In loving memory of Amber, one year later

Amber The Conscious Cat

A year ago today, I had to say good-bye to Amber after a very sudden, brief illness. I was devastated. Nothing ever prepares you for unexpected loss. In hindsight, I’m grateful that she got to spend her final few hours at home with me, and that she died peacefully in my arms. At the time, those things did not bring much comfort.

A year later, the pain of losing her has dulled a little, but I still miss my beautiful girl every day. She was in my life for ten years, and they were some of the best of my life so far.

My love for Amber grew slowly. Unlike all of my other cats, it was not love at first sight with her. I had lost my first cat, Feebee, to his battle with lymphoma in April of 2000. He had been with me for almost sixteen years. I didn’t think it was possible to hurt as much as I did after he died. I had had other (human) losses in my life before, but nothing was as painful as losing him. There were days when I wasn’t sure I’d make it through.

What saved me during those dark days was my work at the animal hospital, my office cat Virginia, and the daily contact with all the feline patients we saw every day. But coming home to an empty house night after night was becoming increasingly difficult. 

A few weeks after Feebee died, Amber and her five kittens were brought to the animal hospital by a client who had found the little family in her barn.  Despite being emaciated and scrawny-looking, Amber’s eventual beauty was evident even then.  She was a dark tortoiseshell color, with an amber-colored heart-shaped spot on top of her head, which became the reason for her name.  Her kittens found new homes in fairly rapid succession. 

However, nobody was interested in the beautiful mommy cat.  She spent her days in the big adoption cage in the hospital’s waiting area, but with the constant inflow of homeless kittens that is typical for spring and summer, nobody wanted to adopt an adult cat. 

One weekend in July, I decided to take Amber home, “just for the weekend”.  I thought it would be a good way to try and see what it would feel like to me to have a cat who wasn’t Feebee at my house. I also wanted to give her a break from the abandoned feral kitten we had placed with her after her own kittens had all found homes.  The kitten was a rambunctious six-week old grey tabby, and Amber was becoming increasingly exasperated with his constant need for attention.  As far as she was concerned, she had done her mommy duty with her own kittens. 

After living in a cage for all these months, Amber was initially a little overwhelmed by having access to an entire house, and she spent most of that first weekend near or under my bed.  By Sunday evening, she had relaxed a little and started exploring her new environment.  I liked having her gentle and peaceful energy around the house, and I decided that she could stay a little longer. 

The wound from Feebee’s passing was still raw. I wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge that she was home with me to stay, so I told everyone that I was “just fostering her”. I had flyers all ready to go to advertise that she was available for adoption. Remember flyers? This was in the dark days before social media!

Somehow the flyers never got distributed. Three months later, I finally realized that she wasn’t going anywhere. 

My love for her grew over the years in ways that I never would have thought possible. She was my heart and soul. She reflected back to me the limitless possibilities my life could hold if I opened my heart and allowed things to unfold. She was my inspiration for so many things, including this site. She was the original Conscious Cat.

There are so many things I miss about her: the way she would curl up in my arms each night and sleep there for most of the night. The way she’d purr if you so much as looked at her. The way her tail would twitch when she got excited about something. I miss her gentle presence and peaceful energy.

Allegra came to live with us about five weeks before Amber died, and she was a great comfort to me during this past year. Her joyful, kittenish presence and her quiet love helped my heart heal. Now that Ruby has joined our family, my heart, and my life, are expanding once again.

And Amber’s gentle spirit and eternal love are never far from me.

Buckley’s Story honored as Finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards

Buckley's Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher

I am very excited to share the news that Buckley’s Story is an Award-Winning Finalist in the “Animals/Pets: General” category of the 2011 International Book Awards!

The International Book Awards honor knowledge, creativity, wisdom and global cooperation through the written word. Over 300 winners and finalists were announced in 140 categories. “The 2011 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the world,” says Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of JPX Media Group. “Finalists and winners were chosen by a distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise.”

What makes awards like this one, and the 2010 Merial Human Animal Bond Award, which was awarded to Buckley’s Story last November by the International Cat Writers Association, so special is not just the recognition of all the hard work that went into writing the book.

It also means that even more people will hear about my little cat, and the way she changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. It means that her lessons will be shared with an even wider audience. It means that perhaps, somewhere out there, someone will find comfort in reading about my personal story of navigating through the devastating grief that comes with losing a beloved cat.

The spirit that was Buckley was endless love and joy. I can feel my little cat smiling now.

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Ruby’s Reflections: First Post

Ruby's Report

Hi everyone! It’s Ruby! I’m so excited that I get to write here, too! I’ve been here almost three weeks now, and it’s so great here! When I lived with my human foster parents and two big foster brothers, I didn’t know what a forever home was. Now I know: it’s kitty paradise, right here on earth!

I love my mom, and I love my big sister Allegra. I’m so happy! Sometimes, I get so happy that I have to jump for joy. I jump straight up in the air!

I know that my new big sister wasn’t too terribly happy when I first arrived here. She hissed and growled while I was exploring my new home. But even then, I knew we’d be best friends in no time, because I realized quickly that she wasn’t mad at me – she was mad at our mom! That’s who she was hissing and growling at! Thankfully, it didn’t take her long to stop being mad at Mom, and then she started making friends with me. At first she’d just watch me closely. After a few hours, we started to hang out together in the same room. Two days later, we were touching noses. You get where this is going – we’re definitely friends now, and I think this is only the beginning.

Neither one of us really knew how to play with other cats. I was too intimated by my two foster brothers to play with them, because quite frankly, they were giants compared to me! I was afraid I might get squished by one of them! Since it had just been Allegra and Mom for a long time, Allegra didn’t have any practice playing with other cats, either. But we’re both very smart, so we figured it out pretty quickly!

Our favorite thing is to chase each other through the house. We pretend to stalk each other around corners and from behind furniture, and then we pounce on each other. We run like the wind! Up and down stairs! Up and down cat trees! Up and down furniture! Wee!!!

I also love when Mom plays with both of us. One game that Allegra and I love is when Mom brings out these little plastic spring things. She says we can only play with them when she can watch us. I don’t know why, they’re totally fun and we could have a blast even without her watching us. Allegra says Mom worries that we might chew on them and maybe swallow little pieces if we’re not being supervised. Allegra says that’s what Moms do – they worry. That’s sweet. Anyway, we both love chasing these little springs all over the house, and the best part is that when we manage to bat them underneath a piece of furniture, we get to watch Mom retrieve them for us! Great fun for all, especially for Mom!

When we’re not playing, I like to look out the windows. There’s so much to see! There are birds, there are people walking by, sometimes, there are dogs out there, and the best part is that I can watch all of that and be safe inside our wonderful house! I have no desire to go outside. I lived outside for a while after I was abandoned, and let me tell you, it was scary out there, and there was nobody to take care of me.  Take it from one who’s been there: being outside is highly overrated.

That’s all for today. Mom says I can write here again soon. Besides, I have to go chase my sister now. Life is good! Wee!!!

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Allegra’s World: My New Little Sister

Allegra anniversary

Well! Do I have a lot to talk about today! There’s been some major excitement at our house. I know Mom couldn’t wait to tell you the news and she wrote about it yesterday. Yes, we have a new family member. And let me tell you, when Ruby first arrived here on Sunday morning, I was NOT thrilled, to put it mildly. Mom made me promise not to use swear words, so I’ll try to be good, but it’s not going to be easy!

Mom had been telling me for several days that I would get a new little sister. I didn’t really understand what that meant, I thought maybe she was buying me a new special toy. Then, on Friday, Mom put a second placemat on the floor in the kitchen across from mine. Hm. That was odd. Maybe Mom wanted me to have some variety in my dining experience? I could go for that! Oddly, food never appeared there, only a second water bowl. Since humans often do very strange things for no apparent reason, I didn’t give it much thought after taking a nice long drink from it.

When Mom set the cat carrier by the front door Sunday morning, I got a little worried. Surely she wasn’t taking me to the v-e-t? I was feeling just fine, so there really was no reason for that! When she picked up the empty carrier, I was starting to get a little suspicious. She told me that she would be back soon, and that she’d have my new little sister with her.

Ingrid with Ruby

She wasn’t kidding. I heard the little pipsqueak cry the minute Mom came in the house. At first, I was curious, and I immediately went to sniff the carrier after Mom set it on the floor. I’m a smart girl, so it didn’t take me long to figure out that this was not a new toy. There was another cat in the carrier! What was Mom thinking??? I hissed and growled – at the carrier, but even more, at Mom! I was mad! Why did she have to go and bring another cat into our house? I thought we were perfectly happy together, just the two of us!

Mom said my new little sister’s name was Ruby. Whatever! She let me sniff the carrier for a good long time, then she took it upstairs. Of course I followed. I watched from a distance as Mom opened the carrier door, and Ruby bounded right out. That little thing doesn’t have any manners at all! Didn’t she know that this was my house, and that she should have asked my permission before entering? As she started to explore the house, I watched from a wary distance. If she came within a few feet of me, I hissed at her. And what did the little stinker do? She growled right back at me! The nerve!

Mom kept a close eye on both of us, and kept reassuring me that it was going to be okay, that she loved me more than anything, and that I was going to learn to love Ruby. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I sure as heck wasn’t feeling the love right then!

I have to admit, though, as the day went on, staying mad at Mome was  getting a little old, and I even got tired of hissing at Ruby. By afternoon, I was exhausted, and the sunny loveseat was calling my name. It was time for a nap! I was so tired, I didn’t even care that Ruby stretched out for a nap of her own on the floor right below me.

When dinner time rolled around, I was starving. Being on guard all day is a lot of work! I inhaled my dinner and didn’t even pay attention to Ruby on the other side of the kitchen.

I was a little worried about bedtime. I love to sleep with Mom, I cuddle up against her back or her legs, and it’s the best feeling in the world. I was really hoping that Ruby the Intruder (ha! I crack myself up!) wasn’t going to mess that up for me. And this is why I love my Mom: I heard her explain to Ruby that it was time to go to bed, and that I was used to sleeping with Mom. She said Ruby would be welcome to join us, and that she hoped that eventually both of us would sleep in the bed with her, but that it might be a little too soon for me. She made sure that I was safely in bed, and left the bedroom door cracked open. She didn’t want Ruby to feel that she couldn’t come in if she wanted to. After all, it was Ruby’s first night in a strange new house. Much as I didn’t care about Ruby, I love that Mom was so concerned about her. That’s just how my Mom is!

Thankfully, Ruby didn’t come in the bedrom during the night. I fell into an exhausted sleep, feeling comforted and safe with Mom by my side. I know Mom didn’t get much sleep, she got up several times during the night and I heard her talk to Ruby in the living room, but I wasn’t going to budge from my safe and warm spot in Mom’s bed.

Ruby and Allegra

Monday morning, I woke up and thought maybe I had just dreamed the whole thing. Unfortunately, Ruby was still here. But I have to admit, she wasn’t quite as annoying as she was on Sunday. As the day went on, I hissed a little less, and mostly just watched her. By afternoon, we were hanging out on the loveseat together.

Yesterday, I relaxed even more. I still hissed and growled at her whenever she came too close for comfort, but it was getting kind of old. So a couple of times, when the little one came up real close to me, I decided not to hiss, and actually let her give me a nose tap. I also let her sit right next to me while Mom was brushing me. I love being brushed, and I wasn’t going to miss out on that just because Ruby has to have her nose in everything. Later in the day, I decided that maybe it was going to be fun to play with the little pipsqueak, and chased her without hissing at her. She chased me right back! This was actually kind of fun! We raced through the whole house a couple of times. Then I decided that I better hiss at her just a little bit, just to make sure she still remembered who was in charge. But I have to admit, it was fun!

And so it begins. I guess she’s here to stay. Mom keeps telling me that eventually I’ll love having a little sister, and that I’ll come to love Ruby. I guess I can already see that Mom might be right. As long as Ruby knows I’m in charge, it just might be okay.

New Family Member: Introducing Ruby

Ruby The Conscious Cat

The Conscious Cat has a new family member! Allegra and I are excited to welcome Ruby into our hearts and home. Well, right now, I might be a little more excited than Allegra, but considering that Ruby only came home yesterday morning, things have been going really well. Initially, Allegra was really mad at me for bringing this little intruder into her house, and she watched suspiciously as Ruby began to explore her new home. Whenever Ruby came too close for comfort, she made sure Ruby knew that Allegra was in charge!

By late afternoon, both cats were exhausted, and ready for a companionable nap in our sunny living room. I was amazed, and thrilled, that after less than six hours, they were that comfortable being in each others’ company. And yes, it’s almost uncanny how much alike they look. In the photo below, Ruby is on the floor, Allegra on the loveseat. On some of the photos I took yesterday, I actually had to look for identifying marks to tell them apart. Even though at eight pounds, Allegra is bigger than Ruby, depending on the camera angle, it was sometimes hard to tell!

Ruby and Allegra

I met Ruby on March 31 (coincidentally – or maybe no so coincidentally! – the same day I met Allegra a year ago). She was fostered through the SPCA of Northern Virginia, and lived with a lovely young couple and two big male cats. Her foster parents named her Cinnamon. The SPCA’s vet estimated her to be between six months and a year old – I’m leaning toward the lower end of that range, she’s tiny! She’s a total lovebug, in fact, her name in her initial vet record is Lovebug. She was found in someone’s backyard literally “asking” to be rescued. When the kind woman heard the little kitten crying, she opened the door and Ruby ran right up to her without any hesitation.

When I met her, her foster parents had just gotten home from work, so she was all wound up and eager to play. I spent about half an hour with her, and even though she was mostly focused on playing, she still occasionally jumped up on my lap. I just knew she was “the one.”

Everyone deals with loss at their own pace, and almost a year after losing Amber, I was finally ready to open my heart, and my home, to a new baby. I could have taken her home sooner, but wanted to wait until I had a few days in a row with few outside appointments so I could help Ruby settle into her new home and help her and Allegra adjust to each other.

Ruby is a very self-assured little kitten. She’s super affectionate – she likes to rub up against legs so affectionately that she tumbles over! I don’t think she knows how to play with other cats yet, the two big boys in her foster home were a little intimidating to her, but she’s able to endlessly entertain herself. Yesterday, she spent most of the day in my family room, which is really the kitty playroom. There’s no furniture, just cat trees, scratching posts, and toys everywhere. Allegra watched her every move, but didn’t participate in any play (although at times, it really seemed like she wanted to, but then she remembered that she was mad at me and the little intruder). After a while, they chased each other occasionally, and I’m hoping that as they get used to each other, they’ll learn to play with each other. In the meantime, I’m working on my hand-eye coordination so I can play with interactive toys with both of them at the same time!

She also had fun exploring stairs – her foster parents live in an apartment, so this was new territory for her. After the first few, somewhat klutzy, attempts, she now flies up and down both sets of stairs as if she had done it all her life.

Allegra is still withholding judgment as to whether all of this was really a good idea, but I’m sure you’ll hear from her in her own words in just a few days. And you never know, once Ruby settles in, you just might find her blogging here, too.

You can see wonderful “baby pictures” of Ruby (formerly Cinna), along with photos of her two foster “brothers,” on her foster parents’ photo blog.

Torties, Friendship, and a Very Special Book Signing

tortoiseshell-cats

This has to be one of the more unique post titles I’ve ever come up with – but what transpired earlier this week was one of the most unique, and special, experiences of my life. Let me explain.

It all began on August 17, 2009, when I wrote a post titled Tortitude – the Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats. It rapidly became one of the most popular posts on this blog. When you google “tortoiseshell cat,” “tortie cat,” “tortitude” and any number of other combination of these terms, the post pops up in the first three results on Google’s results page. Readers started leaving comments sharing stories about their torties. It rapidly became so much more than just a blog post. With more than 3500 comments to date, it has turned into a real community of tortie lovers. (Editor’s note: as of April 2012, the post had more than 9500 comments.)

About a year ago, a core group of tortie lovers began to post almost daily, and what started as an exchange of tortie stories turned into online friendships. We not only continued to share tortie stories (and anyone owned by one of these cats knows there’s always plenty of new material!), but we supported each other through life’s ups and downs.

ingrid-king-buckleys-story

There is Harry in Virginia, who, along with his wife Julie and daughter Rachel, volunteers and saves untold feline lives with Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, and his tortie Brooke. There is Bernie in Western Pennsylvania, who had never had a cat in her life until a determined tortie named Steeler decided that she wanted to live with her. There is Jay in Eastern Pennsylvania, who taught his tortie Stirfry to trust humans again. There is Bernadette in Western Pennsylvania, whose two senior torties Kelly and Cookie grace some of her artwork. And there are many more: Glen in Canada, who rescued his tortie Kasey from a rough life outside a mechanical plant. Shannah in New York and her tortie Emma. Michael in Arizona and his tortie Honey. The list goes on and on.

With two exceptions, none of us had ever met in person. I had met Bernadette at the Cat Writers Association conference in November of 2009, and I had met Harry and his family at the National Capital Cat Show in Chantilly, VA in September of 2010. I had never met any of the others, and I never really expected to. Then Bernie, Jay and Bernadette decided that they would make the trip down from PA to come to my book signing at the Stray Cat Café, to benefit Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, on April 10. As Bernadette put it in her write-up of the event, “On Sunday I took off for Falls Church, Virginia with a person I’d never met before to get together with a bunch of other people I’d met on the internet. Sounds like the sort of thing they tell you not to do, but I happened to know that each of these persons, including myself, owned at least one tortoiseshell cat, so I knew the worst we’d do is talk about what our cats did in the litterbox or deposited on the floor.”

ingrid-king-bernadette-kazmarski

Finally, we would all meet in person, after talking to each other on the blog for over a year. When Bernie, Jay and Bernadette arrived at the Stray Cat Café, it was like being reunited with old friends. The evening flew by. Harry and his wife Julie graciously invited us to their home for brunch the following morning so we could continue our gathering before the PA contingent headed home again. We spent a delightful spring day on Harry’s screened in porch, enjoying a delicious brunch, with five of his seven cats, including the lovely Brooke who started it all, hanging out with us.

This day will forever remain in my heart as one of life’s special memories. The time went by much too fast, and we all reluctantly said our good-byes.

stray-cat-cafe

All of us continue to marvel at how all of this came about. We couldn’t come from more diverse backgrounds. Our interests vary widely. Our love for our torties brought us together.

This day will forever remain in my heart as one of life’s special memories. The time went by much too fast, and we all reluctantly said our good-byes and sent the PA contingent on their way home.

Friendships can start in the most unexpected ways if you open yourself to the possibilities. In our case, we have Brooke, Steeler, Stirfry, Kelly, Cookie, Amber, Buckley, Allegra and all the others to thank for opening our hearts, and our lives, to new friends. I, for one, will be forever grateful for these wonderful cats, and the wonderful new friends they’ve brought into my life.

Photos, top to bottom:

Amber and Buckley, photo by Ingrid King
Julie, Ingrid and Harry, photo by Bernadette Kazmarski
Bernadette Kazmarski with me, photo by Renee Austin
Jay and Bernie, photo by Bernadette Kazmarski

Pretty Litter

Allegra’s World: First Adoption Anniversary

Allegra's adoption anniversary

Today is a very very big day for me! It’s my adoption anniversary! A year ago today, Mom brought me home to live with her and Amber! I thought it was the happiest day of my life then, but every day since then has been even happier. I’m such a lucky kitten!

I was a little nervous that day, when Mom came to get me at Great Falls Animal Hospital, where I was staying. Oh yeah, and if you’re wondering how it was possible that Mom was able to resist my considerable cuteness and wait six whole days after first meeting me to bring me home – well, I got myself in a little trouble at the animal hospital. When the foster mom I had lived with before brought me there so more people could see me and so I could find a home (and didn’t that work out just beautifully!), the nice people at the animal hospital wanted to give me a good exam. And let me tell you, when  the woman in the white coat tried to stick something up my rear end, I wasn’t having any of it. I whipped my head around and bit her! That’ll teach her to stick things up unsuspecting kittens’ rear ends!

Unfortunately, humans have a whole bunch of stupid laws, and one of them says that if a cat bites a human, she needs to be quarantined and watched for signs of rabies for 10 days. Even though I was current on my rabies vaccination, Mom couldn’t take me home until the end of that quarantine period.

But finally, the big day arrived. As I said, I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. Mom had already told me that I would have a big sister. I looked forward to meeting her! I don’t think Amber was as excited about me coming home as Mom was, she hissed at me a lot and ran from me that first day. I didn’t let that upset me, and instead, proceeded to explore every inch of my new home. There was so much to see! The best part was that there were these huge big windows to look out! I could see birds and trees and people walking by, it was so cool!

By the time it got dark that first day, I was pretty tired from all the exploring. Mom said that she and Amber were going to bed, and showed me where that was. She said I was welcome to join them. Amber added “but remember your place, you’re the new kid here. I always sleep in Mom’s arms, and that’s not going to change just because you’re here now!” At first, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to join them, but as the house got really quiet and dark, I jumped up on the bed with them. I wanted to be close to Mom, but I didn’t want to disturb Amber, so I crawled under the covers and wedged myself against the back of Mom’s legs. Oh, that was so nice! I felt warm and safe. I drifted off and dreamed happy kitten dreams that first night in my new home.

Amber and Allegra opening case of cat food

Things only got better. By the second day, Amber and I were already in cahoots, helping Mom unpack a case of cat food.

Amber teaching Allegra

By the third day, we were hanging out together. Amber taught me lots of stuff about how things are done in our new home.

Amber and Allegra birdwatching

I really came to love my big sister very quickly. We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time together. She got really sick and died just a few short weeks after I came home. I still miss her, and I know Mom does, too.

I never thought I’d find such a wonderful Mom and such a wonderful home. Every day I think it’s the best day ever, and it just keeps getting better and better! I am the luckiest kitten on the planet!

Allegra’s World: Peacock Feathers and Q-Tips

Allegra with Q-tip

When I last wrote on here, I told you about this cool game called The Muffin Tin Game that Mom played with me. But that’s not the only game Mom and I play together. We play all the time! I love it when Mom plays with me!

I have so many toys, I sometimes don’t know what to play with. How lucky am I! But I also like playing with things that aren’t really toys. Sometimes, Mom doesn’t seem to like when I play with those things. I don’t understand why I can’t bat the crystals she has in her office around on the floor. They’re so pretty and they sparkle in the sun!  Pretty irresistable for a kitten like me if you ask me. Another thing she doesn’t like is when I sit in front of the computer screen and bat at the little thing that moves around on the screen. Mom says it’s called a cursor, and she says she can’t work when I sit in front of her like that. Um, duh! That’s kind of the point! Mom said the thing she uses to make the cursor thing move is called a mouse, but it sure doesn’t look like any mouse I’ve every seen.

There are plenty of games Mom approves of, though, and I love all of them. I like it best when Mom plays with me. One of our games we play is with a peacock feather. Mom waves it at me and I bat at it and try to take it from her. I can play that for a long time. Great fun – wee!!!

My current favorite is the Q-tip game. I discovered Q-tips when I first came here. At the time, Mom had them sitting on the bathroom counter in a pretty glass jar, and I would just help myself. You can watch me play with them in the video below. But then one day, I knocked the whole jar off the counter when I was trying to get them out of it, and it broke. Mom wasn’t very happy with me. Now she keeps them inside the bathroom cabinet and rations them out to me. At first I didn’t like that at all, but then I realized that it actually was more fun, because now Mom plays with me when she gives them to me. Mom tosses two or three Q-tips and I don’t know which one to chase first! I run and dart all over the place trying to catch them. When I get them, I bat them around some more for good measure. So fun! Wee!!!

What kinds of games do your kitties like to play?

Allegra the Q-tip Thief

httpv://youtu.be/mP6DTtDnuwc