The most exceptional kitten the world has ever known!
No, I haven’t added a kitten to my household of nine adults! But there is definitely a story, in more ways than one, behind this illustration.
Those stories contain both intense joy and overwhelming sorrow; they contain an unexpected loss of a kitten after the loss of many others, which led to the welcoming of Mimi and the Fantastic Four, and a promise to that kitten that I’d honor her brief existence with joy and love.
This illustration is one of many I’m planning for a little illustrated book of the life of a kitten, featuring Lucy, who will always be the most exceptional kitten! As I watched her grow, even before I knew she’d stay with me, at least for a while, I began intensely visualizing the slender little black kitten with the tail that curled in a perfect circle going about her busy kitten day of throwing throw rugs, tossing toss pillows and unrolling her favorite ball of purple yarn all over the house, all in front of colorful patterned backgrounds.
I created this sketch intending to continue with others, but the time just wasn’t right until now.
How Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four are related
July 10 was the third anniversary of Lucy’s passing from effects of effusive FIP, so I spent the day thinking about her, writing about her, and working on this illustration.
Mimi is Lucy’s mom, but then belonged to a neighbor and was about to give birth again that July. I decided right then that Mimi and her new babies had to come to my house; I know this was suggested by Lucy, in her transition. I checked on the possible dangers to my household of further transmission of FIP—they’d already been exposed—and asked Mimi’s owner if she would just give me the mom instead of only the kittens. They were born on July 25 and arrived here July 28, 2007. (Yes, at the end of the month we’ll be celebrating a massive four-cat birthday!)
No one else has developed FIP, Mimi and the kids are still here providing love and inspiration, and it’s time I followed through with my promise to Lucy.
So this week, beginning with this article, I’ll be writing about the book I’d planned and the illustrations, about Lucy as my beloved kitten, about her mom Mimi and half-siblings the Fabulous Four, and about FIP and the study we are participating in.
Just the beginning: how Lucy came to me
In 2006, I had a house full of senior cats—my youngest was Kelly, who was then about 13, and I hadn’t had a kitten in the house for any length of time for several years. But because my four oldest seniors were requiring more care and attention I decided to even forgo the occasional rescue or foster to make sure I had the emotional and financial means to care for my old friends. Raising a kitten was out of the question.
Then the neighbor across the street said her cat Maia had had another litter of kittens, and could I help her find homes (again, third litter in two years…). I made her promise to get Maia, a petite and quiet solid black cat with pale yellow eyes who roamed my backyard wildlife habitat, spayed and consider keeping her indoors. We made arrangements for the procedure, and I e-mailed descriptions of the kittens to friends.
Three of the kittens were claimed right away, while the fourth kitten had no takers. I really didn’t feel I had the time or space to spend on an eight-week-old kitten, but it was June and all the shelters were full, plus the kitten was black and black kittens and cats have such a difficult time being adopted…well, if I couldn’t raise a little kitten after over 20 years of rescuing and fostering cats, I might as well just retire completely.
I was NOT going to keep this kitten, but in the back of my mind I kept remembering my guilty thoughts at what cats might come to me after I lost my seniors; never considering that I’d simply reduce my household, I knew the universe would continue bringing me cats.
I had had a beloved black cat years before, and I wanted to share my space with one again… I really wanted a little black cat who I’d name Lucy. And here she was. I tried plenty of other names on her, then just blurting out nonsense syllables to see what sounds she responded to. When I said “Lucy” in the middle of a string of rhyming syllables, she looked at me, surprised.
The rest of the household
I had lost cats in the past, but endured the loss of most of my household in a short period of time. Between February 2006 to January 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, one to cancer, one to kidney failure, the other two just to old age. Stanley and Moses were the last two of the ones who had been with me from those earliest days and seen me begin my career as an artist; Moses at 19 was the first loss of the four in February 2006, and Stanley, the last loss of the four in January, 2007, was with me for 21 years and came to me as an adult, so he had to be 23 or older. Cream, Peaches’ sister, succumbed to kidney failure in March, 2006, and Sophie’s vocal problems turned out to be cancer after all, and I lost her in November, 2006.
It was right in the middle of these losses that the tiny, energetic feline diva arrived in mid-May, 2006.
In the next installment I’ll describe Lucy’s first year—my joy at having a cat from kittenhood, a rarity for me—and all the silly things she did that inspired the story.