. She actually picked up as many cats as she could get from the outside and took them away. She came back later and took as many more as she could catch.

tabby cat living at abandoned house

Tabby Cat Living at Abandoned House

Later that day and the next, more people came, many footsteps and lots of human sounds and shadows outside, then inside above us, then in our very space, humans were among us! They were a very quiet sort, not the stomping, yelling sort, but I trembled again. One of them saw me with my babies in our little nook and came toward us, I could tell they were cautious, I remembered nice humans, a warm hand stroking me, a soft voice, falling asleep on a comfy lap—but I was overcome with the memory of the loud pops and the stomping and the death and I ran, I ran from the human and tried to get my babies to run with me, they were old enough, but they weren’t fast enough and the human threw something over all of them.

Hiding in the shadows with a few other girls I almost ran back to fight, but I saw the human uncovering my babies and petting them the way I remembered being petted, nuzzling each of them before putting them into a box. I could hear their familiar little mews, now frightened and again I started forward, especially when the human came quietly walking toward us with my babies and making strange little sounds of her own. We understood this human was safe but none of us would move. Eventually the human backed away, I heard my babies’ little voices fading farther, and all the humans left. All was quiet, the cats who had died were gone, things had been moved, everything was different.

But somehow I felt my babies were safe, and I decided to stay.

The small group of us who were left continued on but the humans, the nice ones who gave us good food and spoke in soft and comforting voices, visited more often and tried to make friends with us. They did make friends with a few of the other cats and took them away. From the number of cats who had once lived there, just a few were left.

But soon enough I found myself with babies again as did a few other girls. We grew accustomed to the humans coming in and feeding us inside, leaving bowls of water and now and then walking off with one of us, but especially paying close attention to the kittens. They even petted my babies—they were very young and couldn’t run but I ran a safe distance away and they never touched me. I was certain they’d take my babies again and couldn’t figure out why they didn’t.

Then one day one of them, who had been visiting me and my babies nearly every day, did a very strange thing, and everything changed forever. She approached us as usual and I ran off to where I always waited while she petted my babies. Then she put a wire thing next to my babies and put them in it! And then she left! My babies were in that horrible wire thing and I could see them but I was so frightened of the wire thing I just crouched in my corner and looked at them, pacing now and then. But soon they began crying, crying for food and for me, and they had to be cold and I knew I had to be brave for them. The room had grown dark when I approached the wire thing, much less frightening without all the light shining all over it, walked around it and smelled at my babies, then around again. They could smell me and hear me and began crying to break my heart and I forgot all about how frightening the wire thing was, I had to get to my babies and ran around and on top of the thing, trying to figure out how to get to them. I found an opening on the opposite end from where they were and ran inside, hardly noticing when a loud “snap” sounded behind me. I squeezed over something to get to them walked around and purred and curled around them, lying down so they could nurse as I nuzzled them and licked them as my own mother had all that time ago. We were all exhausted and soon they slept, while I worried, vigilant, in that wire thing, frightened that something awful would happen.

Moon and Sputnik on my deck.

As soon as there was just a bit of daylight I heard the human quietly enter. One of my sisters, more frightened than me and quite wild, ran silently for her hiding spot. A light shone in my eyes and I heard the human making quiet noises, coming toward me. I got up and flattened myself against the wire when I realized I had no room to run, leaving my babies just awakening and moving around. She made what felt like comforting noises and the light went out, then the cage began to move and I realized she was taking us in the cage. I looked up at her hand and trembled where I was as we moved through that dark space that had become so familiar, up and into the early daylight on a sweet spring morning, all was still quiet except birds singing their morning songs.

I was frightened, I would not look at the human and I didn’t make a single sound, but though I had no idea what would happen next I knew this was better than staying in that place, for me and for my babies.

——————

This portion of Kelly’s story is pieced together from notes in her file that had been related to the woman who eventually adopted her; I filled out the details from my own experiences with rescues of stray and feral colonies who were in danger from human activity and had to be evacuated.

We knew that Kelly had given birth to at least two litters of kittens though she may have had others as well, that the first litter was taken to a shelter though they could not catch Kelly. The woman who had regularly fed the cats had found them after the rat poison and BB guns then watched the colony closely and continued to rescue as many cats as she could. Eventually it was down to Kelly and a few other cats. She caught Kelly only by “using her babies to lure her”; I described what I had once done to catch a stray momcat.

The building had been condemned and was demolished, and I have no idea if the other cats were ever trapped and removed, but I am glad that Kelly managed to find a moment of trust and allow herself to be caught. I am also grateful to the woman who cared for them and saved so many, not just for Kelly’s sake but for the sake of all stray and feral cats who do their best to live in a world that is largely hostile to them. This would have taken place in late 1995 and early 1996 when TNR was still fairly new in many areas and colonies were often rounded up and simply euthanized.

tortoiseshell cat curled sleeping

Kelly Really Sleeping

But Kelly is still a few experiences away from the happily purring Kelly on my lap right now as we have two more chapters to go in her rescue story. Kelly has been the sweet, quiet presence you don’t see as often as her more outgoing housemates. I’ve long tried to condense her story, but decided that didn’t do justice to a kitty who’s been through a lot. Because her story is long and involves details of the story of a stray and feral colony along with Kelly’s own long path toward learning to trust humans, I’ll be telling it in several parts over the next few weeks for my Tuesday rescue feature. She has traveled a great emotional and spiritual distance to be the kitty you see today, and who is right now curled in a happy purring ball on my lap, head turned upside down and hugging all her legs together.

A magical kitty like Kelly in touch with a deep contemplative side, and I treasure the poem of that nature she inspired, “Pawprints and Raindrops”, which I featured yesterday.

Read all the chapters of Kelly’s story:

A Little Bit About Kelly

Part 2: The Rescue

Part 3: Saved At the Last Minute

Part 4: A Friend

Part 5: Home

And you can find Kelly in photos and sketches and stories all over The Creative Cat.

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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.


A Little Bit About Kelly

tortoiseshell cat

Mysterious Kelly

I’m not certain how I came to be where I was, and I didn’t know how to get away from it because everything else was much more frightening than the dark and dirty basement where I found myself.

tortoiseshell cat with green eyes

Kelly in Motion

I was very young and had gone from being a kitten with my mom and siblings to being with a bunch of people somewhere, all I remember was legs, they were so tall and loud and frightened me with big loud feet so close, so I ran one day for where it was quiet and peaceful, and then I couldn’t find my way back. I looked and looked and found nothing familiar so I just started trotting around the streets, crouching behind bushes, under cars, I had no idea where I was or what I was looking for. I was so hungry and realized the food that had always been available had come from those people, and the water in nice bowls like I was used to…what had I done?

Just desperately trotting, I had no idea how long or how far I wandered, but the day grew dark and more quiet, then became light again and noisy. There was just house after house, and cars parked and moving down streets, even at night, and those long-legged people who terrified me more and more.

Other cats were on porches and in yards and I thought they might help me, just answer a question, but they clearly told me to keep out, even the one who looked like my mom and I thought she might understand when I tried to explain, but she yowled some feline profanity my young ears had never heard and slapped me across the face.

tortoisesehell cat outdoors

Kelly outdoors (modern day, of course).

My chest tight with fear and sadness, I ran and ran and ran until I was so tired and hungry and thirsty I thought I just might die, but I smelled and sensed other cats again and I was so desperate for just the presence of others like me that I slowed down and stopped, quickly washing my face, swiveling my ears and bobbing my nose to catch the little threads of sound and smell…yes, cats, many cats, and I even smelled the deep birth smell there, the first smell I remember ever, even before the smell of my mom.

And I smelled food. It seemed to be coming from a building across the street, and then I saw an orange cat come out from under the porch, and in the darkness under there I could see other cats too.

I slowly approached, and if it had not been for the enticing smell of food I would have been much more polite and even waited until after they had gone to move forward but my stomach was already gurgling, ready for food and in a daze I started to talk about food and how hungry I was and I walked across the street and into the yard and through the brambles around the porch and the little opening in the criss-cross wood behind it.

The smell was intoxicating. I saw a bunch of cats of all types gathered around a big bag of food, ripped open and the dry bits falling all over and still mumbling to myself I hurried forward in a daze grabbing several pieces from the dirt with my mouth and barely chewing before swallowing, getting a sharp swat from one of the cats already at the bag.

Without any awareness of danger or proper feline etiquette, I shouldered in, under and between two cats and got my face in that pile of food talking vigorously through mouths full of dry crunchy wonderfulness, getting more swats and shoves and jostles and warning sounds through their mouths full of food, but I think they were just as hungry as me, and for the first time since I’d nursed with my siblings from our mother I felt the comfort and warmth and smell and sound of another cat, and for that moment reveled in the community I’d found.

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This is the fictional portion of little Kelly’s rescue story, the part no one really knows but her. I’ve pieced it together from observing the arrivals of many other young kitties who have found themselves a member of a stray and feral cat colony in an urban setting, and included as much of Kelly’s innate personality as I guess would have influenced her activities.

slender cat

Kelly talking to me.

On that note, I make reference to Kelly talking and mumbling and explaining. It is one of the most endearing things about Kelly, for all her timid and cautious nature she is one of the most talkative cats I’ve ever known. She always has something to say, either simple remark or a complete sentence. She’s quite the storyteller, and talks not only to me but to herself as she goes about her daily activities.

It’s about time we told little Kelly’s story! She’s been a part of this home since 1997, joining us along with Namir as fosters from a person who was traveling to California for graduate studies and hoped to take them at some point but never found stable enough housing before we decided they belonged here.

Pieced together from long-ago records, we do know what Kelly was found with a stray and feral colony in an abandoned building in Oakland, near Pittsburgh, in the midst of several colleges and universities, so it was assumed she’d been adopted by a college student and either escaped or been abandoned.

tortoiseshell cat curled sleeping

Kelly Really Sleeping

Kelly has been the sweet, quiet presence you don’t see as often as her more outgoing housemates. I’ve long tried to condense her story, but decided that didn’t do justice to a kitty who’s been through a lot. Because her story is long and involves details of the story of a stray and feral colony along with Kelly’s own long path toward learning to trust humans, I’ll be telling it in several parts over the next few weeks for my Tuesday rescue feature. She has traveled a great emotional and spiritual distance to be the kitty you see today, and who is right now curled in a happy purring ball on my lap, head turned upside down and hugging all her legs together.

Read the rest of the story:

Part 2: The Rescue

Part 3: Saved at the Last Minute

A magical kitty like Kelly in touch with a deep contemplative side, and I treasure the poem of that nature she inspired, “Pawprints and Raindrops”, which I featured yesterday.

And you can find Kelly in photos and sketches and stories all over The Creative Cat.

————————————

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.


The Housewarming Cat

black and white photo of long-haired cat

Sophie in all her fuzzy glory.

Most rescue stories are pretty dramatic and any humor one can find is usually an offbeat detail of an otherwise grim story.

But every once in a while there’s a rescue that’s just plain silly. After Skeeter’s rescue and other stories of cats and kittens brought back from the brink of death, I feel the need to tell this one.

Also, as I write I often refer to cats who spent many years with me but who passed before I began blogging. This year I’ll finally be sharing their stories.

My Housewarming Cat

Cookie and Sophie

Cookie and Sophie

Sophie was unique among the cats in my household, big and fluffy and beautiful but with little understanding of her own size, timid and very dramatic but devoted and deeply affectionate with her own customized vocabulary, I always had the feeling she was all caught up in her own version of reality. Cookie remembers her because she and Cookie were good friends and my personal guards as they stationed themselves on either side of me whether I was at my easel or at the washing machine.

But this was even before Cookie joined my household and just after I moved into my house and so I’ve always called Sophie my “housewarming cat”.

A new house and a new cat

I bought the house where I now live in 1990, closing on October 19 on my little carpenter’s special. Once I had the key I spent about two weeks of nights after work at projects that were much easier without furniture, stuff and cats like painting walls and repairing or laying flooring, then taking car loads of things every time I went past since my new house wasn’t far from the house I’d been renting.

Finally came moving weekend when friends and I went back and forth for an entire day to just get all my stuff here so I could spend the next full week on vacation putting things away. My six cats were closed in one of the empty bedrooms in the old house with water and a litter box while the world came apart around them. At about 1:00 a.m. I had the new house in enough order, even litter boxes in the basement, and I went back to the old house, packed my cats in carriers, put them in the car, and introduced them to their new home (Kublai had already visited once or twice). I fed them their dinner in the kitchen, which though late ingratiated them to their new home as nothing else ever could have. And even that first night, Kublai, Sally, Stanley, Allegro, Moses and Fawn all ended up sleeping with me.

Through the week, as we settled in, slowly working my way through all the rooms I used the spare bedroom as a dumping ground for both empty boxes and those still with contents. The house I’d bought was easily half the size of the one I’d rented and furniture and even kitchen items ended up in there. It was all destined for the attic but I had only a small access in my other bedroom closet and decided I’d have plenty of time to ask someone to come over so they could hand me things and I could organize them up there.

On the Saturday before I was to return to work I received a housewarming gift in the form of a check that I would deposit on Monday after I’d returned to work. I worked four ten-hour days then, sometimes five or six, and I was grateful for ATMs since I never made it to the bank in person. I also left too late for work to make any stops on the way, so I’d be stopping at a certain drive-up ATM on the way home.

The “rescue”

My workplace was 17 miles from my home, and the ATM was a mere five miles from my home so I wouldn’t mind stopping when I was “almost there”. I pulled off the highway onto the winding roads of the newly-built shopping complex including a strip mall, several free-standing big box stores, an IKEA store, a theater, you get the picture—the place was huge and pretty much the only thing off an exit from the highway, dark and deserted by the time I got there.

So I wound my way through the roads in the development to the big deluxe bank and drove around the side to where the drive-through was, which included the drive-up ATM.

I had just exited the highway and my ears were full of highway noise, I had the radio playing the alternative rock station at a fairly high volume, and when I pulled up under the drive-through and opened my window my car engine echoed under the canopy. I could barely hear the “ding” of the ATM as it prompted me to go to the next step in depositing my check.

But I heard a cat meow.

Nonsense, I thought to myself, you always hear a cat meow. There’s no cat here, this bank is at the end of the world, all there is after this is graded mud all the way to the highway, winding development roads, not a single house, not even another human being. There is no way there’s a cat anywhere around here.

I had been rescuing for about ten years at that time, and in addition to the six who lived with me, all rescues to small or great extent, there had already been twice that many who I’d grabbed off the roadside, climbed trees to get, lured into a trap in my yard, chased along railroad tracks who I’d captured, treated, fostered, midwifed into life and adopted out to an ever-widening circle of friends who loved animals. That was the end of the 80s when there really were homeless cats everywhere, so it was not out of the question that I did hear cats meow all the time, and they weren’t just in my head.

cat with curtain

Sophie being shy.

But I looked past the two drive-through lanes and there, through the scant new hedge bare of leaves I saw a cat, adult-size, lots of white and some black pacing back and forth at the edge of the light circle from the street light. And meowing, loudly, loud enough to be heard over all the din I was producing.

I opened my car door and walked toward the cat, leaving the engine running and the door open and my card in the machine, never mind that I was all alone at a bank ATM in a deserted retail development miles from civilization. There was a cat to be caught, one that was literally asking me to catch it, and all ideas of care and safety were null and void until the cat was safely stashed, somewhere.

“Hi, kitty!”

“Meow!”

I began slowly moving toward the hedge.

“Who are you, kitty?”

“Meow!”

That cat could run off toward the highway at any moment and not only would I never catch it, I’d barely be able to see it, and it could end in disaster. I didn’t want to think about that, only about a way to get around behind the cat. This was actually pointless because there was no place to corner the cat, but it made me feel better that I wouldn’t be chasing it toward the highway.

“How did you get here, kitty?”

“Meow!”

The cat answered all my insipid questions with the same enthusiastic “meow!” and continued pacing behind the hedge. I came around the end of it, squatted down and held out my hand as if I had a treat in it, like this cat might even know what a treat was.

The cat was acting cautious, but not actually frightened, and everything it was doing was telling me it wanted to be caught. Shaggy medium-haired, white legs, belly, chest and lower face, big saddle and babushka of tabby stripes on the back and head and big floofy tabby tail like a raccoon’s, the cat looked adult size, certainly no kitten, but no clue for gender.

It was not uncomfortable with my presence nor my eye contact, so I kept my eye contact with it and slowly moved forward as the cat ran away a few steps, came back, ran again, came back, meowing with every move.

I finally got within reach of the cat, let it cautiously tiptoe toward me and stretch as many body parts as it could to sniff my outstretched hand. It began investigating my hand as I continued my little patter though the cat was now quiet. When it got to my sleeve I tried to stay relaxed as if I wasn’t planning my one and only chance to grab a scruff and possibly have my face shredded by an unknown kitty.

Distracted by my coat sleeve which smelled heavily of all my six cats since I petted each of them before I left the house, the moment presented itself and I scruffed the kitty, picked it up and smashed it against my coat front before it could get a paw loose, then cut through the little hedge heading for my car and ready to hold onto this cat at all costs until I had it contained somewhere.

The cat was not acting violent in any way, though, just wiggling in discomfort at being suddenly smashed face-first into a wool winter coat. I plopped down into the seat, pulled the door shut, rolled up the window both with my left hand while I “restrained” the cat with my right.

The car sealed shut I loosened my death grip on the cat’s scruff and released the pressure on its back.

It looked up at me and said tentatively, “Meow?”

Okay, so I hadn’t needed to prepare for battle, but cats had done all the things I anticipated and more. The cat seemed confused, as if it had been expecting something else entirely when it met its rescuer.

“Hi, kitty, are you okay?” I continued with meaningless conversation as I gave it a gentle little exam and decided that, since I had no evidence the cat was a boy, that she was therefore a girl and that would be good enough until I had the time to investigate further.

I realized I had nothing to put her into. I had been carrying a cat carrier in the back of my car for several years, but I’d taken everything out to move. She might be okay just sitting here, but what about when the car starts moving? Ever had a cat attack the back of your head?

I looked up at the ATM for my card, prepared to hold her in place as I opened the window to get my card. But my card wasn’t there. The evil machine said I had left the card in place too long with no response and it had taken my card, and that I should visit the bank to get it back.

So much for my deposit and my ATM card, but I had the cat!

Now what to do with her while I drove home down a dark, winding road?

Hope for the best. I let her go and she explored the car. When I began driving she hopped gracefully into the passenger seat and then came for me, getting onto my lap and then stepping up onto my arms outstretched to the steering wheel so she could…stand there and lick my face all the way home.

pastel painting of cat with flowers

The Perfect Camouflage, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

But now where do I put the kitty

Arriving home some time later for having to drive about five miles per hour while not being able to see much around the cat’s face and fuzzy head, I realized that I had no place in the house to put the kitty, either—no spare cat room had yet been established. I looked at her and said, “You’re staying in the car,” held her, got out, tossed her to the passenger seat and closed the door. She ran to the window and meowed, and all the way up to my house I could hear her…

I ran in, fed my cats their canned food—I didn’t leave food out even then and the long day had been long enough for them, it was now near 11:00 p.m.!

As soon as I had their food down I ran upstairs to the spare bedroom and opened the door. I could swing the door open, otherwise the room was stacked with boxes more than halfway to the nine-foot ceiling.

Well, I thought, there’s no time like the present to get these things into the attic. I moved as many as would fit into my bedroom, closed the door against curious kitties, opened the closet door, got the ladder I had stashed in there, moved the attic access panel out of the way and started shoving boxes into the attic. When that was done I closed up the attic and moved another set of boxes to my room. Finally, there was enough space in the spare bedroom to fit a cat and a litterbox and food and water, and nothing would come unexpectedly tumbling down from anywhere.

I grabbed a carrier and went to my car. The cat was desperately leaping from seat to seat and looking out the windows and still meowing loudly, but I got my hands on her easily, got her in the carrier and into the house and past six sets of feline eyes suspicious of this entire process as several of them had seen it already a number of times…a new cat was in the house!

The spare cat room

So that was how the “spare cat room” was established, practically at the same time I moved into this place, and though it’s my studio today that is only a development from this, my twenty-first year in this house. While also serving other purposes, that room has welcomed all the other new cats who’ve joined my household, from Sophie, my housewarming cat, to Mimi and the Fantastic Four when they were just three days old. It’s also kept convalescing kitties comfortable, and kitties on the last part of their journey safe when I couldn’t be with them for part of a day.

And Sophie…

I always had the feeling Sophie was sent to me, appearing in that desolate place more than a mile from any house right when I’d be there—it was muddy and damp but she was clean—and seeming to be waiting for me, not objecting to being caught and actually thanking me once we got in the car and every day afterward.

But it was her confused reaction to my cautious and defensive methods—it was as if those who sent her to me had told her, “We’ll put you here, and the human you are to take care of will come along and pick you up and take you home …”, but no one had warned her of all my defensive scruffing and smashing, it just wasn’t at all what she’d expected.

Sophie was a girl and a juvenile kitten, though such a big girl at that age indicated perhaps she had some of a large breed in her heritage, and she spent the next 17 years with me, with lots of stories to tell of taking care of her human..

photo of a cat at a window with lace curtain

Sophie Keeps an Eye on Thingsn photo © B.E. Kazmarski

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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.


Simon Says…

cat with three legs

Simon Says...

One day after mom had been gone all day she came home with pictures and stories about a kitty who looked like Namir but who didn’t have a leg! We weren’t so sure about that at first because we are all so perfect, but after we saw the photos and she explained that he’s really over the fact that he is missing a hind leg, we thought we’d like to meet him. He’s a hero cat! And his people hardly notice it anymore either. Anyone who would think that a cat missing a limb might take too much care or might not live as long or any other reason there might be to not adopt really needs to read about Simon and his people. ~the Fantastic Four 

What are you looking at?

Simon is another incredible rescue I’ve met recently. He lives with the family of Cooper, one of the portrait subjects featured in Great Rescues, who have been rescuing cats for years.

cat with three legs

Simon waves his tail.

Animals are amazingly adaptive when it comes to changes in their bodies. Simon was a stray being fed outside by this couple who live in a rural area next to a farm as they tried to determine if he belonged to someone. Unfortunately he came back one day dragging a trap on his leg.

“We were actually away at the time,” said Simon’s dad. “Our neighbor found him and ran him to our vet, figuring that’s what we’d want—he was right—but he would have done that for any animal, and we’re so glad he did.”

Simon spent a month in the veterinary hospital while the veterinarian valiantly tried to save the leg, but it just kept breaking again and again.

“Simon was in so much pain, though he never acted mean in any way, but we could tell, the last time the leg broke again, he was done with it,” his people agreed. “The veterinarian removed his leg the next day and Simon was awake and alert, eating and social just hours afterward. We could tell he was thanking us!”

He came home the day after the amputation surgery and walked around as if nothing had happened except that he now had a slightly altered gait. He also had no problem being an indoor cat after that experience.

“We don’t know where Simon came from,” his mom said. “He just showed up and was eating with the outdoor cats. We were trying to track down an owner if there was one before we decided we’d get him neutered, then this happened. I think he was meant to be ours anyway.”

No one knows where Simon came from, and it’s sad to think what would have happened to him had he not felt comfortable enough with the couple giving him food and shelter outdoors to drag himself back. But he’s got a loving home now and a long life ahead of him.

For Simon, missing a leg does not mean missing a heart—he is still loving and playful and even has a snit now and then while you’re petting him, just like any other cat. If you see a kitty in a shelter who’s had a little accident, don’t pass them by.

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.


Big Kitty Love

portrait of Maine Coon cat named Felix

Felix, pastel, 2004, 16" x 23" © B.E. Kazmarski

This magnificent cat was rescued and originally placed with someone who unfortunately not only let him out, but literally kicked him out, causing a permanent injury. Felix found himself back with his original rescuers who kept a registered rescue for cats in their home.

His forever family had recently lost one of their three Persian cats, long-haired of course, and with tabby markings. Waiting a respectful time after the loss, a friend at work told the story of Felix, the big, gentle long-haired tabby who truly resembled a Maine Coon cat; one day soon after there was a photo of him left on the desk. The gentle hints were well-timed and effective and soon they traveled to meet him, won over the skeptical rescuer, and brought him home.

This is Felix’s story in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

About Felix’s mom and dad, serial adopters and rescuers

portrait of gray persian cat

Flint, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Both Felix’s mom and dad had grown up with pets but those animals had always gone outdoors and as a young married couple living in an apartment they were sure a pet wouldn’t be happy. A friend had Persian cats and in visits they were so impressed with the cats’ looks and personality that they adopted, over time, three of them.

painting of white persian cat

Cameo, pastel, © B.E. Kazmarski

I first met them years later after they had lost that first Persian kitty, Flint, and he became one of the first portraits I painted the year I began this business in 1993. I also met Scout and Cameo and painted their portraits in time as well; Scout is the tabby Persian kitty mentioned in Felix’s story, above.

painting of tabby persian cat

Scout, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

Felix was their first mixed-breed rescue cat. They had been so impressed by the Persian cats they met and lived with, and while they moved from an apartment to a home and didn’t need to be concerned about space, they also each worked long hours and traveled frequently. The Persian cats they adopted from their breeder fit well into their lifestyle and they weren’t sure about taking on a shelter or rescued cat whose needs they might not be able to meet. Until Felix, that is.

four cats outdoors

Liam, Ceili, Julia and Amy

Since Felix they’ve adopted several rescued cats in about the same way as Felix—photos passed around the office, or a flyer, or an e-mail with a story. In addition, they’ve rescued a few of their own from the outdoors, taking them in, getting veterinary care and finding homes for them, and also feeding, spaying and neutering a parade of outdoor cats.

When I visited there were two rescues lounging indoors and four cats who they fed outside the door on the patio who had been spayed and neutered through the Homeless Cat Management Team, a TNR program based in Pittsburgh. I was not surprised to see there was even a water bowl that could be heated for winter use. After a recent visit to them I wrote about their little outdoor family.

closeup of cat's face

Felix, detail of his face.

About Felix

Felix was a natural model, a big, confident cat who knew just how to pose. I took a number of reference photos when I visited to be used for details, but this portrait was modeled after one shot I particularly liked for the lighting and the minimal details in the background.

It is not unheard of to find a breed cat living on the streets, but most often the ones who appear to be a breed simply have a majority of breed traits pulled up from their genetic history. Maine Coon cats are very popular for their mellow personality, and aside from being very large they don’t look exotic as many other breed cats do. I’ve seen people call nearly any long-haired tabby cat, or just a big tabby cat, a Maine Coon cat. Yet he did have many features and the demeanor of a Maine Coon cat, and I believe a friend of his peoples’ who was a breeder looked him over and said he certainly looked like one. There’s no way to tell without genetics, but when I met him, I certainly sensed the traits I associated with Maine Coon cats—not just a big cat, but a big presence, and even with the gentle demeanor, a sense of the wild in them. I loved watching Felix walk on those huge feet padded with so much fur.

Unfortunately, Felix didn’t live too long past the portrait, and they only had six years to enjoy his company, but after his horrible beginnings—no one knew how such a nice and handsome cat ended up on the streets—at least he spent his last few years with two of the best people any cat could hope to find.

Here is Felix’s page in Great Rescues:

page in great rescues calendar and gift book

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

There Was Just No Other Kitty After Samantha

The Cat of a Lifetime

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


There Was Just No Other Kitty After Samantha

portrait of black cat in wicker chair

Samantha, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

There has not been another kitty since Samantha. Sometimes a memory is too dear, and time must pass before the heart is ready for another love.

The Story

In Samantha’s mom’s case a dramatic change in schedule just didn’t allow for another adoption for quite a few years after she lost Samantha. Her employer began reorganizing the company nationwide, and she was given an opportunity that required her to travel frequently and for several days, even weeks, at a time. In a way, it was an antidote to the suddenly empty home.

But the heart is sensitive in other ways after caring for a loved one through a sustained or chronic illness as well, less likely to take risks in many ways.

While many kitties were presented and could have done well with her travel schedule, the memory of Samantha’s long decline into kidney failure and the final months of administering subcutaneous fluids herself at home made her consider what she would do if a feline illness presented itself while she was traveling. Risky; best not take the chance, at least until the traveling is over. Sometimes that is the best decision, especially as the months turned into years.

Another portrait at the same time

Though there has not been another kitty since Samantha, there were several kitties before. In fact, when I painted Samantha’s portrait, I also painted another of three cats she had known before and who were, in part, the ones who led her to Samantha.

portrait of three cats

Honey, Tommy and Andy, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

Honey, Tommy and Andy were mom, son and daughter and while Honey had other kittens this little family of three was a perfect combination: Honey, though petite, was decidedly the boss; Tommy, big and rangy was as sweet as candy; and Andy playful and affectionate.

Honey, in the front, was the mother, and Tommy on the left and Andy on the right were two of her kittens. “Honey was tiny, but she was the boss, definitely the leader,” Samantha’s mom said, remembering the three cats. “Tommy was big but as gentle as a kitten—Honey used to boss him around—and Andy was sweet and playful. We were definitely a family,” she continued. Honey lived into her late teens, outliving both her children, and after that the home was without cats for a while, and then…

Samantha’s Rescue Story

During a visit to a friend who had cats, Samantha’s mom realized she needed the love and affection a cat provides. At a local Humane Society she saw this tiny kitten alone in a cage. Her large yellow eyes begged her mom to save her. The kitten was very small and delicate, her coloring totally black with very fine silky fur; asking the attendant, she learned the kitten was a Burmese and was the runt of a litter. She picked up the kitten who immediately cuddled on her shoulder and she was in love! Then she thought it would be nice for the kitten to have a playmate and selected another kitten, holding both in her arms. The Burmese would have none of this and hissed at the other kitten, possibly due to her bad experiences being bullied by her litter mates. Deciding the kitten needed her as much as she needed the kitten, she took the kitten home, named her Samantha, and had 19 wonderful years with her. (From Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book)

Planning the portraits

When we planned the two portraits, Honey, Tommy and Andy would be “in heaven”, so they look as if they are in the clouds.

When we ultimately chose Samantha’s pose, that one perfect photo of her awakening from a nap on her little wicker chair, nestled among pillows in the sun, she was looking upward at just the right angle that when we hung the portraits on the landing in her home she was indeed looking up at them, and thanking them for leading the way for her mom to find her.

And Samantha’s mom remembers taking the photo, just capturing that moment when Samantha awoke and gazed around sleepily, relaxed and content.

I can attest that it’s difficult to photograph black cats and used my own black cat, Kublai, as a model for the highlights on her face, paw and body. I remember, initially thinking Samantha was a fairly large kitty, comparing her to the chair and thinking it was a papasan-style or one of those grand wicker chairs I used to see at Pier One and other places, with a deep seat so the pillows were off in the background, but it turned out to be a petite little chair, just right for a petite little kitty.

And not only does the heart hold the memory dear, but also the things attached to the memories. Samantha’s mom still has the little wicker chair, knowing it’s just an object, just a part of all the things Samantha touched in her home, she’ll always keep it as part of the memory of Samantha.

Creating the portrait

I never met Samantha for all the times I visited this person’s home, though she was still around but in her late teens when I painted the portrait, and not feeling well. After the portrait was completed her mom told me that Samantha had developed renal failure, and she was giving her subcutaneous fluids on a regular basis.

I’ve done this plenty of times since then, but at that time I had not and was greatly intimidated when my black cat, Kublai, needed them a few years later. I remembered Samantha and her mom, and that gave me the reassurance if they could get through it, I could do it too. I’ve learned so much from both the cats I’ve known and the persons who’ve loved them.

closeup of portrait

Closeup of Samantha's face

This portrait was a turning point for me. With each portrait I’d done I had experimented with colors and techniques and been able to start visualizing the way I’d work certain areas as I studied my reference photos, determining the colors, the way I’d apply and blend them so the decisions didn’t even seem conscious.

I remember finishing work on Samantha’s eyes, leaving to take a break, and looking later to see things I didn’t even remember doing, colors applied, blends and clarified edges I hadn’t consciously decided to create, the clarity of her eye in front of her pupil and the shadows and highlights within her eye, highlights on her face and paw, I didn’t know how I’d done this. I knew I’d reached a new level of skill and observation, and with it the confidence that I was on the right path. For many years, Samantha was the signature of my my business, on my business card and brochure until the portrait of Stanley, which is my signature portrait now.

Choosing Samantha as the cover kitty

great rescues cover

Samantha as the cover kitty.

I had visualized this project, cover and all, for over a decade, and in a corner of my mind I had always pictured Samantha on the cover, possibly because she had also been on my brochure and her portrait meant so much to me as an artist. I knew I wanted to use a warm, rich color for the cover, dark enough to support the foil stamped text I had in mind. I had initially used the portrait of Bandit because of the red in his portrait and how I love that portrait as well, but my heart went for the little black kitty and the portrait that had changed my outlook on my career as an artist.

Samantha’s mom agreed for Samantha to be on the cover; it’s one thing to be in the book, quite another to be on the cover and therefore see your kitty’s portrait all over the place as I promote the book. I knew how she felt about Samantha still, after all these years, and that might be painful. In the end, it’s a joy for her to have a copy forever on her coffee table so she can not only look at her portraits on the wall, but her copy of the calendar in her living room.

Here is Samantha’s page in Great Rescues:


Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

The Cat of a Lifetime

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


The Cat of a Lifetime

painting of cat outdoors

Sherman's Portrait No. 1

Sherman’s family had not lived with any cats prior to Sherman, and have adopted none since, in fact, they are allergic to cats. Yet when an animal-loving friend needed to move from Pennsylvania to Texas and wanted to place as many as possible of her cats and dogs in homes before she left (taking the “unadoptables” with her), they met Sherman and decided to take him home. He was a full-bred ruddy Abyssinian with the gregarious personality and intuitive nature of the breed and adapted immediately, managing their schedules and greeting the neighbors.

If you’ll only be able to share your life with one cat, then finding a cat like Sherman is truly finding the cat of a lifetime.

Sherman is one of the rescued cats featured in my Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book. The opening paragraph is his “rescue story” from the book, and here is more about him and his people.

When their friends with four children and a house full of animals needed to move, they thought it would be best if they found homes for as many of their cats and dogs as possible rather than make them endure the long drive and resettle. They had a number of animals they considered “unadoptable” because of illness, age or temperament, and those would travel with them. They would try to find homes for as many of the others before they left, but take any who hadn’t been adopted.

“We went to visit them and we came home with a cat!” said Rose. “The last time we visited they told us they wanted us to take Sherman.”

Sherman apparently had an idea what was going on. “I didn’t really want to adopt a cat, but Sherman knew Lou would be easier to work on so he started rubbing around Lou’s legs,” Rose recalled. Then Sherman wrapped himself around Lou and wouldn’t let go. Of course she couldn’t say no, and of course she fell in love with him too.

“We were totally unprepared,” they said “Of course we had nothing for a cat. We don’t remember what they gave us, a litterbox and some food maybe, I’m not even sure if we had a carrier.” They drove 40 miles with him sleeping in the back seat until he started wandering around the car, even trying to get under the gas pedal, but they were almost home.

Rose never had a pet of her own, though her sister had had a cat growing up, but Lou never had a dog or a cat ever in his life. What made Sherman’s owner approach these two as his adoptive family? Knowing them myself I would think it was something about their kind and gentle natures. Sherman probably knew he could easily manipulate them. It was meant to be.

Sherman was eight years old then, but was so friendly and outgoing he sometimes seemed “like a puppy”. “He adapted right away,” Rose said. “It was as if he’d always been here.” He hadn’t been just manipulating Lou, though, Sherman just fell in love with him, and began the continuing habit of sleeping on Lou’s pillow.

This was when the allergies surfaced. Lou had always had some allergies and symptoms of asthma, but never having had a pet had no idea what the effect would be.

“The doctor said I had to get rid of the cat. I told the doctor, ‘No way, I’m not getting rid of the cat.’ The doctor said keep him out of the bedroom, I said ‘No way,’”

So Sherman always got his way. It was because they loved him so much.

They were amazed at some of his abilities.

“He could read your mind, he knew how you felt and what you wanted to do,” said Rose.

Lou worked night turn, when Sherman decided Lou had slept enough he would pull Lou’s eyelids open.

“He loved everyone,” said Lou. “When we would take walks, no leash or anything, it wasn’t necessary, he would walk along with me, go up to greet people, and sometimes sit to wait for people to walk up to him,” he continued. “On a day when a lot of people were around or out in their yards the walk would take a long time, especially when there would be an open garage door and he would have to go and investigate until he was satisfied.” Of course, Lou would patiently wait on the sidewalk until Sherman was done with his investigation.

Rose recalled that when someone come to do an energy audit of their house, after the tour they settled down at the dining room table to talk over the findings. The guy had a beard, and Sherman started grooming this guy’s beard.

“Lou has a beard, and Sherman groomed his beard too” Rose said. “I think Sherman thought Lou was a big cat.”

And though most of the memories of Sherman involve his relationship with Lou, Rose had her time with Sherman as well. “He was very comforting because he was so soft to touch. Sherman had a silky coat, it looked soft and it was soft,” she remembered

Sherman lived to be 18, a good ten years with a very special cat.

After they lost Sherman, Lou “realized how much breathing he had been missing”, and they both decided another cat was probably not a good idea.

“We see cats and we talk about it, but he’s allergic. He’s not so allergic that he can’t visit someone with pets, some he’s more allergic to than others,” Rose explained.

Sherman is still a big influence, and they still use his name whenever possible.

Sherman’s portrait set was one of the ones I needed to rephotograph in order to print the calendar. They are small, 8” x 8” each, and I had painted them in 1994 (the calendar says 1996, but I had the wrong date on my paperwork from way back then). The photos I took then were fine to trim down and add to my portfolio book, but enlarging them only lost detail and the colors were impossible to adjust. The lens I had then made focusing on something small very difficult; shortly after that I finally purchased a high-quality scanner and used that for anything small enough to fit in the scanner bed.

And even when I visited to pick up the portraits—I needed to bring them home to photograph them—the stories continued, and Lou was concerned about how long Sherman’s portraits would be away.

“He knew when the kids would be coming home from school, and would sit at the top of the steps to greet them,” both Rose and Lou agreed, “and then he’d be back in the house getting involved in whatever we were doing.” He also waited for Lou to come home from work, sitting on a chair which Rose had placed in front of the screen door.

Creating the portrait

Rose and I worked together for several years in the 90s, and in addition to her day job Rose is herself a textile artist, so though we worked in different departments we would sometimes discuss local art events, like the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and what we’d seen there and were working on. Later, when I needed to learn about cold-set dyes and purchasing blank t-shirts for my Tortie Girls prints, she would also be the person to explain the different types of fabric dyes and guide me to Dharma Trading Company where I buy my blank shirts and dyes.

Remembering Lou’s relationship with Sherman, she decided a couple of years after they had lost Sherman she’d get Lou a portrait of him that he could keep forever.

As we discussed Sherman’s portrait and looked at photos considering postures and settings, we initially decided on the image one of him outside on the patio since they had spent much time out there and it was simply a nice image, appealing to both of us.

Yet she had mentioned more than once him sitting on the chair in front of the door, and knew that was a very special memory for Lou.

Sherman at the door was a big, strong memory, but simply not as nice to look at as the one on the patio, yet the one on the patio wouldn’t serve all on its own, and I knew this from trying to choose images for portraits of my own cats.

I suggested two small portraits and she liked the idea so we didn’t have to choose one and eliminate the other, risking a regret later, and the possibilities of framing and hanging them appealed to her as well.

However, she didn’t have a photo of Sherman at the door. Well, I rarely work from one photo, and often add things that people have described to me, painted in backgrounds from photos I have, imagined what an animal looked like before the cataracts or the amputated leg, or tried to visualize an animal from the one and only photo available that shows the animal very small, blurry, and the flash washing out its face. If I have enough information, I can visualize the rest. It’s a different sort of a challenge to create a portrait from scratch.

We discussed the type of screen door and chairs they’d had, the house was pale yellow brick, and I took it from there.

painting of cat at door

Sherman's Portrait No. 2

Here is Sherman’s page in Great Rescues

great rescues page

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

A Bridge Between the Ages

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


A Bridge Between the Ages

gray cat and calico cat

Houdini and Holly, best friends to the end, courtesy Judi Stadler

“Holly was my first and only kitten,” Judi told me. “All my cats were adults that I rescued or adopted. She was a real treat—I’d never seen the energy of a kitten.”

kitten in toolbox

Holly in the toolbox, courtesy Judi Stadler

Holly was about six weeks old when Judi’s partner Don brought her home in the cereal box and is a featured rescue kitty in Great Rescues:

Holly’s dad was working on his apartment building in a small town 50 miles from his home and noticed a tiny kitten, maybe five weeks old, running from under the porch at the house next door; apparently they were just letting a new litter run the streets until they decided what to do with them. He put milk out for the kitten as she visited the back stairway, then went next door to confirm the kittens belonged to them, asking if he could adopt the little calico, to which they agreed.

calico kitten on ladder

Holly on the ladder, courtesy Judi Stadler

He took her into an apartment and fed her there, took her to the local vet for a checkup and kept her with him for about 2 weeks as he worked on the building. The neighbor stopped him in the driveway a few days later and said she had promised the kitten to her sister. Holly’s dad immediately replied that he had already given her a new home in Pittsburgh, 50 miles away, and she was no longer available. Later, he secreted Holly out hidden in a cereal box and brought her home.

two cats wrestling

Houdini and Holly, wrestling, courtesy Judi Stadler

“She got along with everybody. They were all equally annoyed with her kitten games—but Houdini took to it right away,” she continued.

And that would be very special for Judi; Houdini was then 19 years old, and he had been her first cat, ever, in a lifetime of rescuing cats. At that age, she knew they wouldn’t be together too much longer. “Holly kept him playing like a kitten in his last year,” she said.

Separately and then together, Judi and Don have rescued at least a dozen cats, and it’s always interesting to find out how serial cat rescuers got their start. Often, it begins with just one very special cat, and many other cats’ lives are ultimately saved because of the loving relationship between that cat and that person. For now, we’ll focus on the story of Judi and the cat who started it all for her.

Finding Houdini

gray cat

The young Houdini, courtesy Judi Stadler

So how does a person who’s never lived with a cat end up with a cat like Houdini? And with a name like that you know there’s got to be a story.

“I had just bought my house, and I decided, ‘This is my first house, I’m buying it by myself, and I’m going to get a cat’,” Judi stated. Those three activities might not seem entirely congruous to some people, but getting your own place is often the time people adopt their first pet.

While a cat was Judi’s choice for a pet, it was her friend Joanie, already a cat owner, who took her to the Animal Rescue League where Joanie herself had adopted her three cats.

But Judi would say the rest of it was up to Houdini.

“He picked me,” she said simply. “We walked past all the cages and he was laying on his back reaching his paws out through the bars at me. He was about a year and a half old, not a kitten. Everything in his cage was upside down—litter, water, food. I wanted him so badly, but I had to wait three days,” she remembered, referring to the fact that he had been brought into the shelter as a stray and the shelter policy at that time was to give the owner time to come and claim the animal.

He got his name the very first day he was in her home, which was new to her as well since she’d just moved in. When she brought him home she put him in a room by himself that had nothing in it but his food, water and litter—and he disappeared! Then she found him in the next room. New house, new cat owner, she had no idea what to think.

cat in fish cat bed

Houdini being swallowed by fishy cat bed, courtesy Judi Stadler

There was a countertop with shutters between that room and the next, but as far as Judi knew the shutters were decorative or fixed in place, she hadn’t really noticed them until she started to look for the cat. Houdini, however, had jumped up on the counter which pushed the shutters open, continued through to the other room, the shutters closed behind him, and no one could know better.

For the next few years it was just her and Houdini as Judi accustomed herself to the wiles of a very intelligent, intuitive cat. She kept him indoors, but he managed to pop the screen out of a first-floor window early one morning and was gone when she awoke. She ran around the neighborhood calling for him and saw him soon enough walking next to a neighbor’s house. Not knowing cats she had no idea what to do, but quickly decided trying to run him down on foot wasn’t a good idea, so she simply greeted him. “Hi, Houdini, there you are! Come here, buddy! I’m so glad to see you!” Houdini hurried over happy and purring, and Judi picked him up and took him inside.

And he had his five wake-up routines—lifting the lid on the cedar chest with his nose far enough to let it fall down with a bang several times, and if that didn’t work he’d bite the edge of her silk lamp shades, and so on.

Orange Stray Cat on Porch

Gabby

When she moved to her current house the neighborhood hosted a number of cats who were either stray or fairly neglected, and she was immediately taken with concern for them, thinking “what if one of them was Houdini?”

The dark tabby she saw daily walking around in the box gutters of the apartment building a few doors down she named Luther. The black and white cat who was always on a windowsill crying to get into an apartment and who ran to greet her when she came home she named Sylvester. And the scruffy long-haired orange cat whose owners were totally unconcerned if she lived or died she named Gabby, and though they managed to get Gabby back from her, Gabby would return another day.

two cats in bed

Houdini and Holly, courtesy Judi Stadler

So it was that she had three lovely kitties and a few years after that Don moved in with his three rescued cats, Heart, Kitty and Callie (a male calico), and that’s the way they all became “The Brady Meow Bunch”.

Fast forward almost ten years and a few more cats, and Houdini had lost his best playmate, Kitty, shortly after Holly came into the household in November 2007. Houdini, always congenial, let her torture him where the other cats were none too amused, and wrestled with her as she grew, and they curled to sleep together until he passed in January 2009.

woman on computer with cat

Judi with Hilda

It wasn’t planned, she wasn’t looking to find another Houdini, but in March that year Judi found herself at the Animal Rescue League and came home with another young adult gray cat, who she named Emerson (of the undescended testicles) and who is a story unto himself.

“When you live with animals you are just less self-centered,” Judi said. “You come home from work and the stress of the day just disappears when you see your cats, you let things go for a while and realize it’s not all about us.

“When we come home,” she said to Hilda, “it’s all about you.”

antiques with cat bed

Antique desk and lamp, vintage ceramics and glass, and cat bed

About the rescuers

Obviously, Judi and Don have a lot of rescue stories between them just waiting to be told. I’ve enjoyed getting to know these kindred spirits personally and professionally, and sharing stories of our rescues, our daily funnies and our losses as well.

Aside from having our cats in common, Judi owns Carnegie Antiques where I have my little shop in the back room. We met when I was running Carnegie Renaissance, an all-volunteer community development group I’d helped found in order to bring businesses together and host community activities; Judi welcomed me the first time I entered her shop and she was always willing to volunteer and participate in activities.

I’ve also designed and am redesigning her website and assist her with marketing and social networking. In fact, we were hard pressed to keep our minds on Judi’s website redesign the other day because Holly and Hilda and Emerson and Alli and Tiffany were much more interesting subjects!

calico cat

Holly

black and white cat

Hilda

long-haired calico cat

Tiffany

gray cat on landing

Emerson

gray and white cat

Alli

Here is a little more information about them, also from Great Rescues.

Holly’s mom and dad are friends of mine and I see her regularly. She’s a congenial little calico who greets you at the door and knows she’s the center of attention. Among other things, they own an antique and vintage shop and collect furniture and household items, hence their large Victorian house is full of neat and colorful things—and always about a half dozen cats. Both have adopted from shelters, rescued cats much like Holly and taken in stray cats from the neighborhood as well as the relentless parade of e-mails advertising cats who need homes, including lovely but troubled Tiffany, who requires lots of patience to understand a cat who turned out to be feral but was not described as such.

On the back of the rocker Holly is accessible to everyone who walks through the room and can see most of the first floor of the house. In addition to the subject of a portrait I’ll often add a certain amount of a background scene which will truly make it an accurate portrait of a person’s pet showing it in the actual setting of the house where they lived. I had taken the photo on a bright winter day I visited and knew it would one day be a wonderful painting, and so it turned out to be. In this case, because it shows so much of the background including the stained glass window, I wanted it to look more like an illustration than a formal detailed portrait, so used the natural transparency of watercolor.

Here is Holly’s page in Great Rescues

page in great rescues calendar

Read other stories about cats and their rescuers from Great Rescues.

I’ll Be Seeing You

Simon Says…

Irina and Isis, Saved from the Flood

Four Ferals

Riley

Milan and Felix

Learn more about Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book

Visit the Great Rescues website


I’ll Be Seeing You

pastel painting of black and white cat

Cooper, 1996, pastel, 22” x 17” © B. E. Kazmarski

Seeing Mimi settling down near Peaches’ portrait reminded me of another instance of a cat communicating with one of my portraits.

I usually keep in touch with the family for whom I’ve created a portrait. We’ve often done quite a bit of work determining the exact posture and scene for a portrait, gathering images and sometimes I paint purely from visualizing what my customer is describing. Also, nearly half my portraits have been memorials, created either after the animal has passed or around the time of its passing, and working out the details of the portrait include working through a certain portion of the family’s grief.

Besides that, we came together to do their portrait because we love animals, and that’s a natural friendship. I often hear news of the household, the arrivals of new animal companions and the passing of others, and stories of the household in general.

In the months after I finished Cooper’s portrait, I received a call from his family to tell me the sad news that they had lost Patches to complications from polyps she had developed in one ear.

Patches and Cooper had been best buddies. Cooper had passed about a year before I painted his portrait, and when it was finished and we hung it over the couch, I met Patches and the other kitties they had rescued and adopted, inspired by their love of Cooper.

Soon after, Patches showed signs of illness, but it took a number of tests to find the polyps. They were inoperable, and while her family eagerly tried a number of standard medical treatments as well as naturopathic treatments, all too soon she was losing her battle.

closeup of cat face in portrait

Detail of Cooper's face.

They told me that just days before Patches died, even though she was weak and declining quickly, one evening she climbed up on the back of the couch, sat up and gently touched the glass over Cooper’s face in the portrait, looked at him for a short while, then carefully got down.

“Was she saying, ‘There you are,’ or ‘I’m coming, I’ll see you soon,’ we don’t know,” they commented. “After that, she seemed to accept what was happening to her.”

Anyone who has lived with animals knows that they communicate with us as well as with each other, and that they experience the same range of emotions as we do, including love and grief.

When I create a piece of artwork, any subject, I not only work with the images I have and the medium I’ve chosen, but I also instill what I would be sensing if I was standing in that spot, and what I’m feeling about the subject, all as if I was experiencing it in that moment.

When the subject is one of my animal portraits I also consider the relationship between the animal or animals and their family while I’m working, either through observation or from what they’ve related to me.

In the case of Cooper’s portrait, I had received a call from someone saying he had one photo of his girlfriend’s cat who had passed the previous year and he’d like to give her a portrait of him for the anniversary of his passing and her birthday, which were close—and also a little over a month away. It was possible to paint and finish, mat and frame a portrait in that time, but as I still worked a day job with a lot of variables I usually wouldn’t risk it, except that he had given the same photo to another artist who had not gotten the portrait done and still felt strongly that the portrait was what she needed to have.

This could be tricky—not only would I not be able to meet Cooper, nor would I be able to meet his person or see the household or have any other connection with my subject other than this one photo, and the portrait was fairly large, 22″ x 17″. But though he only had the one photo, he was generous with stories about Cooper and the household, and very much emotionally invested in the project himself.

We did meet the deadline, and in that concentrated period I spent a good bit of time considering what he’d told me about Cooper and the household.

I know that depth was invested in the portrait itself, showing in a physical manner—I always say that I paint until my subjects look back at me—and perhaps in a spiritual manner as well, recognizable by both humans and animals. My families will tell me that, though I’ve often thought it was the confused musings of someone who stayed up too late and spent too much time alone with my painting.

Cooper’s story is this:

page from book

Cooper's page in Great Rescues

Cooper had literally been born in a barn but was adopted to a friend of the farm owner who cared deeply for his barn cats including the occasional drop-offs and strays. Cooper lived happily with his mom for three years as she moved from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and became engaged to a man who was dangerously allergic to cats. Though they tried treatments his reaction was life-threatening and she carefully began the process of finding a home for her precious Cooper. The same farmer put her in contact with Cooper’s eventual mom, who had recently divorced and bought a house but resisted the idea of a pet. On a trip to Philly for a conference she met Cooper, enjoyed the visit, but said no. After a week alone in her house, she called the woman back and said she needed Cooper’s company. Cooper was chauffeured back across the state to his new forever home.

Cooper’s portrait and rescue story are featured in Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book.

cat with three legs

Simon Says...

Each family for whom I have created a portrait also has a continuing story and so much to tell, like this story of Patches and Cooper. This family has continued to rescue other cats, including Simon, and I’ll have more stories to tell about their family of cats ranging from those comfortably indoors to those who visit the feeding stations outdoors and use the carefully constructed shelters in the winter.

Also, read about my commissioned portraits and visit my website to see samples of cat portraits, dog portraits and more.