So a Cat Walks Into a Meeting…

black and white cat

Henry on his first night in my basement.

It’s not a joke, Henry really did walk into a meeting I was attending and proceeded to get himself rescued and subsequently adopted.

On a mild and misty spring evening, May 8, 2008 to be exact, I met with the board of a community conservation organization to review the illustrations for an interpretive sign we were creating for one of their conservation areas. The meeting was held in the municipal building, a small newer brick building that also housed their public library. This was among a group of buildings that included their local Post Office and public works buildings, and all were situated in a small parking lot along a winding country road.

Not terribly remote, there were houses on the hills around and along the road as well as industrial and small manufacturing businesses in an area that was slowly converting from a rural and agricultural character to a more residential area.

That early in the year the air conditioning was not yet in use and the room had grown stuffy so we opened the door to let the cool evening air fill the room.

I sat with my illustrations and designs awaiting my turn on the agenda. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a cat walk in the door. I accepted this apparition without question since I seem to see cats everywhere, yet the shape or color or pattern usually turns out to be leaves or a shadow or someone’s shoes that my searching visualization turns into something familiar and recognizable.

However, the logical remembrance of a very rectangular metal doorway and door painted a neutral tan with gray concrete on the outside and tan carpeting on the inside and a gray and quiet evening without caused me in the same moment to reconsider the appearance of a large rounded black shape with white spots moving through the doorway.

I quickly turned around to see that it was not the mechanizations of my visual acuity, it really was a large black and white cat walking very purposefully through the doorway and into the room, looking curiously up at the humans around the table as he stepped off the plastic runner and decisively turned into the first room on the left as if he belonged in that room.

Others also looked at him, but no one reacted, so I thought he really did belong in there. I turned around but kept alert for movement in that area.

A few minutes later the cat came out of the room, looked at us again, went down the hall and explored other open offices and areas and came back, all as if he was completely familiar with the space, all while the meeting proceeded. When we moved into that first room on the left, a small conference room where we could spread out the drawings for the sign, the cat joined us and I asked if, perhaps, he lived in the municipal building. No one recognized him. We petted him and talked to him as we discussed the illustrations, and with that attention he stayed with us in the room.

The meeting over, a few of us discussed the sign and also the cat and what to do about him. I don’t like to just scoop up a cat from where it’s wandering if it seems safe because it’s easier found if it’s close to home. This cat wore a pretty green collar, though the collar seemed rather small, and the cat as clean as could be. Considering it was a rainy spring day and the area was either grassy or a post-winter parking lot, he, as we presumed, would be dirty if he’d been outside for any length of time. Still, cars and trucks traveled pretty quickly along the winding two-lane road and this particular clean, trusting and well-rounded kitty might not have a clue what to do when approaching.

What to do with a friendly kitty?

As we left and he followed us out I looked around at likely homes. The closest were across a little creek with somewhat muddy banks. I looked at his clean paws. He looked at me. I picked him up, a dangerous thing that I usually avoid at all costs unless I totally intend to take the cat home with me because I am lost once I touch them in any way, petting or nuzzling or even just letting them rub on my legs.

But picking them up can also help me assess more about them in temperament, health, and general outlook. This zaftig kitty settled easily into my arms and purred, looking around at the view from that height. He was not acting at all like a runaway or a confused kitty someone had tossed out. Either he was one of the most self-assured kitties I’d ever met or he was completely clueless.

black and white cat being held

Henry at the vet when he was scanned for a microchip.

A few friends from the meeting and I began to speculate and decide what to do, since none of us wanted to leave him. None of us felt we could take him for the sake of pets we already had so we decided to ask around the few people who were still there as the evening had progressed.

I walked into the library with him, a small one-room affair with a counter at the entrance, and asked if they’d ever seen this cat. The person behind the counter didn’t seem too pleased to have a cat inside and said she’d not noticed him, nor had anyone around the front of the room. Not sure what I would do with him I asked if I could post a sign with his picture on the bulletin board and got permission, saying I’d be back with it the next day.

I walked outside with him and since it was now approaching dusk, putting the cat down to see if he headed in any particular direction I asked a few people in the parking lot if they’d ever seen him, or if they could take him in to foster. It would be so much easier if he was in a home in the community rather than coming to my home, about ten miles and two communities away. Two teenagers said they’d seen him the day before behind the public works buildings, but they thought he belonged to someone near. Several people were interested in helping and one couple with children, leaving the library, discussed it at length and seemed convinced they could, but decided against it because they weren’t sure they could keep him confined from their dog and other cats.

Realizing I’d left my portfolio and backpack leaning against a bench near the entrance to the building, I decided I’d at least put those things in my car while I thought about what to do with this friendly cat. As I walked to my car he trotted alongside me, turning his big black and white face up to me as if we were buddies on an outing. When I opened the driver’s side door to reach in and unlock the back door, he hopped in and began to explore, completely unafraid of the car or what a trip in the car usually meant for cats. I placed my things in the back seat and closed that door. The cat settled into the passenger seat and began a complete bath, starting with his face. He was clearly at ease.

So I got in, closed my door, put on my seatbelt and started the car. No reaction from the cat. I reached over to pet him and he nuzzled my hand and gave it a few licks before returning to his own bath. I usually took the back way home where I could drive slowly in case he freaked on me at some point. In the deepening darkness his white patches glowed, so I’d have no problem finding him if he decided to get up and move around.

“Well, Henry,” I said, giving him the name that had been coming to mind for him, “we’re on our way.”

Guess he’s coming home with me

He was fine on the way home while I pondered what the heck I would do with him when I got there with nine cats already, Peaches, Cookie, Namir, Kelly plus Mimi and the Fantastic Four. At nearly 10 months old they were still spending overnights in the bathroom so the seniors could get a good night’s sleep, plus they were still in that observation period for their first year we had all agreed on because of the risk of FIP, and I didn’t want to expose another cat to that possibility.

The spare cat room was filled to capacity with art stuff as usual, not really even enough floor space to accommodate a litterbox plus food and water bowl, I wasn’t sure where I’d put him. He continued his bath without concern.

I got home and left him in the car (seems to be a pattern with me), fed the household their dinner, closed off the basement since there was a litter box in the bathroom, and took him in through the basement door, removed all the litterboxes and gave him a clean one. He could spend a few hours there while I rearranged the studio to fit him safely in there.

Efforts to find a home

And Henry took it all in stride, friendly and affectionate, eating happily and purring. I took a few photos of him, though he was so hungry for affection and wanting to be held it was difficult to get a good one. After the move upstairs I designed a flyer and sent out an e-mail to friends, attaching the flyer for friends who lived in the community he’d come from to print out and post. I began looking for an owner, a foster home, a clue to where this really handsome, loving, friendly cat had appeared from.

Giving him a mini exam I guessed he was in those middle years, maybe four to eight, neutered, decidedly overfed, and likely had been kept completely indoors from the looks of his perfectly pink paw pads. For some reason I pictured an older person or couple who had doted on him, fed him lots of treats, spent time with him on their lap with a lot of carrying and cuddling and affection, though I couldn’t figure out the slightly-too-small green vinyl collar. He seemed healthy so I decided to forego a veterinary appointment but instead decided to put my efforts into finding his owner through flyers and phone calls and e-mails, shelters, local police and all the other means available. A trip to a local clinic to have him scanned turned up no microchip or electronic identification of any sort.

Despite all these efforts no one turned up to claim him, and no one even seemed to recognize him.

Henry closeup

Henry, still at the vet, was pretty comfortable with people, even during an exam!

I felt so sad for Henry, not just that he had lost his person but that I had little time to spend with him for the sake of working entirely at my computer downstairs and keeping up with the young ones and the old ones in my household. Namir at that time was requiring four medications twice daily, one of them the diuretic Furosemide or Lasix, and with his bladder condition he often couldn’t make it to the litterbox in time, so I was regularly cleaning up after him. I usually keep unknown strays, no matter how nice, isolated in the spare cat room for four weeks even if I’ve had a few preliminary tests done so he was stuck in there to begin with, not to mention he stayed well clear of the door and looked at me with wide-eyed uncertainty when he heard them outside.

And ten cats was just too many. But even with that knowledge and all the other complications of my household, I had recently been thinking that black and white, tuxedo or otherwise, was one kitty flavor I’d never lived with…I have to stop having those sorts of thoughts as the universe hears me too clearly and they always lead to another rescue.

Thanks to FosterCat

I was so grateful to FosterCat for agreeing to take him in after he’d been with me for three weeks.

For all his affectionate nature he really was shy around other cats and still a quiet guy. He spent some time at PetSmart but other cats were more outgoing so he came back to his foster home. Through their website they did find a home for him with a couple who really adored him and he went on to his final home in February 2009.

Even after he’d gone to FosterCat I continued poking around to look for an owner for him, but never found a clue. With cats like Henry and Sophie and so many others who end up in odd places and ask to be rescued I never stop wondering about where they came from, who might be missing them especially since I don’t presume cats are always dumped; we all know someone whose cat got out and disappeared and was never seen again. I just hope that if an escape is the case that somehow the word gets back to wherever it needs to that the kitty was found and is safe. Perhaps I read too many fairy tails but it helps to mitigate what is often the unpleasant truth, and it doesn’t hurt to project positive thoughts.

You’ve read about FosterCat many times here on the The Creative Cat. Also visit their website and look for your next feline best friend, or consider being a foster home.

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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.


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.


The Honor of Rescue

pawprint in ice with snow

Pawprint

The thermometer registered 14 degrees this morning as the sun finally rose on a frosty morning in my neighborhood.

And there were fresh feline pawprints in the light dusting of snow across the yard and up the steps to my deck along with prints embedded in the ice underneath. It could have been that tough tabby tom cat with the white paws who gets the Fantastic Four all upset when he trots through our yard—tom cats often seem immune to just about anything in the world around them with their single-minded intent and they seem impervious to life-threatening cold—or it could have been one of the other cats I’ve seen outdoors, some who I know belong to someone, others who might be stray, escaped, left behind, tossed outdoors. I’ve been monitoring the population in my little section of the neighborhood in the same way for the 21 years I’ve lived in this house.

Just a nice tabby cat sunning himself on the porch.

But one cat who is not outdoors on this brittle morning is Skeeter, who was the first cat I thought about as I felt the cold seep through two doors, and glad that though he lost his struggle to injury and infection, he hadn’t died alone and slowly freezing to death.

Did he know this was on its way when he came to my neighbor and friend Peg Bowman for assistance last weekend? Or had the abscess encircling his neck only become so intolerable that he would, in his own proud way, indicate that humans had some purpose in his life and that was to make him more comfortable?

Or had he perhaps remembered somewhere back in his dim past the love and affection of a human, someone who had chosen him and loved and petted him and sought that remembered comfort?

We rarely know the stories of stray cats who show up as if from nowhere, who may even come to our doors in their own way asking to share our company. A neighbor’s cat who likes your yard? A lost cat on its way home? An unintentional escapee trying to make its way in an unfamiliar world? A feral cat simply following the paths of other cats on its way to another food source?

We will never know how Skeeter came to be living outdoors as an intact male cat at the impressive age of at least eight to ten years, perhaps more. We know he wasn’t feral since he was too comfortable with the presence of humans and let Peg pet him after putting forward some objections and informing her he really was a rough, tough guy. But did he escape as a kitten before he was neutered, or was he intentionally not neutered as some cat owners choose not to do, was he simply not wanted in the first place, a little tabby kitten from an unintended litter foisted on someone who really wasn’t interested in the first place, thereby entering the stream of cats living outdoors to roam and reproduce?

cat in blanket

Skeeter after some pain meds.

Though we thought he had a chance of survival and we knew any recovery would be long and complicated, he came to us for human help, showed us he had a great will to live and we gave him the best we could. He in turn did the best he could, and though he died in surgery, his belly was full, he was hydrated and comfortable, had been treated gently and respectfully by the people around him, and he was already under anesthesia and felt no pain. Most important of all to us and, I think, to him, he was not outdoors, alone, in freezing rain, snow and brutal cold on his last days.

And apparently hundreds of other cat lovers felt the same as Peg and I circulated his story. We never doubted we were doing the right thing by Skeeter, and were sincerely heartened by the comments and even donations of others who supported our decision and helped with the costs of his medical care and were there with sincere condolences when we reported his death. I’ve always said that people who love animals are the best people in the world, and whether it’s an injured kitten or a battered tom cat they will give freely whatever support they can.

I’ve been rescuing cats for about 30 years, have had my share of cats approach me for help, seen my share of injuries and abuse and life and death. Peg is a long-time cat owner but somewhat new to rescue with her own two shelter cats indoors and at least one “porch cat”. She is already aware of cats in the neighborhood; when Skeeter showed up and she realized the extent of his injuries she didn’t question if she should do something only what was best to do for Skeeter. I am flattered that she called me and that I could be there to guide her and support her decisions. She’ll soon be volunteering with Animal Advocates in Pittsburgh; another cat rescuer in training.

And as she and I communicated on the phone, in e-mail, on Facebook and face to face on her porch and in the emergency clinic, we discussed not only his survival but also his death, and agreed that if treatment didn’t work, then walking the last part of life’s path and helping a living creature find a painless death was no less an honor than helping it live.

But the best part of rescuing cats is ending up sharing my life with my own rescues, those who’ve ended up staying with me, or should  I say more accurately “those who have come to rescue me”, and made my life the better for their love and taught me the importance of each individual cat.

So this crusty old tom cat, as was my impression of him, lived life on his own terms and is probably raising a lot of hackles with salty stories of life on the streets up there at the Rainbow Bridge, but I’m honored to have shared his last days and helped a friend give comfort to another living creature.

Other articles about Skeeter:

Skeeter’s Diagnosis

What’s the Matter?

Skeeter on Life With Cats

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Read other essays on 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.


For the Love of Our Animal Companions

photo of cabbage butterflies on asters

Many Asters

I met with Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation the other night, riding with her to a presentation as we discussed the evening’s event and upcoming work I’d be doing for her.

As always when I talk to Deb, our conversation is interrupted by phone calls. “I have to take this,” she says, so we pause while she takes the call. Normally, neither of us would interrupt a conversation whether business or social, but these calls are from families in need of her services, and if she’s awake and able to get to her phone, Deb will always answer their call and take the time to hear what they need.

I want to give her and her caller the privacy they deserve, which is difficult in the front seat of her HHR, but I can always drift off into my thoughts, remembering when I’ve been the family on the other end of the phone, calling because I knew Moses‘ passing was imminent and I wanted to be prepared, because it was suddenly Namir’s time and though I knew it would come I was absolutely distraught, or I had sat up all night with Peaches and been watching her process for days and could hardly talk I was so tired. When it was hard to believe Stanley’s incredibly long life was over, when I found it nearly impossible to leave Sophie, when Lucy still looked like a healthy active kitten, and when I couldn’t decide what to do with Cream’s cremains since she was still so obviously devoted to her owner though she’d died, Deb’s calm voice was on the other end of the phone, ready to listen and guide me. For all the times she calls for my business and we discuss website updates, press releases, and photographing new urns for blog and Facebook posts, the times when I need her business it’s surprising how easy it is to slip into these other roles where our relationships with our animals are the most important thing in life.

Too often it takes a tragedy to make change, and so it has been with the changing role with respecting the rights and needs of our animal companions, and our rights as those who care for them. Hurricane Katrina, where people simply would not leave their pets even though it could mean death or suffering, changed the way animals are treated in disaster response, ensuring that they can be rescued along with their humans, and emergency provisions are made for their care and welfare. Court cases where pets have been abused, stolen or killed have increasingly awarded incrementally greater punishment to the criminal and damages to the human who cared for the animal beyond “replacement cost”. And the public outcry around incidents like the escape of Jack the cat by the negligence of American Airlines in JFK airport, who though found two months later could not survive his deprivation and had to be put to sleep, will not doubt be the final push to treat animals as living creatures and not baggage by airlines.

Fewer people roll their eyes and make rude remarks about how we feel about our animal companions in life or in loss, and a service like Deb’s, a free-standing cremation and aftercare service specifically for animals, not an offshoot of a human service or a veterinary office, can thrive as if people had been waiting for it all along. And a number of us were waiting for it; I know I was. I’m also glad to see the evolution of respect for animals in our society, and respect for our relationships with them and the bonds we form with each of the individual animals in our lives.