Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, decorations are put away and the pace of our lives is nearly back to normal we’ll often suddenly notice that empty spot in our lives left by a precious animal companion in the past year. The sense of loss and grief can come flooding back over again, though the loss may have been months or even years before.

I know that I’ve been thinking of my Peach lately, and I’ll be writing about her soon. Her decline was so gradual and her passing so quiet, leading into the holiday season that only now do I fully feel how much my household of cats has rearranged itself, and sense that empty spot left by Peaches’ sweet persistent love. Add to that my mother’s loss last month and I find my mind wandering in remembrance.

Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers

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 the annual Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers program sponsored by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation.

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

The session will begin at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at LaBella Bean Café in Bridgeville. There is no charge for participating.

A Special Offer

bleeding hearts

Bleeding Heart Flowers © B.E. Kazmarski

You may want to hold the essence of your pet near your heart. In recognition of Valentine’s Day, CCPC has made special arrangements with jewelry artist Pam Meltzer to offer a 50% discount on the Sterling Silver Memory Paw for people who place their order at Healing Hearts. Call for more details.

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, please RSVP if you are planning to attend by calling 412-220-7800.

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation is owned and operated by Deb Chebatoris for the comfort and consolation of Pittsburgh pet’s families, and is located at 442 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017. For more information on CCPC or on the event, please visit www.ccpc.ws.

A Little Levity

three cat figurines

Three Cat Figurines

A selection of figurines for decoration or to commemorate your cat, just a little different from the usual.

I spent the afternoon with Deb Chebatoris from Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation, photographing new urns and commemorative items and preparing a website update.

Deb truly has an extensive selection of urns from the recognizable marble cask and ceramic ginger jar styles to cloisonne, Kasmiri and composite vessels of all sorts and sculptures of cats and dogs of all styles and breeds. Photographing them is a pleasure.

Sometimes she finds vessels that are a little different, though, and these three figurines are definitely not something you’d expect as an urn. They aren’t large enough to hold all the cremains from nearly any animal, just a small amount as some people prefer to scatter and just keep a small amount near, or family members share the cremains of a pet they all loved. They may also simply be used as a decorative item to hold small objects like jewelry.

And a remembrance doesn’t need to be solemn and somber, especially if the one you’re remembering was silly. The white cat with its leg in the air reminds me of Namir. What really got me was what was carved inside the bottom of each of the urns: three birds, Sylvester, and a mouse, presumably a dead one since we see the bottoms of its feet.

inside cat figurines

A view inside.

I really liked the way the artist designed the figures, a little exaggerated here and there, but definitely feline characters.

We’ll be getting the rest of the urns and other commemorative items up in the next week or two, and that will include some lovely designs and other figured cachepots that I would enjoy looking at in my feline figure collection; you can check the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website now to see what’s there.

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2010 Tribute Scroll

tribute scroll opening slide

Deb and I are so excited to bring this idea to fruition and eager to hear what you think. I am personally pleased with the way the idea became reality.

The Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation 2010 Tribute Scroll includes photos and written tributes from families who attended Pet Memorial Sunday 2010.

Every year Deb encourages Pet Memorial Sunday participants to provide photos of their pets and a written tribute of 50 words or fewer. This year, 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.

The slideshow also includes parts of the introduction and closing remarks from Pet Memorial Sunday 2010 along with 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 thought I’d leave it to the other families.

I had a few problems with my slideshow program, of all things, so it’s been completed a little later than expected, but I’ve worked out the issues for future Scrolls and other projects. 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. This music is currently in composition, but we didn’t want to make families wait any longer to see the images. We hope it will just make the experience that much better after the music has been added.

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 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…

My Work is Featured by Karen Litzinger

karen with customer

Karen discusses her CD with a customer.

I’m so flattered—Karen Litzinger, author of Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet, included mention of my animal sympathy cards and commissioned portraits in her latest e-newsletter.

She’s also local and we often attend the same events, so we recently saw each other at Hot Dogs in the Strip with the Animal Rescue League.

She’ll be facilitating an animal memorial and blessing on Pet Memorial Sunday, September 12 at Peaceful Pastures Pet Cemetery. I’ll be at the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation remembrance at the same time, so I won’t get to join her there. (A few years ago, who would have thought there’d be this many pet remembrance events?!)

I will be able to see her again in October when she is available for animal blessings on October 3 at Journeys of Life In Shadyside, as a benefit for the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania.

animal sympathy card with dogShe mentioned one animal sympathy card in particular, the only one I currently have featuring a dog photo—it’s her dog Tika!

I take committing an animal’s image to any merchandise seriously. I can ask humans if they mind being the representative of something I create, but animals can’t directly answer that question so I need to intuit their answer. Of course, this works best with my own cats (as if they have a choice).

I don’t feel that I know most other animals well enough, but when I visited Karen and met Tika, who is a therapy dog, I knew instantly that she’d be happy to help heal someone’s grief on the cover of a sympathy card.

animal sympathy card watercolorThe other card she mentioned is the only non-pictorial card. I created the image using the abstract watercolor pattern I created for the back of her CD, working into the electronic version of the original art with PhotoShop and InDesign to create the path of hearts and paws.

She also has some exciting news about four radio interviews she’s had around the country in the last month.

I’m so glad to see Karen’s success with her CD. I’ve given it as a gift to friends who’ve lost their precious companions, and I know it certainly was comforting as I listened to it while I designed the illustrations, knowing Namir and I didn’t have too much more time together; I lost him a month after I finished the illustrations.

You can read Karen’s e-newsletter at her community site on iContact.

Fans of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Feline urns at chartiers custom pet cremations

Two of the ceramic urns offered at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

Hmmm. What could a cremation service offer through social networking, you ask?

Plenty! On a daily basis, Deb Chebatoris offers resources for your pet’s health and well-being, gifts for yourself or a bereaved friend, reading and website suggestions for your information and comfort, a comforting voice on the phone, and compassion to her circle of families who have lost their pets. It’s a lot more than simply the business that none of us likes to think about.

But the way Deb has organized her business encourages us to think about this openly and honestly, and to remember our cherished companions with the same love and affection we felt in their lifetimes. What better place than a blog and Facebook to share with people?

Deb and I are what I call “co-customers”. Initially, I sought her out when I knew I’d be losing my Moses late in 2005. I so appreciated meeting this gentle smiling person who invited me into the quiet, comforting “living room” of her shop that my fears of handing over my precious Moses were allayed. I knew she would treat Moses with love and respect.

She told me that she recognized my name, and we realized that she had seen several of my portraits in the homes of other of her families. A bond was formed with our mutual respect for each others’ work and our love for animals.

I lost five cats in the next 18 months, including Moses. Knowing Deb was there for me and my kitty each time was a comfort I could never have imagined possible.

In the course of that time she became my customer as well, I began assisting her with her website, with publicity, and with photographing her shop and the urns she carries. You can read more in “Options for After-care” from “Pet Loss in the First Person“.

Persons who choose to work in animal care are not looking at an illustrious career of great wealth and fame. Deb left a very responsible well-paid career as a health care administrator to follow this goal of helping people who love pets and making a difference in the world. I truly respect that decision and enjoy my part in helping her do this.

We’ve been building her website and considering how best to serve her families, and after my own forays into social networking I told Deb that she could be such an asset to the animal community that she had to do this.

Because Deb is either in the car transporting pets or engaged in her business, I’ll be assisting her with blog and Facebook postings. I’m really going to enjoy this new assignment.

Here are the links to Deb’s website, blog and Facebook page. Please welcome a friend to the community, visit, bookmark, sign up, fan, whatever, and we welcome your comments.

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website: www.ccpc.ws

Animus, the blog of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation: http://chartierscustompetcremation.wordpress.com/

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bridgeville-PA/Chartiers-Custom-Pet-Cremation/114685048549195

Pet Memorial Sunday

Rainbow After the Storm

Rainbow After the Storm

One of my customers is someone who I met through my own need, Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. Deb Chebatoris, the owner, hosts a remembrance ceremony every year on Pet Memorial Sunday, open to the public. Immediately below is my press release about the event, and below that is the story of how I met Deb, how she was with me through six losses, and how subsequently she became my customer and friend.

Remembering Our Animal Companions on Pet Memorial Sunday

For anyone who has loved and lost an animal companion, the need for respectful grieving and memorials is clear. Animals fill a deep place in our lives; for children they are sometimes the closest friend and confidant, for seniors they are often a singular daily companion. All who share their lives with an animal find a unique personality and a bond that’s hard to replace when gone.

The second Sunday of September is designated as Pet Memorial Sunday by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, and for every year in which she has been in business, Deb Chebatoris of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation has hosted a ceremony on this day dedicated to remembering our animal companions for anyone who has lost a pet.

This year the ceremony is on Sunday, September 13, 2009 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville.

“Rituals build community, creating a meeting ground where people can share deep feelings or…keep a solemn silence,” Chebatoris says. “This event is for anyone who may have experienced the loss of a beloved pet, no matter when the loss occurred.”

Chebatoris invites speakers to discuss our relationships with our pets before, during and after their death. This year, Dr. Brad Carmichael of Pleasant Valley Veterinary Hospital in McMurray PA, will speak on “Our Last Moments Together”, Allison Holst, Bereavement Specialist, will talk about “Our Initial Grief Response”, and Barbara Golden, Animal Behaviorist, will discuss “The Joys of Pet Companionship”.

These speakers are followed by a reading of “Words of Tribute” written by pet owners who attend. Chebatoris encourages participants to write a 50-word tribute to commemorate and remember the lives they shared with their special pets, and has tips and examples on her website for composition.

“Keeping a tribute to your pet to only 50 words can be a challenge,” Chebatoris remarks, “but limiting your remembrance to 50 words helps you to focus on the essential elements that made your pet special.”

Also, attendance is usually between 30 and 40 persons, and Chebatoris wants to make sure everyone’s tribute is heard in the limited time scheduled for the gathering.

Families are also encouraged to bring a photo of their pet to be displayed during the ceremony.
Possibly the most moving part of the event is the dove release. After all the speakers and the readings and the candle-lighting ceremony, “we release a flock of white doves to symbolize our ability to let go of our precious companions,” Chebatoris explains.

“I’m so glad to be in my fifth year of hosting this ceremony,” Chebatoris says. “When I read through my thank you notes, I can see how grateful people are, and many people return year after year even if they haven’t lost a pet.”

The gathering will be held under a tent in the cemetery with light refreshments served afterward as families are invited to share their experiences with each other and speak to the presenters. The public is invited to attend, but Chebatoris needs an RSVP to know the number who wish to attend. Also, in order to provide a peaceful environment for all, it is not appropriate to bring live pets to this event.

For more information or to RSVP, please visit the website at http://www.ccpc.ws or call Deb at 412-220-7800. The Pet Memorial Sunday page on the site includes an e-mail address for Deb as well as instructions for composing and sending your Words of Tribute.

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How I first began working with Deb…

I’m so glad Deb is the person I can turn to when I’ve lost one of my cats, something that has happened all too frequently in the past three years.

At the beginning of 2005 I knew that I was going to lose Moses in the next month or so. I have my cats cremated and scatter their cremains in the yard they enjoyed. I remembered having read an article about a new business in Bridgeville, close enough to me, so I did a little search for the article and found it. When I had Moses put to sleep at the end of February I called to make an appointment to take her to CCPC afterward. Deb, the owner, knew my name from my animal portraits, which she had seen in the homes of people she had visited to receive and deliver pets.

Just a month later, I had Cream put to sleep. Cream was 15 and had died of kidney failure just 10 months after joining my household. She had come to me because her person had died, and even though I knew Cream liked me and she had integrated well into the house, she was holding on because she was afraid she’d never see her person again. I told Deb that keeping Cream’s cremains just didn’t feel right because Cream didn’t want to stay with me. Deb suggested I find the woman’s grave and scatter Cream’s eventual cremains on it. I was immediately relieved, and it seemed Cream was, too, because she relaxed and gave in to her condition. I was too upset to come up with this on my own, but Deb was insightful enough to suggest it.

I’ve lost six cats since I’ve known Deb and her business, and I would recommend her compassionate and respectful attitude toward both you and your pet, and her understanding of your grief. At that sensitive time, I couldn’t imagine anyone else.

I am careful of the customers I take on because I want to make sure I am fully committed to their need for design and public relations. Who better, then, than a person and a business I have used and would recommend? I’ve maintained Deb’s website since then, and this year we redesigned her logo and built a new website, which we’ll upload any day. Visit the site at www.ccpc.ws.