CCPC Pet First Aid Classes for May through July

bandage on dog model

A successful bandage.

Since June 2011, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation has sponsored pet first aid introductory and certification classes in Bridgeville and surrounding communities in the south and west of Pittsburgh, taught by Karen Sable of Pet Emergency Training, LLC. Although there is usually a charge for attending these classes, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation offers these sessions free of charge in an attempt to offer families the skills they can use to help save the life of their pet.

Upcoming classes

Currently scheduled classes are listed below, but new opportunities arise all the time as individuals and communities express an interest in hosting a class. For ongoing dates and times visit the Pet First Aid Classes page on the CCPC website or call Deb Chebatoris at 412-220-7800.

The next certification class is June 2 in Bridgeville, most other classes listed are introductory classes. Read a post about the difference between the two classes and my post about the certification class I attended. See below for details of date, time and place.

You need to register for each session by calling Deb Chebatoris at 412-220-7800. Space is limited, and registrations are taken first come, first served.

INTRODUCTORY CLASSES

Sunday, May 20, 2012, Washington, PA
Washington Area Humane Society
1527 Route 136, Eighty Four, PA 15330
Introductory Class, 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012, Peters Township, PA
Peters Public Library
616 East McMurray Road  McMurray, PA 15317
Introductory Class, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

CERTIFICATION CLASSES

Saturday, June 2, 2012, Bridgeville, PA
Bridgeville Public Library

505 McMillen Street, Bridgeville, PA 15017
Certification Class, 11:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Sunday, July 22, 2012, Bridgeville, PA
West Allegheny Community Library

8042 Steubenville Pike, Oakdale, PA 15071
Certification Class, 12:00 to 4:30 p.m.

 

NOTE: Deb Chebatoris is a personal friend as well as the person who receives my cats for cremation, and is also one of my customers for design and promotion; I try to be unbiased.

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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.


CCPC Pet First Aid Classes for 2012

bandage on dog model

A successful bandage.

Deb Chebatoris doesn’t want to meet any new family until their pet has had a long, healthy life.

Last year she found she had to work with a number of families who lost young or otherwise healthy pets to an accidental death. “I have worked with families whose pet died after being caught and choked by the collar, who suffocated in a potato chip bag,” she continued. Not only does the family experience the loss but there is a lingering feeling that “if only…” they would have done this or that, the death may not have occurred.

She wondered if there was anything that Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation could do to prevent such tragedy, and the idea of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation hosting pet first aid classes was born.

my pet certification

My certificate.

I attended the very first class Deb sponsored last year and am certified to provide my own pets with first aid, should they need it. I haven’t, before or since, had occasion to do so. However, one of the other benefits of the class for me has been simply possessing the knowledge of how to assess and treat, and this has greatly reduced my own fear at being in a situation and not knowing what to do.

Since June 2011, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation has sponsored pet first aid introductory and certification classes in Bridgeville and surrounding communities in the south and west of Pittsburgh, taught by Karen Sable of Pet Emergency Training, LLC. Although there is usually a charge for attending these classes, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation offers these sessions free of charge in an attempt to offer families the skills they can use to help save the life of their pet.

Most classes held in 2011 were introductory classes which review all the procedures but don’t teach the skills, and are 90 minutes vs. five hours, and attendance increased dramatically to over 30 students at one class. Obviously, people are interested and willing to learn how to provide first aid to their pets.

02 fur life kit

02 Fur Life kit donated to Bethel Park.

As Deb sat in on the classes she’d sponsored she kept hearing about “your pet first aid kit” advised by Karen, and decided she could put together an inexpensive basic one for people attending the classes. She did this, and in return students offered donations, which Deb and Karen used to purchase O2 Fur LifeTM pet oxygen mask kits to donate to the communities where the classes had been held. So far sets have been donated to Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park; read more about this on the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation blog, Animus under “The Pet First Aid Story”, a four-part series outlining the success and stories in hosting these classes.

Upcoming classes

Currently scheduled classes are listed below, but new opportunities arise all the time as individuals and communities express an interest in hosting a class. For ongoing dates and times visit the Pet First Aid Classes page on the CCPC website or call Deb Chebatoris at 412-220-7800.

The next certification class is June 2 in Bridgeville, all other classes listed are introductory classes. Read a post about the difference between the two classes and my post about the certification class I attended. See below for details of date, time and place.

You need to register for each session by calling Deb Chebatoris at 412-220-7800. Space is limited, and registrations are taken first come, first served.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012, Washington, PA
Citizen’s Library
55 South College Street, Washington, PA 15301
Introductory Class, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012, North Fayette, PA
Western Allegheny Community Library
8042 Steubenville Pike,
Oakdale, PA 15071
Introductory Class, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012, Moon Twp., PA
Moon Twp. Public Library
1700 Beaver Grade Road, Suite 100,
Moon Township, PA 15108-3109
Introductory Class, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012, Whitehall, PA
Whitehall Public Library
100 Borough Park Dr. Pittsburgh, PA 15236
Introductory Class, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012, Peters Township, PA
Peters Public Library
616 East McMurray Road McMurray, PA 15317
Introductory Class, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 2, 2012, Bridgeville, PA
Bridgeville Public Library

505 McMillen Street, Bridgeville, PA 15017
Certification Class, 11:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

NOTE: Deb Chebatoris is a personal friend as well as the person who receives my cats for cremation, and is also one of my customers for design and promotion; I try to be unbiased.

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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.


Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

When we lose one of our precious animal companions, our own aftercare is very important. I am comforted to know that Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation is there for me, that she will lovingly and respectfully receive the body of each of my cats, knowing that they will be handled and cremated with dignity, and that the cremains I receive will indeed be theirs.

February marks the annual Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers program sponsored by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. Any person who is having trouble coming to terms with the loss of a pet, regardless of when the loss occurred, is welcome to attend. There is no charge for participating.

The session addresses the needs of families who are experiencing the loss of a precious companion. The afternoon will involve both education and remembrance to provide grieving families with help and resources to work through the trauma of losing a beloved companion.

  • Grief Information
  • Grief Resources
  • Tributes
  • Fellowship

Please bring a friend to support you or who also might benefit from attending.

The one-afternoon session is free and will include a speaker to provide grieving families with help and resources to work through the trauma of losing a beloved companion. You will be in the company of other families who know the gut-wrenching feeling of losing a pet. Families grieving the loss of their pet are welcome whether or not they have worked with Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation.

Where and When

The session will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 26, 2012 at LaBella Bean Café in Bridgeville. Labella Bean is located at 609 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017, just two blocks away from Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. LaBella Bean will be closed to the public during this session.

So that we may properly prepare and also contact you in the event of bad weather, please RSVP if you are planning to attend by calling 412-220-7800.

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

For any updates about Healing Hearts you can either check sign up to receive blog posts from Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation or friend them on Facebook using the links at left to automatically receive notices.

And please visit our website at www.ccpc.ws to read about our services and other pet-related resources we offer.

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All images and text used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Holiday Open House at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

portrait of two borzois

The Borzois, commissioned portrait, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Visit me at CCPC Saturday, December 10 from 10am to 2pm for a free gift, a mini pet first aid demonstration and holiday gift ideas as Deb hosts an open house.

I’ll be on hand with a few portrait samples, some shown here, and portrait gift certificates for a unique gift idea for someone on your list.

The Free Gift

The first fifty families to visit will receive a Pet Holiday Survival Kit. The kit is an easy to store and carry pouch containing the basics of what you’d need to provide first aid to your pet in the case of an accident or injury during the holiday festivities, or any time.

Pet First Aid Demonstrations

Karen Sable, Pet Emergency Training LLC and the instructor for our recent series of Pet First Aid classes, will be on hand to demonstrate several first aid techniques.

portrait of dog

Buckwheat, commissioned portrait, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Gift Ideas

You’ll also see several special gift ideas that might please the pet parent on your holiday list including Deb’s outstanding selection of urns and other memorial items and custom-made memorial jewelry.

Join us this Saturday! Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation is located at 442 Washington Avenue in Bridgeville. For more information about CCPC or the Pet First Aid Classes, visit www.ccpc.ws.

If you can’t make it to this event, you can always purchase a gift certificate in my Esty shop.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2011 Tribute Scroll

opening slide to tribute scroll

Tribute Scroll 2011

Deb Chebatoris and I are pleased to bring the second annual Tribute Scroll to you. I am personally pleased with the way the idea became reality.

The Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation Tribute Scroll includes photos and written tributes from families who have attended the annual Pet Memorial Sunday.

A slide from the Tribute Scroll

Every year Deb encourages Pet Memorial Sunday participants to provide photos of their pets and a written tribute of 50 words or fewer. In 2010 we decided to begin this new tradition and offer something families could visit even after Pet Memorial Sunday as a memory of the event and as a lasting tribute to their pet.

I enjoy the event as do all of Deb’s families who participate, but we’re always trying to think of other things to offer in between. I know how much I love to revisit events and people who brought me comfort after one of my losses, and how just seeing a favorite photo can make a pet seem so close.

I’ve been working with photo and presentation slideshows for myself and other customers, and as Pet Memorial Sunday drew near I remembered listening to the tributes from past events and looking at the photos, and just being there with everyone, I began envisioning a beautiful and reverent presentation of each family’s pet or pets and its tribute. This could be on the website, well, forever, or at least as long as the website is there. We’d do a new one every year, perhaps add music to make the experience feel loving and relaxing.

I proposed it to Deb and she liked the idea too, and asked families to provide a digital image of their photo if possible.

I had initially only visualized the photos and tributes fading into one another, a pet’s image followed by the written tribute, but the idea grew as I worked on it. Some families didn’t provide a photo so I used images from my own stock of nature, flowers, butterflies and beautiful skies in the place of the pet’s image, somehow relating the image to something about the pet mentioned in the tribute if possible. Then, rather than fade out the image of the pet and run the tribute over top of it, I also chose other images of nature to use as a backdrop. I felt having the words obscuring the pet’s image was somehow disrespectful and also distracting from the moving tributes people had written, and a lovely image of nature can only be more calming. I was just so excited to be able to use my images for this.

As her “publicist”, I photograph all of Deb’s major events, and the slideshow also includes parts of the introduction and closing remarks from Pet Memorial Sunday along with my photos of the memory tables and the dove release.

And I have to warn you, get some tissues ready. It’s not sad, simply very moving to see these everyday pet photos and read the words of the families, sharing this experience even virtually. After watching it repeatedly in the past few weeks you’d think I’d be a little bit immune to it, but when I take a little break and watch it again, off I go sprouting tears.

I don’t have any of my precious kitties in it this year…where would I start? I was a speaker at the event this year, though.

We were initially going to use a piece of music either Deb or I would create or something we could find on the internet, but Deb met a musician who agreed to compose original music for the production.

A slide from the Tribute Scroll.

When you visit the website and click on the link, the Tribute Scroll will open in a new window on top of the page you are viewing and will begin to play after about five seconds. If the page does not open, make sure you temporarily allow pop-ups.

The slideshow is about eight minutes long and pauses on each image and each tribute long enough for you to read be able to ponder and appreciate them. You can also pause and resume the slideshow and scroll through the thumbnails to one you’d like to see using the controls at the bottom of the screen.

Each year, we’ll add another slideshow from the next Pet Memorial Sunday, but all the shows will remain on the “Tribute Scroll” page, so bookmark it!

Please feel free to post any comments about the Tribute Scroll here. We’d love to hear what you think.


My Favorite Feral, and My Enlightenment

pastel painting of a gray cat on a pink sweater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The feral colonies at Kane Hospital

pencil sketch of a cat in sunlight

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

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

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

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

Tangled in grass by a puddle…hence the name

 

cat sleeping by bookshelf

Contentment, another spot in the sun

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

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

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

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

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

cat on patterned blanket

A Colorful Nap

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

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

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

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

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

A distinct change in personality

pencil sketch of sleeping cat

Pawse, pencil © B.E. Kazmarski

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

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

Nearly starved to death?

pastel painting of cat in bed

Sunday Morning, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

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

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

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

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

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

First nutrition, then socialization

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

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

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

Another foster joins us

black and white photo of gray cat on bricks

Moses on her bricks.

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

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

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

The Velveteen Kitty

black and white of cat on deck

Moses on the deck

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

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

A slight disability

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

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

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

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

My little garden sprite

cat in garden

Moses in her garden

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

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

Poetry Inspired by Moses

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

At the Vet’s, Waiting for Moses

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

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

Things I Found in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dusk in the Woods

pastel painting of snowy woods with stream at dusk

Dusk in the Woods

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

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

Meeting Deb Chebatoris and Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

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

My little feral kitty

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

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

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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.


My Loss and Redemption: The Joy of Pets

photo of black cat on drawing table

Mimi on Drawing Table, with Lucy's Rainbows

This is my written notes for my talk at the 2011 Pet Memorial Sunday celebration hosted by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. I know I wandered a bit from what is here, but this is the basis of it. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak in this forum before, and I was more than gratified—and surprised—by the compliments I received afterward.

THE JOY OF PETS

I was very honored when Deb asked me to speak on this subject. I am one of Deb’s families, several times over, and am so glad I found her.

Among other things I do, I have the pleasure of creating commissioned portraits of others’ cherished pets, though often the choice is made to create the portrait when the loss is imminent or may have recently happened, or a family may decide a while after that a portrait is an appropriate remembrance.

When I create a portrait I not only use photos, I also use stories, and even if I get to meet an animal I want to hear about my subject’s personality from the people who love that animal. Part of what I do in creating a portrait is working with families around their loss and I am honored that they choose to share that with me, that they trust their thoughts and feelings in my care.

As a person who’s rescued and fostered cats and kittens for about 25 years I’ve also seen my own share of loss, both in sending fosters off to good and loving adoptive homes and in the losses of the cats who came to share my life.

Of those cats who shared my home and became a permanent part of my feline family for some period of time, I have lost 13. I say now that it is never easy, but I have learned to prepare myself for the experience and know what at least seems normal for myself.

I’m going to tell a little story of my own loss and redemption, of loving again after a loss. It has a happy ending.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug 1

In 2006 and 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, three of them among my longest-lasting friends. During that year of loss I fostered a litter of kittens born to a neighbor’s cat, found homes for three and one stayed with me. I didn’t want a kitten because caring for geriatric animals in their end stages is time-consuming and emotionally exhausting and I felt I had no time for a kitten. But the little black sweetheart seemed to understand my distraction, and after my Stanley, at age 25, finally let go of his love of this world, I turned my attention to my Lucy, my new life, and the remaining four of my feline family.

But when I had Lucy spayed three months later, she was diagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis, a form of it that is always fatal, and I lost her three months after that.

My heart was broken. I was beyond grief, I was simply numb after all that loss, so quickly, and in part unexpected. After a house regularly full of about nine cats, I had only four and for a house that rescues and fosters animals, that is empty.

And those four were between the ages of 12 and 17, and one of them had a serious heart condition and I was aware that I could lose him unexpectedly at any time. They suddenly looked to me like potential sources of pain, and I knew that I needed to do something quickly to save myself.

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

The day Lucy died, I saw her mother, who belonged to a neighbor who never bothered to have her fixed, in my yard, the petite black kitty laden with another litter of kittens in her belly. The thought flashed into my mind that I needed to take her in, her and her kittens.

No, I thought, the last thing I need is a litter of kittens, especially if one of them might also have FIP. But the idea persisted—get this kitty off the streets and get her fixed, especially if she might be carrying FIP. I called my veterinarian hoping she’d tell me “No, it’s too dangerous, you have enough cats, you’ve had enough loss, don’t do it.” Instead, she paused and then said, “I think that would be a good idea.”

I discussed with her and other veterinarians the risks and we determined I could safely do this. I asked the neighbor to just give me the mother cat this time instead of just the kittens. She said that would be fine.

cat nursing kittens

Mimi Nursing Kittens

By the time I had the space ready the kittens were three days old. I gingerly carried the box upstairs and opened the lid. The mother cat looked up at me and stepped out, calm and collected. I placed the kittens on the fleece bed in the cage and she went in to clean and nurse them.

I was afraid I’d be afraid of them too—looking for signs of illness, but after tentatively petting them a few times I picked up each one, then picked up all of them in one big handful and kissed them. I did that repeatedly several times a day, something that’s not really advised with newborn kittens, and that mother cats don’t really care for, but their mom watched me with understanding, and the kittens grew quickly, normally and strong.

I forgot to look for signs of illness, and there were none anyway. When it came time to spay and neuter them all, I had though I’d finally have my moment of fear because that was when Lucy was diagnosed, but by then I had forgotten all about FIP.

kittens in cat bed

From top, Mewsette, Jelly Bean, Giuseppe (with the green paint on his ear), Mr. Sunshine.

And in the process I invited their mom, Mimi to join my household, and all my seniors joined in watching the kittens and beginning to teach them how to be cats. Mimi and her babies are still with me, all involved in a study of FIP, and my newest subjects for art and writing.

That type of total immersion in loving again is an extreme case, but I know that for me, bringing that family into my life was the only thing that could heal my broken heart in the way it did. Now I could not imagine my life without them, just as I couldn’t imagine my life without any of the cats who came after other losses.

And that’s because, like everyone here, I find it necessary to share my life with animals, and once we do, we always do, though our time of healing is different for each of us.

If we even consider adopting again, we may feel we are betraying the pet we’ve lost, that we may be trying to replace the cherished companion who is gone or worst of all that if we move on that they will be forgotten.

And while the loss is fresh, the memory of the pain of loss is just too real.

But our bonds of love are never the same in any two relationships, and our hearts are big enough to hold a lifetime of loves. As I look through all those years of photos and see all the ones I’ve lost, I don’t remember their loss, I remember their love, I remember the years they spent with me.

I’ve known people who’ve gone right out and adopted another pet, others who waited months or years, or simply waited until another animal in need showed up on their doorstep, and still others who have never adopted again, preferring instead to remember and cherish the pets they’d lost. For each of them, the decision was right.

The important thing was that it was their decision, they were comfortable with the situation and they felt it best honored their pet.

As your period of grieving progresses, you may find your home feels empty, and you miss not only the pet you’ve lost but the companionship in general, the sharing of your routines and your space.

But mostly, we choose to live with pets because of that bond we have with them that we can’t even have with another human, that total devotion and unconditional love that is the gift we share with an animal.

And our precious animal companions remember how we filled their life when we adopted them—surely they’d want that for another animal. And, in life, they always wanted, and often worked hard for, our happiness as part of their love for us, and they would be the best to know that the love of a pet is essential for their human, and would not want us to be sad and lonely.

As much as you loved, so deeply do you grieve, but the grief wears away and leaves only the love, like a diamond. Look back through your photos and see your lifetime of pets, and what do you remember? Not the grief, only the love.

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You know the kittens and mother cat in this story as Mimi and the Fantastic Four. This is how we began, and probably one of the reasons I didn’t work too hard to find a home for them when the time came—though a family of adult black cats is not the easiest to place, but in truth, I’m glad for that. I will always remember that time of intense grief and the joy of healing and loving again, every time I look at them.