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R.I.P. Cloudy
January 2008 – February 28, 2018

Where do you begin when someone you love passes away? When you have spent some part of almost every day saying hello, sharing some affection, a meal or two, and sometimes a kiss goodnight?

This being, as you can see, happens to be a cat – a cat to whom I became very attached over the last 10 years. Cloudy belonged to the people next door, as does Pumpkin. He was an indoor/outdoor cat – nicely set up in their garage at night and out during the day. Although he spent plenty of time curled up in his bed during the coldest winter days, he was out and about most days until the two boys were called in for the night.

However, he was on my back porch at one point or another almost every day (yes, it’s true, I do have food here), or greeting me when I pulled in the driveway. In the nice weather when I sat outside reading or drawing, he stretched out on my wicker coffee table, sat on my lap, or lay at my feet. He was snuggly and loved affection. Some nights, when he didn’t hear being called in to the garage, he would sit on the wicker table or at my back door, hoping I might put him inside. On these occasions, I would carry him across the backyard to the sound of loud purring and then know he was safe for the night. I also was fortunate in being able to take care of him and Pumpkin when my neighbors would go on vacation.

Cloudy may not have been “my” cat, but I loved him not one iota less than if he were truly mine. He was pure innocence, a very young soul, with not one mean bone in his body. Quite simply, he was so easy to love.  And that I did.

His life ended unexpectedly and far too young. I see him each time I look out the door, those wide eyes just waiting for recognition, hoping for a loving touch. I see him basking in the sunlight in front of a neighbor’s garage, and looking up when he’d be hugging my back door in the cold. I suspect I’ll be seeing him for quite some time, until he finally curls up in my heart.

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

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Sometimes we have moments in our busy days that just touch our hearts. Here is mine today.

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As I walked past my side door earlier, I happened to look out and notice – there was Pumpkin, my next door neighbor’s cat, sound asleep in as relaxed and trusting a position as one could ever ask of any cat.

Why this is particularly touching is that Pumpkin is not a trusting cat. In the time that I’ve lived here, my neighbors got a dog, and the dog, with full run of their property when she is out, largely displaced Pumpkin and their other cat from what was once their domain. More and more the two cats came over here to spend time with me. (Admittedly, the fact that I was providing food and water was an influence, but they also clearly enjoy the company and affection.)

From being a rather curmudgeonly fellow, Pumpkin has come to be far more trusting and now seeks out my attention. He lets me know when he’s had enough, and we’re good so long as I keep an eye on his tail. I am quite sure I cannot pick him up without suffering serious damage, yet he’s become far friendlier over the years. Seeing him sleeping so soundly just outside my open door, his little back feet paired and curled up and his breathing deep and steady, tells me more about his trust than I might have ever known.

Rushing as we do, it’s easy to miss moments like this. I hope you’ve found your moment today.

 

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What does one do when she finds herself animal-less? She adopts! Meet Jazzy … in a possibly overdone Christmas-Photoshopped shot. But who doesn’t love a kitty in a carton, one’s own little boxtot?

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For those of you who have a genuine love of animals, you know the invisible, gaping hole that opens in your home when a pet passes away. Imagine having lost all your animals, and if you know me, or follow this blog, you may know that was the case after Claude passed over. It doesn’t matter if you have two or twenty humans living in your home, when there is not one animal to be heard, the silence is deafening.

It only took three days before I contacted the local cat rescue to see if a black cat named Jazzy was still available for adoption. I had met her in the nearby pet store who generously showcases cats and kittens from two local rescue organizations to give them an extra chance to find a home. It was after Gypsy Rose passed away, and I wondered if Claude would like another companion. Jazzy was sweet and affectionate and did a great job of selling herself, but ultimately, I decided against adopting any other animals at the time, letting the aging Claude have me just to himself.

Jazzy-Aug24-2

But without any animal in the house at all, that was another story. My rescue contact told me not only was the three year old beauty still waiting, but no one had even shown any interest in her. (Unfortunately, people still have bizarre superstitions about black cats and therefore, they have the hardest time finding homes.) I have no such preconceptions, and after an interview with the rescue, a brief meet and greet with both her and Jazzy at the pet store, we agreed to all meet at our mutual vet for an introduction and a nail clip for Jazzy. She’s been here ever since.

Adopting an older animal is a bit more of a challenge in some ways than adopting a youngster. Jazzy has her own personality and her own ideas about everything. And that’s OK – so do I. She’s bright, a fast learner and it’s not hard to come to understandings about anything. Most importantly, older animals need a chance. Everyone wants to adopt the kittens. I wanted to give that chance to a cat who really needed it. And so … the curious cat in the box.

My challenge now? Taking the most fabulous photograph of an all black animal, the ever-so-elegant Jazzy.

Your challenge? The next time you have that awful, gaping hole in your home because a beloved pet has passed away, or whenever you’re next ready to add a new fuzzy family member … adopt. Visit your local shelter, contact your local rescue, check Petfinder …  adopt an animal who truly needs YOU. And please consider those most in need … an older/adult animal. It’s a special gift to you both.

Merry Christmas!

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In Memory of Claude

July 1998 – August 17, 2013
Rescued from Hillside, NJ RR bridge – August 1998

Claude-OnChair2

Claude-Kitten2He had only 3 places to go. Over the fence and a 100′ drop to the railroad tracks below, into the traffic crossing the railroad bridge, or into my hands. He chose to climb the fence. Thanks to the help of a kind passerby, the tiny feral kitten ended up in my hands. In fact, he ended up squalling loudly while I held him against my left shoulder with one hand and drove the rest of the way to work. It was a day when I normally didn’t come in to work, on a route I never went but for the backed-up traffic that day. I even passed him by, thinking he was a crumpled piece of paper – that’s how tiny he was – before my brain went “KITTEN!” and I backed up for a closer look.

In our Medical Dept., he was assessed at 5 weeks old, too young to get shots and at risk of becoming very ill in the city shelter. So I decided to take care of him until he was old enough to be adopted. He stayed with me in my office during the day and I took him home at night. I’d set him up a huge dog crate with blankets, food, water, litter – everything he needed. He was so tiny I was afraid he’d get lost or trapped somewhere in the house. And he screamed. I shut the door to the room, let him Claude-KittenWithChloe2out, and Claude made a beeline for my pit bull terrier Chloe’s chin and curled up underneath. From that moment on they became inseparable … he found the mom he’d always needed.

My thoughts of putting him up for adoption in the shelter were abandoned in the face of their devotion to each other, and that’s how Claude’s life began – loved by his dog and human moms.

Claude was a healthy and very happy, easygoing guy.  He survived Chloe, who passed away at 15-1/2, as well as his two cat buddies Mewsette and Gypsy Rose who left us in the last year and a half. He was without a doubt the nudgiest animal I’ve ever known, but also beyond Claude-AndChloeaffectionate, cuddly, funny and extremely trusting. He stretched out anywhere on his back, totally vulnerable, knowing he was always safe and loved. And did I mention vocal? We won’t even go there.

Life was sweet for Claude until a little over a week ago when he experienced a mild, seizure-like event. Unfortunately, these progressed rapidly and in number and severity that it became clear there was only one thing to do. I told him where we were going Saturday morning and what would be happening. I bathed us in white light and asked who would meet Claude on the other side. In a heartbeat I saw Chloe … her bunny ears up, eyes bright, and she was dancing from side to side, so eager to see her “baby” once again.

Claude left peacefully in a second to join his mom and left me to reflect on how lucky I, as well as he, was that day when I was sent to work the “back way” and over a railroad bridge where someone needed desperately to be found.

Home will never be the same without you, Claudie.

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In Memory … Gypsy Rose

July 1999 – April 6, 2013
Rescued from Weequahic Park, Newark, NJ – January 2000

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Gypsy Rose was a 6 month-old kitten when I (literally) grabbed her from a parking area in Weequahic Park on my way to work. She was with her mother, and it is likely the two were living in the Gypsy-6Months2cemetery on the other side of the wrought iron fence just a few feet away. I was unable to get the more street-wise mother, but brought this little tyke into my car. I buried my head under my arms against the steering wheel, while the kitten ricocheted all over my car. When she finally settled at the rear window, I drove the rest of the way to the shelter where I worked and where she would get a chance at a real home.

Gypsy’s “baby” picture … 6 months old in the shelter, waiting for love.

She was written up in the system, and placed in a cage in the area just inside the front entrance – prime real estate for adoption. There was a multitude of reasons why bringing another animal into my home at that exact time was a very poor idea, and since Gypsy Rose was cute as a button and only 6 months old, I was sure it was only a matter of time  before someone would fall in love and adopt her.

But there she sat. After six months and no one expressing an interest in her, among other reasons, I knew she was meant to be mine, and the rest is history. Soon after walking into my home, Gypsy decided she should run the place thus earning herself the name of Miss Bossy Boots. All went well for this petite Queen of Everything until about October 2011, when she experienced seizure-like activity and was put on medication to reduce swelling from a possible tumor or cancer in her brain. This event repeated itself in June of 2012 when we tried to wean her off the medication.

Still, Gypsy forged on, unfazed by some growing malignancy within. In the last few months, however, Gypsy began a slow downward and irreversible decline. In the last few weeks,  I watched her behaviors change, isolating herself more, eating less and less, rallying occasionally, until it became clear her time had come. She left peacefully in my arms, loved `til the end.

Farewell, Gypsy girl … you will always be home in my heart.

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Times come in our lives when we are ready to open our hearts and homes to a new animal. But how do we know which is the right one for us? The one that is truly meant to be ours?

A little over 13 years ago, one of my two pit bull terriers passed away from complications of cancer. She had been starved and brutally abused. She’d had a very high prey drive and was dog aggressive, but she thrived in my care, and in time, also did so with my other pit bull terrier, Chloe. Chloe was at the opposite end of the spectrum; she truly loved ALL animals. With Chloe then twelve years old, I wanted her to truly enjoy her golden years with me and without the competition of another dog. But I knew she’d love a cat, and I began my search.

Every day that I was at work in the large city shelter, I took my lunch time to look at the over 200 cats awaiting adoption, asking that I please be shown the cat that was meant for me. That cat wasn’t there. Or at least not yet. Not so coincidental to this story, by the way, was the fact that in the office adjacent to mine, worked a lovely man in his 60’s. He was about 5’4″, and his wife was about 4’11”. They were a petite and adorable couple, totally devoted to each other from the days of their young marriage. I told him how happy it made me to see a couple still so in love. He told me it was bashert, i.e., “meant to be” in Yiddish. What a perfect word, I thought, and how perfectly fitting for them. I, too, was on the lookout for bashert, but on a much smaller scale.

One day in early August, I needed to go into work on my day off. Traffic on my usual route was at a standstill, so I took the back way through the neighboring town. As I drove over the familiar railroad bridge, I passed what looked like a crumpled piece of paper, but intuitively I knew better. I backed up and spotted a 5 week old tuxedo kitten, waiting to be hit by a car or plunge to his death 100 feet below.

I managed to catch the terrified and elusive kitten, brought him to the medical department for a gentle baby bath for fleas, and then to my office. Too young for inoculations, he wouldn’t fare well in a shelter with so many animals, so I decided to foster him until he was stronger – in my office on workdays, otherwise, home with me. He was so tiny, I was afraid he’d got lost or stuck in the house, so I set him up in my bedroom in a large Great Dane crate, complete with bed, blanket, litter and food and water. He screamed bloody murder.

The next evening the same. I closed the bedroom door and let him out. He made a beeline for a comforting spot under my Chloe’s chin. Mom! For two more weeks I followed this routine, everyone suggesting I keep him. My reason for not wanting to do so was that everyone will adopt a kitten; I would take a middle age or senior cat, a bonded pair, a cat with feline leukemia, i.e., a hard-to-place cat. Someone would surely fall in love with him quickly.

Then it happened. I looked at this very verbal little pipsqueak of a kitten, nestled with his new adoring mom, and found myself saying things like, “Now appearing in the Shakespearean production of I Claudipuss ….” or coaxing him with Monsieur Claude, or “Where’s my Cloudy Paws?” You get the picture.

I had asked to be shown the cat that was meant to be mine, and it had nothing to do with what I thought I wanted, but everything to do with who needed me. And so we need to be open to our choices in animals. I do believe every animal that I have had was truly meant to be mine. Perhaps I saved his or her life, perhaps in some other way, she or he saved mine. Animals are our teachers and guides, and may come to us in the most unexpected species, breeds, time and manner. They may be brought to us, or we to them, but we must always listen to our hearts.

Today that teensy feral kitten is a long and lanky 16 pound cat with tuxedo markings, but with all the features of an Oriental breed – short, smooth coat, long face, body and tail, and oh, yes, the (sometimes very annoying) vocalizations. His names today are Claudie the Dog Boy, (for all the dog tricks he happily performs), Mr. Freshy McFresh Face, and just plain Claude or Claudie. But it was those first silly names that were the tip off,  (that and his instant attachment to Chloe), that he was meant to be mine, kitten or no.

It was simply bashert.

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