Remembering Peaches: One Year Later

cat with grass in planter

Peaches enjoys her snack in the sun © B.E. Kazmarski

One year ago today Peaches transitioned to the next stage of her existence. I don’t really need an anniversary to remember Peaches —I think about her all the time and remember all the sweet things I associate with her: those lovely dilute calico spots like a map of big continents, her petite size, her absolute self-possession and confidence, her bathing on my lap, how she loved me completely with every look and every move. There is something wonderful in the act of choosing an animal to share your life, there is something else when you suddenly discover that an animal in need who you’ve taken in has simply stolen your heart.

I wrote this article a week after Peaches passed as a summation of her battle with chronic renal failure, and those last days through her euthanasia. This might mean a “tissue alert” for those who don’t feel strong enough to read an article where a pet dies, completely understandable if the time is not right for you.

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Today is one week that I said goodbye to Peaches, at about 11:50 a.m., so I am posting this final article in the series chronicling her battle with renal failure and about caring for a chronically ill pet. This article is rather long because it was intended to be three separate articles spread out over time, but we never really know how much time we have. Peaches’ final time was very quick and I know this was partly her decision; I didn’t want to let her go until she was ready, but I also didn’t want to watch her suffer for any length of time.

After Peaches’ last temporary decline she didn’t recover as quickly as she had in the past; usually I could get her to where she felt better in a day, and back to eating regular cat food in two. The most recent recovery took nearly a week, and though she came all the way back in diet and activity she was weaker than before and I knew there wouldn’t be many more little recoveries. We had had a good year, but I seriously had to start preparing myself for what I knew would come.

Peaches let me know on a Saturday she’d arrived at the final stage and her passing was imminent and I had begun this article about that experience, about “knowing when” and giving support at the very end of an animal’s life while not giving in to your own fears. But things move quickly for a kitty the size and age of Peaches, and I truly believe they can direct a certain amount of the process of what happens with their body. Peaches had everything organized, so I had only to be there and follow along, however unwillingly. I had no time for an article, only for Peaches. This article includes that revelation, her transition and the aftermath but it is not full of sadness; Peaches would have none of sadness.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Peaches was only with me for five years, and came to me at age 15—it seems as if she’s always been with me. We packed a lifetime into those years, beginning on that day as a senior foster when she decided to start a new life as part of my household.

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Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye

cat with grass in planter

Peaches enjoys her snack in the sun © B.E. Kazmarski

Today is one week that I said goodbye to Peaches, at about 11:50 a.m., so I am posting this final article in the series chronicling her battle with renal failure and about caring for a chronically ill pet. This article is rather long because it was intended to be three separate articles spread out over time, but we never really know how much time we have. Peaches’ final time was very quick and I know this was partly her decision; I didn’t want to let her go until she was ready, but I also didn’t want to watch her suffer for any length of time.

After Peaches’ last temporary decline she didn’t recover as quickly as she had in the past; usually I could get her to where she felt better in a day, and back to eating regular cat food in two. The most recent recovery took nearly a week, and though she came all the way back in diet and activity she was weaker than before and I knew there wouldn’t be many more little recoveries. We had had a good year, but I seriously had to start preparing myself for what I knew would come.

Peaches let me know on a Saturday she’d arrived at the final stage and her passing was imminent and I had begun this article about that experience, about “knowing when” and giving support at the very end of an animal’s life while not giving in to your own fears. But things move quickly for a kitty the size and age of Peaches, and I truly believe they can direct a certain amount of the process of what happens with their body. Peaches had everything organized, so I had only to be there and follow along, however unwillingly. I had no time for an article, only for Peaches. This article includes that revelation, her transition and the aftermath but it is not full of sadness; Peaches would have none of sadness.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Peaches was only with me for five years, and came to me at age 15—it seems as if she’s always been with me. We packed a lifetime into those years, beginning on that day as a senior foster when she decided to start a new life as part of my household.

Being prepared

calico cat on stool

Peaches Wants Attention, Now

One of the most frightening things in life is facing the unknown, and in losing your animal companion you take a big scary step into a lot of unknown territory even if you’ve been through the experience already. You may know your animal companion has a chronic illness and their death is eventual if not imminent, and you will literally have life and death decisions to make about a being very dear to you, but you have no idea where or when or how their loss will occur or what you will have to do. Your companion knows, though, and you only need to use your own human intuition and trust your bond of love.

My self-employed schedule is overbooked and erratic, and while I can often rearrange things and most of my customers understand, there are also plenty of times when I’ll be gone for most of a day and I’m really not sure what I’ll find when I get back. This year has been particularly hectic and the last thing I’d want to do is to fail Peaches at this critical time. Where would I be? Would I be ready?

Understanding the disease and symptoms

I had nursed my Stanley through nearly four years of chronic kidney failure when he was in his twenties and Peaches’ sister Cream just ten months after they joined us, and I had also nursed Moses through old-age decline including kidney failure, so I had an understanding of what was happening to Peaches and an idea what to look for as we neared what would likely be the final failure of her kidneys and her distress once that happened.

photo of calico cat on wooden floor

Precious Peaches

Kidneys in any mammal, including humans, have a tough job of filtering waste from the body’s fluids and producing and excreting what becomes urine. They also balance electrolytes, produce erythropoietin which helps stimulate bone marrow to build red blood cells, and renin, an enzyme that helps control blood pressure. The organs can actually perform all this with only 30% of their capacity, but once they are in chronic failure it’s easy to see what can happen to the body if the condition is not somehow treated on a regular basis; likewise when they have failed you can see how that failure will affect the body with toxins building up in the blood and circulating through the entire body, blood pressure increasing without its natural regulator and the heart and other muscles losing function with the imbalance of electrolytes. It’s paralyzing and painful, and not something you want your animal companion to endure for any length of time.

An early visitation

And as I saw Peaches moving into the end stages, needing fluids more frequently but not tolerating big doses, greater nausea, weakness, the odd temporary seizure-like activity and seeming neuropathy in her hind legs, I also had less tangible warnings.

Peaches' Nap Spot, pencil and watercolor

Some time in September, for three or four mornings in a row, I sensed a kitty walking behind me as I sat on the floor and doled out breakfast. With nine hungry cats all milling around it’s hard to follow where everyone is. I thought it might be Cookie since for her own personal reasons she would often walk around behind me to eat next to the stove. I turned around to see who it was, but Cookie was accounted for, as was everyone else, and there was no kitty there.

I stood leaning against the stove contemplating the visitor while Peaches continued happily with her breakfast. I wondered which of my kitties who’d transitioned might be visiting as that happened now and then, but I felt I’d recognize any of them and I did not recognize this visitor. I knew then that it had to do with Peaches and that her time would be soon, I can’t explain why or say that this has ever clearly happened this far in advance with my other cats, though it has happened on the day they transitioned. I just knew that the kitty was coming to welcome Peaches to the other side, and perhaps to reassure me. I wondered if it might have been her sister, Cream, but the visitor didn’t give me the sense of her; Peaches had 15 years before she came to me and it could have been any kitty from all those years. I remembered that I was visualizing a rather small kitty, perhaps dark in color, putting its tail in the air as it walked behind me and I realized the visitor seemed a lot like Peaches herself and thought it might have been her mother.

The unexpected sign

photo of calico cat

Peaches Wakes Me Up

Peaches had been eating well, was very active and alert and even that embarrassing issue, bowel movements, hadn’t been too much of a problem for the first time in a long time. First thing Saturday morning she was milling around in the bathroom upstairs with everyone else, drinking at all the water bowls and looking at me, blinking, to inquire about breakfast. We all went downstairs together and it still amazed me as it had from the beginning that she ran with the big cats, literally, and tiny as she was and playful as they were she’d never been even accidentally hurt. She had a great breakfast, jumping up onto the food tin then to the table and to her position on the cabinet to pace around making her little “hmmpf” noises that were as close as she ever came to a meow, leaning off the edge with her ears and whiskers at full alert and her big round pea green eyes focused on the can of food, even swatting at it and nearly falling—“Give me that now!” She always ate one good serving then several smaller servings through the rest of the day until dinner (every 42 minutes), coming to find me and lead me into the kitchen if I wasn’t aware her food alarm had sounded.

In the early afternoon she trotted up to the bathroom and curled up in the cat bed, though on a Saturday she’d normally be in the kitchen or she’d follow me around as long as she had patience for it.

Because she was always near me or would come to find me I could easily and frequently check her condition through the day, but by late afternoon I realized she was still sleeping in the bathroom and hadn’t come to ask for food. This meant something was the matter, whether she was experiencing nausea and reflux again or she was constipated again, if she’d vomited and her throat hurt, all symptoms that were part of her advanced kidney failure. This was what had happened two weeks before, and if these conditions weren’t somewhat resolved within hours she would begin to lose ground rapidly, quickly dehydrating, developing greater nausea, physically weakening and losing a little more normal kidney function.

She was very dehydrated and her breath smelled strong, that particular uremic odor that is associated with renal failure in animals as well as humans. I gave her 75cc of fluids—she’d been having some difficulty absorbing 100cc of fluids, and I could give her more later—one quarter of a Pepcid, took her temperature (normal) and invited her downstairs to eat. I preferred to see how they moved when I was trying to assess their condition so I wanted her to walk, to watch her movements and see if she followed her usual routine.

She sat on the landing, a little crouched, and her fur had that peculiar sticky look of an animal who is ill, her eyes not fully open and a little glazed and unfocused. Yes, she was feeling pretty bad, but I’d seen this before and it would just take some gentle nurturing and nutrition to bring her around to feeling well again.

Eventually following me down the stairs and across the living room though not at her usual brisk trot, she hesitated as she passed through each room and again when she reached her little stepping sequence of food tin-table-counter, but eventually made it up and stood and looked at me. This was actually a good sign; even if she didn’t eat, or didn’t eat much, she was showing up which meant she was willing to work on it.

photo of cat on table

Your 42 minutes is up.

I started with the food I’d opened that morning which she’d eaten with gusto a few hours before, but she just sniffed it and looked at me. Okay, maybe it wasn’t fresh enough, next food. I have never been successful with any renal diet so I prefer to feed my usual brand of food, but in Peaches’ condition she often needed something a little more enticing so I had little cans of salmon pate on hand in various brands because that was her favorite. As my veterinarian had always said, eating something, even of questionable quality, was better than not eating at all. Beyond these little cans of food I also had several jars of turkey or chicken and broth baby food, and I also had just enough raw venison, salmon and free-range turkey in the freezer to shave off and thaw in my fingers for small meals. And as supplements to these I had NutriCal, a high-calorie paste nutrition supplement in a tube, and CatSure, a milk-based caloric supplement.

She had absolutely no interest in the salmon pate, licked a little NutriCal off the tube, turned her back on the CatSure, which really shocked me because she would lap that up no matter how she felt. This was very unusual since she would usually eat just a little of each thing before she turned away, if only to get me to stop pestering her. I was considering what was in the freezer but gave her another try at the food, adding warm water and waving it under her nose.

She turned her head completely away then looked back up at me. “I’m not going to eat any more,” she said, holding my gaze. These were not words, but I understood it as clearly as if she had said it in that particular way my Kublai had taught me years ago.

And just as clearly as that, I knew we weren’t going to turn this one around. She was aware of her body’s own function and knew that to fight it would be pointless. Time was now finite.

I reached out to pet her, to let her know I understood and agreed and would do all I could to keep her comfortable; this I could do before the reality penetrated my shock. Starting at the top of her head and running my hand down her spine had become like petting a picket fence, her hip bones protruded, she couldn’t keep her fur clean any more, even standing she was practically sitting because of the weakness in her hind legs. Up to now she was willing to let my palliative care soothe and heal her body as far as it could be, but she had no interest in suffering or forcing her body to do something it no longer could. In all practicality she would simply wait for the end.

And in that moment I was filled with wonder at the courage of a little cat who could so bravely face this decision and share it with me.

And though I’d been practicing for the past month or so, I began seriously imagining my home, my daily routine, without Peaches. She would be the strong one, but I would be damned if I’d break down and cry every time I looked at her—that would distance me from her and I might not hear some important communication from her. These were our last days, and they would be as good as they could be, I would love her all the more while she was still here. As I had also done during the past few months, I thanked all those who had gone before Peaches who taught me the importance of this.

And though Peaches didn’t like to be picked up and hugged and kissed, I gently picked her up and held her close, burying my face into the top of her head and kissing her little cheek. She was so tiny she was lost in my embrace. She understood and let me persist for a few seconds, then struggled to get her own footing again. We shared a long look.

End of life palliative care

That didn’t mean I’d just let her starve and sink deeper into the pain of her illness. The effects of end-stage renal failure are painful as the toxins slowly build up in the body, so for as long as she would want to get up and go about her day, however minimal, I’d keep her comfortable. That meant managing her nausea with Pepcid and slippery elm bark tea, continued doses of fluids, and even small doses of prednisone to help her manage her pain and move around more easily.

four black cats and calico

The Big Four With Peaches

Through Saturday night and Sunday I regularly offered her the cat food, baby food, raw meat and supplements, but she only licked a little NutriCal and seemed to enjoy it. She hadn’t been able to sleep with me because she was uncomfortable on my bed, and I’d been putting her and Kelly in the bathroom overnight with canned food so they could eat at will and Kelly could keep her company. That weekend I sat with her for a while in the bathroom each night and even put out a little food, though I’m sure Kelly ate it, but I got up early and brought her into my bed for a nap together in the morning, a compromise, but sleeping on me or next to me had always been one of her pleasures.

On Monday I called my veterinarian to report this recent change and ask what her schedule was at the end of the week to schedule an appointment for euthanasia, assuming I’d have that much time. I’d need another bag of fluids to get me through the week, which I’d pick up the next day, and I’d keep in touch with her through the week.

An amazing coincidence of supportive events

It isn’t Peaches’ fault I’ve been keeping late hours and early mornings lately, just an overload of work for which I’m grateful; it’s been a slow year. I was up late Sunday night preparing for the Monday morning deluge of calls and faxes at my desk, and Peaches was on my lap for as long as she was comfortable. I slept briefly, then went through my Monday while keeping an eye on her condition.

I had a display of 14 photos to frame to be hung on Tuesday in time for a Wednesday business mixer at my local public library. I had the frames and went to Costco to get the photos in the afternoon.

I also had an appointment with a new portrait customer who had contacted me through Deb Chebatoris at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation where a few of my portraits hang. The man had lost his two Himalayan half-sisters and finally decided he’d get their portrait done. From what he was describing the portrait would be beautiful, and I looked forward to meeting him and his wife and talking to them about their cats and their portrait and Deb. Indeed the meeting was wonderful, hearing about the two beautiful girls and how they’d been so loved, telling them that I was one of Deb’s families as well, and that my little Peaches, right there on my desk, would soon join the others. Their sympathy and understanding were very comforting.

calico cat

Peaches Inspects the Framing

Then I set up the work table and boxes of frames to let everyone explore them before I began working, sat down with Peaches to finish off a few design assignments before I began framing, which I knew would take me into the wee hours. I could have been doing many other things not so enjoyable that particular night, but arranging my photos, making final decisions on which was in and which was out, and seeing them in their frames as the night went on and visualizing the display was probably the most calming activity for a long night of work and vigilance.

And Peaches was there on my desk chair, watching me and receiving her pets when I took breaks, even jumping from the chair to the table while I was finishing things up to investigate all my tools and rub her little face on the corners of frames. It seemed to me that she wasn’t sleeping either though all the others had long since found comfortable places in the room, but was staying up all night with me. This would actually be our last night together, and I will always treasure the memory of her attention to me, her gentle curiosity, and being a part of whatever I did.

More design work the next day, then I fed them dinner before I packed off to hang the photos. Peaches still went into the kitchen for dinner, up on the tin, the table, the counter, even though she didn’t eat. Before I left I put her and Kelly into the bathroom, knowing I’d be gone for hours and she was just weak enough that I didn’t want to risk a fall.

The beginning of the end

calico cat in bed

Peaches in Her Bed

When I returned home around 11:00 that night I could see the change had come. Peaches was curled in the bed, but barely lifted her head when I came in. She made brief eye contact, but put her head back down, breathing easily but with no intention to get up. The final process had started and I had only to be with her, watch and wait for signs.

I left the bathroom door open and sat on the floor next to the bed, petting her in the dim light I kept in there at night. The others wandered in and out and sniffed her and with the exhaustion from several late nights I dozed off and on, leaning against the wall, my hand on her shoulder. At one point she woke up, got up on very wobbly legs, peed on the rug in her favorite spot, visited the water bowl then wandered out the door. With me close behind she visited the water bowl on the landing, looked down the steps, wandered around my room, then stood looking into the spare bedroom, my studio, where she’d started out here, then went back into the bathroom, curled up in the bed again and laid there, not sleeping, just breathing and blinking her eyes, and never left the bed again. I would guess she was saying goodbye to her house.

Had it been daytime I would have called my vet right then, and I considered her condition and a drive to the emergency clinic, but decided that unless she showed some extreme symptoms she was better off here, and I would stay with her. Having been with the others at this point, she could go for hours or even days like this. Cookie curled on my lap and purred, touching my face to comfort me. At one point I went to lie on my bed and came back to find her the same.

My veterinarian’s hours for phone calls begin at 9:00 a.m. and I was waiting for that hour when I noticed that Peaches’ breathing had become more rapid and shallow, and her tail, which had been curled in the bed was now leaning out of the bed, stiffly twisted with the tip twitching.

I had learned from my veterinarian that these sorts of things were sometimes the only signs of pain we might see, this and the rapid, shallow breathing meant she had reached a painful state. I paged my veterinarian, who, though her van was in the shop, agreed to stop by around 11:00 or so that morning as she’d still be doing her calls.

three black cats

The Guardians

Then I called Deb, and while I always kid when I call her—“Don’t need your services today, just calling about the website” or some such—“Deb, it’s Peaches’ time,” was all I could manage. I gave her the appointment time and couldn’t say any more. “So it’s finally the day,” she said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m glad I could be here for you.” I had started to cry at having to say it out loud, and I just whispered I’d see her later.

I couldn’t imagine how this would be without her and my veterinarian both standing as my main supports.

So now it was a matter of hours, though as Peaches’ condition progressed I could feel her slipping away. I continued sitting with her, little by little preparing myself for the day; I noticed that she already felt cold, a certain sign her kidneys had completely failed as her body temperature dropped.

I left briefly to e-mail Judi that I couldn’t be at the shop for my Wednesday hours. I called a friend and asked if he could finish the final details I’d left for hanging the last two photos as I’d run out of wire. I let my friend Maggie at the Library know someone else would be finishing things up but I’d still be there that night, and what was happening. I posted a quick post on my blog and Facebook, all the while crying, hoping I’d get it out of my system so I wouldn’t cry in the room with Peaches.

door with patterns

Patterns of Light and Shadow

Then I sat with her for the last time and all the other cats except Mimi came in and checked on us, the three boys standing guard outside the door, a little confused and concerned. I watched the shadows of leaves on the wooden door right in front of me, light and shadow and shape ever changing. Watching it greatly comforted me, and it seemed to describe what was happening with Peaches just then.

My veterinarian arrived and came upstairs. We shuffled around in the tiny little bathroom, and Peaches opened her eyes one last time and looked in my direction as she administered the first injection. When it had taken effect we moved Peaches to my bed where Mewsette and Mr. Sunshine supervised the second injection, and she was gone in just moments. We sat with her for a short while, then Mewsette kept watch as I walked them out the door.

two cats

Cookie Sees Peaches Off

I returned and sat with Peaches, joined by Cookie who curled up next to her. All the others, again except Mimi, came to see her. Soon enough it would be time to drive to CCPC, and after all the late nights and vigilance and emotion and crying I was suddenly famished and had a comforting bowl of oatmeal for strength.

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

I visit Deb’s place so often as we work on projects together, but when I am there as a customer it’s quite different. Deb is her quiet comforting self, willing to sit for a while as I stroke my beloved companion for the last times and tell her stories. But even though I’ve now lost 13 cats and visited Deb six times before Peaches, and I knew Peaches wasn’t in her body anymore and I’d done my best to prepare myself, I still know that when I hand Peaches to Deb it’s the last time I’ll see Peaches, and this truly feels like the final moment. After this, I’ll only have my paintings, sketches, photos and memories, and while they are many, giving up that physical connection for me is the hardest part of letting go. I’m so glad I trust Deb as I do. I left Deb joking that she had now received seven of the thirteen pets I’d lost and she was “winning”.

Time on my hands

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

One of the aftereffects I will always remember from my first losses is that void which had been previously filled with physical and emotional caretaking. It’s only then we realize how much time we were spending doing something for our pet, thinking about them and just being with them, and suddenly the object of all that good intention is gone to be filled with our thoughts and memories, and often that’s when the true sadness starts unless we find some way to deal with that void and turn our thoughts to good memories and positive things. I left everything around the house as it was for a few days, but I wasn’t here much, finding reasons to be out more than usual, and adjusting to the change in my household a little at a time. I was also pretty stiff after sitting on a cold tile floor leaning against the wall for many nights and needed some physical activity to loosen up.

Mealtimes are always worst after a loss, but with Peaches’ constant joy at the event all the years she was with me they were suddenly very quiet so I decided to thaw and feed the meats in the freezer and get some special canned food to fill the silence.

Not feeling guilty about care and cleanup ending

At the end of your companion’s life, along with whatever palliative care you are offering and time you are generally spending with your companion, you’ll often find yourself cleaning up a lot of little messes that are a result of their physical condition. It’s easy to feel frustrated with the amount of time you’re spending, the things that aren’t getting done, the things being ruined, extra money you may be spending on special food that’s wasted, and a long list of other things that may even make you resentful, which in turn makes you feel guilty. This intense caretaking isn’t meant to last forever, it’s physically and emotionally exhausting and while you win small battles you know the end is that your pet will die.

Peaches never practiced proper litterbox etiquette; I always got the feeling her sister dominated Peaches and the food bowl and litterbox, so Peaches responded by not eating much and not using the box. Though she certainly learned to love her meals, she never got with the litterbox habit, using the basement floor for solids and any floor for liquids no matter how I tried to reconfigure the litterbox to meet her specifications. I always had little surprises and was always washing rugs, keeping anything important off the floor. When she went into kidney failure everything went out the window and I was constantly cleaning up, period. I actually said to Peaches, “I won’t miss this when you’re not here any more,” which didn’t make any apparent difference to her but certainly made me feel better, especially as I stepped into another little puddle, or worse…

I finally washed the rug that had been in the bathroom and replaced it with the “good” rug I’d packed away for most of this year. I also put a rug in front of the kitchen sink again, a new one I wasn’t going to use until the coast was clear.

Since then

calico on bed

Peaches Napping

As another part of the set of nurturing circumstances around Peaches’ transition, I was actually looking forward to the business mixer that night because I’d see so many friends, all of whom knew me and my cats and Peaches, and all of whom would be compassionate and understanding. Normally, I’d be at my desk or in my studio, alone but for my other kitties, but sometimes we need the company of members of our own species, and this was one of them. I also had the excitement of my photo exhibit to help fill some of the void. While it may have seemed like an inconvenient time with all that was going on, I thanked Peaches for choosing to leave at a time when I’d have all these comforting circumstances to help ease the first hours my grief.

The next day back in the office, I stood up from my desk in the middle of the afternoon, took two steps and stopped, trying to remember why I’d gotten up, then I remembered that for the past several months I’d now be following Peaches’ lead into the kitchen after she’d walked all over my desk and stared deep into my eyes to tell me it was time to have another little snack, or if she hadn’t alerted me to my oversight I’d go look for her, curled in the cozy bed in the bathroom. I took a moment to picture her walking ahead of me certain I was following, around the cabinet, up on the food tin, on the table, on the cabinet, her own routine which she followed every day until her last, then waiting at the corner of the cabinet for me to serve the next meal. I walked to the kitchen doorway and looked at the spot on the corner of the cabinet where she’d be looking right at me, usually flanked by Kelly and Cookie waving their tails, her tri-color partners in crime, but the cabinet was empty and the kitchen was quiet and still. I savored that moment too, remembering how close we’d become and how we’d worked together for her health and comfort, how completely she trusted me, and how lucky I was to have received her unquestioning love and trust. I wanted so badly just to touch her, but I could feel her there in that moment and I accepted just that.

calico and black kittens

Peaches teaches the kittens what it's like to be ignored.

Peaches dominated my lap and my desk for even longer than she’d been in kidney failure, and except for Cookie it took a day or two to realize the space was open. Everyone has been reshuffling since then, parading across my lap and filling up my desk, and everyone has started seriously playing and galloping around the house.

Because Dickie also went with his mom just a few weeks ago it’s difficult to remember sometimes how many cats I have. I am down to seven, I never got accustomed to saying “eight”, and I’ve actually caught myself saying “nine” still.

And the color composition of my household has changed too. With her pastel peach and gray and white fur, Peaches was truly the light of the clowder; now I have five black cats and two torties, and it’s a little dark in here. Where we had been the “Tri-color Trio” with Cookie, Kelly and Peaches, we’re also back to just my tortie girls, the “Two Torties”, as we were for years before Peaches came along.

Memories appear everywhere

calico cat with plant

Peaches Prepares for a Nap

I browse my photos every day to use for my designs and fill photo requests, and I encounter photos of Peaches all the time as I browse. It’s good to see her around the house, looking amazingly young for her years or doing something I’d forgotten she did.

I was in the grocery store this past weekend. I’m not the biggest grocery store shopper and remembered that the last time I’d been there was the weekend previous to stock up on baby food and Peaches’ favorite treat foods, she’d still been alive and not yet let me know it was time. I didn’t need to go there but I walked to the pet food aisle and looked at each of the foods that had been her favorites, remembering her and echoes of others for whom I’d made the special shopping trips.

I can replace my rugs and tile and other items around the house and gladly, because I can never replace the relationships that changed my life. What they gave me is worth more than anything I own, especially their daily inspirations. I will be painting Peaches for a long time to come.


Not a Bad Deal on a Pre-owned Cat, 2010

Conversation With a DaisyA year ago today, at just about this time, I said goodbye to one of the most unique, most loved cats I’ve ever known, but remembering him is hardly a sad affair, not with a goof like Namir. It’s a celebration of a cat who, despite multiple life-threatening health issues, loved every single blessed moment of every single blessed day and shared that with every single blessed person he ever met in his life, including all the veterinarians who every poked, prodded or did indecent things to him. I’m still finding things he taught me and reasons to be thankful he was part of my life.

Following is the introduction to his story, written last year about two weeks after he transitioned. Please read through the introduction, but especially click the link to go to my website to read all about Namir and look at all the photos and artwork. If you’ve ever loved a cat, I’m sure you’ll find something to identify with in his story; and if you’ve lost a cat, I’m sure your journey was much the same.

Namir

Namir

July 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please visit my website and read the rest of the story about Namir.


Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

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

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

Back cover background of Heal Your Heart CD

Back cover background of Heal Your Heart CD

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

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

Animal Lovers Comforted by New Pet Loss CD

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

A Rainbow and Row of Hearts

A Rainbow and Row of Hearts

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

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

Cat Paw

Cat Paw Illustration

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

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

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

Karen, Pepper and Zep

Karen, Pepper and Zep

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog Paw

Dog Paw Illustration

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

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

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

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

At the Rainbow

At the Rainbow


Not a Bad Deal on a Pre-owned Cat

Namir

Namir

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please visit my website and read about Namir.


One Sweet Cat, That Sweetie

Sweetie on her camouflage rug.

Sweetie on her camouflage rug.

A friend called me on Sunday, worried about his cat, Sweetie. After describing her condition to me, I told her I thought she needed to go to the emergency clinic, the sooner the better. He hesitated, and I offered to go with him; he immediately accepted. I knew he was frightened, and though I held to the most positive thoughts for Sweetie, I knew the situation may not have the best ending.

This friend supported me through the loss of my four oldest cats, Moses, Cream, Sophie and Stanley, and then of Lucy at 15 months. Right after I lost Lucy, my cardiac patient, Namir, went into congestive heart failure, and I had no hesitation asking this friend to drive me to the same emergency clinic because another potential loss was just too much for me. Namir made it through, and so did I, glad for the conversation of a good friend while I waited for the news. This is what friends do for each other, and our animal companions are another member of our group.

As it turns out, Sweetie was completely blind, and the veterinarians could find no immediately apparent reason for her blindness. According to my friend, Sweetie had jumped off the bed and raced down the stairs to the kitchen the previous morning and seemed completely normal until later in the day when she seemed a little confused. The next day, she didn’t eat, and stumbled over a door step, her pupils completely dilated, then laid down and seemed unresponsive.

Sweetie was indeed a sweet cat. I used to check in on her when my friend was away, and I would have walked off with her in a minute if I thought I could get away with it. A pleasantly plump tortoiseshell with round eyes and a mischievous attitude, she always played a game with me when I stopped there, either hiding somewhere and not even moving until I found her—and I’m pretty good at looking for cats—or thundering from room to room and up and down the steps as if she was being chased. She was 13, and in the years she had been with her person he had spent a few years out of town five days a week for business, but she did fine in the house alone on those days and never developed any bad habits as a result of being left alone. Later, after retirement, he went away for weeks at a time to help family members, and this was when I checked in on her, always pleasant and happy, ready for play or hide and seek. But she was devoted to her person, and when he was around, she was on his lap or under his feet or inspecting what he was doing.

She was one sweet cat.

Although she was in excellent health otherwise, the condition that caused her blindness was apparently acute. Animals can often adapt to these changes, much easier than we do, but the testing to find out what was wrong would probably have shown a stroke or brain tumor, likely to only get worse. My friend decided not to put her through the rigors of discovery, and she even seem resigned to her fate, so he decided to let her go and have her put to sleep.

He still goes away for several weeks at a time, and what are the chances another Sweetie will come along, ready to go along with the plan? Not much. Each of them is an individual, just the same as we humans are, and I’ll remember Sweetie for a good long time. The photo at the top is one I took of her rolling around on her rug, intending to do a little painting someday. Perhaps it’s time.