Posts from the ‘Jungle Kittens’ Category
The Mystery of Grace
November 25, 2014
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. Anne Lamott
November 17th: it is a chilly, clear afternoon, unusual for November in the Pacific Northwest. I am fortunate to be home in my studio after a weekend at work, and am piecing bits of paper into a portrait of dark Maine Coon cat. Many of my commissions are memorials, and today, I am glad to work with this beautiful cat who is still alive and well.
In my office, the laptop is tuned to the Tiny Kittens livestream, as foster mom Shelly speaks quietly to Dorothy, a soon-to-be mama cat beginning labor. From my studio next door, I cannot make out Shelly’s words, but her tone soothes me as well. Even at a distance, the experience feels intimate. This sweet cat makes her birthing nest in my soul.
In the living room, our beloved Siberia is resting in the sun. A year ago, Shelly gently coaxed him back to health from pneumonia. He was determined to survive, and with her help, he did. But now, with characteristic courage, he has embarked on his own journey to rejoin his brother. Feline Infectious Peritonitis, an incurable monster of a virus, claimed Jaguar Jake in April, and has now come for Sibs. Once again in this year of loss, our hearts are shattering.
Through tears, I do my best to focus on the paper cat in front of me, and I take frequent breaks, drifting back to the computer to see if Dorothy is any closer to having her kittens, and then to the couch to make sure Siberia is warm and comfortable. This last time, I notice that he has let his friend Sam sleep next to him. We adopted Sam in June, and he and Sibs bonded immediately. We were sure the two of them would have many happy, healthy years together. But fate has made other plans, and Sam is as confused and sad as we are.
On my way back to the studio, I remember something I wrote years ago while doing wildlife rehabilitation: Midwifery and hospice work are two aspects of the same work, both labors of love and life.
I am all the ages I’ve ever been. Ann Lamott
In the middle ground between birth and death, there is, with any luck, the chance to get older and wiser. In a few days, I turn sixty, an incomprehensible thought to me. As a teenager, I had a premonition of death at forty three. At forty four, that sped ahead to fifty eight. With a sigh of relief, I gave up my career as an oddsmaker last year.
Fortunately, I have never been afraid of aging. For sixteen years, I taught with Seniors Making Art, an organization started by Dale Chihuly to get working artists into retirement and care facilities. Always an inspiration to me, many of my students explored their creativity for the first time in their long lives, and they always celebrated when they mastered a new technique. Others already knew about expressing themselves artistically, and they generously shared their knowledge and enthusiasm. How could anyone fear age when surrounded by so much creative joy?
During that time, I did discover one important fact about aging. The elders who were most resilient and engaged with life were the ones who had always had a passion, who loved one thing or another with all their hearts, even if the rest of the world considered them to be eccentric. They were happy in their eccentricity, and many of them were still in service to others. Mythologist Michael Meade explains:
In old traditions those who acted as elders were considered to have one foot in daily life and the other foot in the otherworld. Elders acted as a bridge between the visible world and the unseen realms of spirit and soul . . . The old word for having a foot in each world is weird. The original sense of weird involved both fate and destiny. Becoming weird enough to be wise requires that a person learn to accommodate the strange way they are shaped within and aimed at the world.
Elders are supposed to be weird, not simply “weirdos,” but strange and unusual in meaningful ways. Elders are supposed to be more in touch with the otherworld, but not out of touch with the struggles in this world. Elders have one foot firmly in the ground of survival and another in the realm of great imagination. This double-minded stance serves to help the living community and even helps the species survive.
So here I am, about to celebrate a big birthday after some of the most wrenching months I can remember. This last year has broken my heart, and escorted me fully and irrevocably into the wyrd, the land of fate and destiny, where I may not have control, but I do have choices.
And I choose, without apology, to be an artist, a writer, and an apprentice to all of the cats I have loved and lost, the ones who are my mentors now, and the ones who will teach me even more about love in the future.
Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises. Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
In this fifty ninth year, the one I didn’t expect to experience, I have cried and laughed and loved more than ever. My partner and I found each other’s outstretched hands in the darkest moments as we lost members of our family, human and feline. We planted seeds in the spring, pulled weeds through the summer, harvested until the first frost, and prepared a space under tall trees memorialize our cats. I start a new decade knowing that I am loved and accepted. I could never ask for a better gift.
In this year, I fell in love with two amazing kittens. Jaguar Jake embodied devotion, and showed me that it is not just alright, but essential, to need someone to love without hesitation. He was with us for just two months, but his short life was full of joy and companionship. Read his story here.
In the spring, less than a month after Jaguar Jake died, we lost our intrepid Blackberry cat. She taught me about letting go of the past, about healing and trust. She was feral, seriously injured, and terrified the day we trapped her. For nearly a year, she hid from us and hissed when we got close, and then one day, she surprised herself, and us, by jumping onto my lap. Even as she succumbed to old injuries and age, she remained the most affectionate cat in our household. I will always miss waking up with her cuddled close and purring under the covers. I will forever be grateful for her willingness to take a chance with us. More of her story is here.
This autumn, Ani, the grand dame of our home, took her last breath at the venerable age of twenty two. As she aged, Ani lost her hearing, but never her sense of adventure. As her legs got stiff, she stopped chasing her tail and took up residence on the couch, where she welcomed our company with huge purrs emanating from her tiny body. My partner observed that as Ani’s world shrank, she expanded to fill new boundaries. Our little torbie had an expansive and cheerful spirit that will live forever in our hearts. Thank you, little one, for reminding me to take delight in life, even as my legs stiffen.
And then, at the end of this fifty ninth year, just a month before the beginning of a new decade, sweet Siberia was diagnosed with FIP. How would we ever be able to go through this again?
Years ago, a wise counselor shared her views about grief and aging. She told me that loss is cumulative, and that as we get older, the inevitable losses compound, one on top of the other. As we watched helplessly as Siberia began his process of dying, I felt the weight of all the other beings who have passed before him. With so much loss this year, that weight feels unbearable.
But, as my therapist also pointed out, we keep growing and never circle around to the exact same spot. Instead, our lives spiral outward and upward, and each time we come back to a familiar experience, we understand it from a slightly different perspective.
November 24: After a difficult weekend, Siberia has let us know his time is near. The vet is coming tomorrow morning. These hours are excruciating. We know this is the right thing to do, and at the same time, we do not want to let go. Home with him, aware of the clock, I have no choice but to surrender to grief, and to words.
Losing Siberia is the most painful experience of this fateful year. As I watched him on the Tinhykittens cam last year, he reminded me of another courageous gray cat, my beloved Possum who died a few years ago. I feel as if I am losing both of them twice. I know more than ever how losses compound, how they release grief from the dark places I try to forget.
But Sibs has not let me forget anything. We lost Jaguar so quickly we went through the process in a state of shock. But Siberia has stayed longer, and has not allowed us any emotional shortcuts around grief. Instead, we have been grateful for the gift of another day with him. He will live in the present as long as he can. He mourned for his brother, and then welcomed Sam into his life. He started to get sick, but he never stopped wanting to live. I will miss the intensity of his gaze, his presence to everything around him. He has been our watch-cat, keeping an eye on the birds in the backyard, and sounding the alarm when a neighbor cat challenges him outside the window. Even today, weak as he is, he remains alert, paying attention to Sam and Finn. I promised not to soak his fur in my tears, but as night falls, the last we will all spend together, I may not be able to honor that commitment.
In the last few weeks, I have worked from home as much as possible, just to be near Siberia. Most of the time, he has not want to be touched, so we have given him space, filling it with love and attentiveness. For a few hours last week, we were able to be closer. A client-turned- friend crocheted cozy blankets for Siberia and Sam, and the first night I spread one across my lap, Sibs climbed on, kneaded, and purred. I have created special quilts for countless cats, stitching each with intention. To have that gift reciprocated, and to feel Sibs receive it so fully, has touched me deeply.
Another new friend I met through this worldwide community of cat lovers made me a pair of earrings when Jaguar Jake died. She artfully wove beads together with black and silver strands to symbolize the connection between Jaguar and Siberia. I will wear them tomorrow as Sibs leaves us to join his brother. In those beautiful earrings is the embrace of everyone who watched the Jungle kittens grow, shared our joy on the day we adopted them, and our grief when we released them.
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. Anne Lamott
I used to dance a lot, but I did not get on the dance floor much in my fifties. I miss the feeling of freedom that comes through music and movement, and am eager to experience it again soon. But it will be different in my sixties. There is that limp, after all. There is also the gift of letting my heart break over and over, and in the process, finding my deepest passion renewed.
One night in September after Sibs started to get sick, I sat with him in the dark and made an offer to the universe. I whispered, “If you will make sure Siberia does not have FIP, I will start taking better care of myself. I want to grow old with him, and I want to do everything I can to help other cats.” This didn’t work out the way I envisioned, but I have kept my part of the bargain. Maybe the universe has as well, and I will indeed live a long and healthy life in service to the beings I love, guided by undying love for this little gray cat. Grace is indeed a mystery. Thank you, dearest Siberia, for helping me find parts of myself I thought I had lost. Loving you has changed my life.
Because You Were Born
May 4, 2014
For Jaguar Jake
You were born into a strange world.
Like a candle, you were meant to share the fire.
I don’t know where we come from, and I don’t know where we go.
But my arms were made to hold you, so I will never let you go.
This and subsequent verses from “You Were Born” by Craig Minewa, Cloud Cult
I want to tell you about Jaguar Jake. And about love. I do not want to talk about loss, but that is part of this story. Mostly, though, it is about love.
In the last few years, I have written enough about kittens to have developed some immunity to their charms. Along with so many fans of sundry kitten cameras, I’ve fallen in love over and over again, flirted madly with idea of adoption, and have in the end been grateful for a sensible partner who was correct when she told me the time was not right.
In late 2013, we were both convinced that the time was indeed right, and that the pair of kittens who captured our attention and hearts would do just fine together in our household. This was not a decision made lightly. There were many discussions, as there should be. We had to think not only of them, but of our other feline residents, all older rescues with special needs of one kind or another. When it came time to submit our application, we were ready.
Jaguar Jake and his brother Siberia were born in a wooded area near an office park close to Vancouver, B.C. in early September 2013. They were rescued by a kind gentleman who found them and 8 other tiny, sickly kittens, and took them to the Langley Animal Protection Society. They came from an extended litter, with at least 2 mothers and an unknown number of fathers, all feral. It was touch and go for quite a while as these tiny survivors faced every imaginable challenge, from malnutrition and parasites to respiratory infections and a rare form of ringworm.
The only reason they made it was the care they got from LAPS, and two women in particular. Their foster mother Shelly Roche took care of them day and night, and shared the process with hundreds of Livestream viewers who watched her medicate and bathe, cuddle and comfort on camera. Shelly named each kitten after a wild cat, no doubt intending to imbue them with the courage and vitality of their namesakes. Of course, she and a cadre of faithful volunteers came up with a full litany of nicknames. Bobcat became Bobbles; Lynx, with his wily ways, is still the Lynxstigator; our Siberia is certainly the only gray tiger known as Sibby Sibs while his fierce brother Jaguar took on the moniker of Jaggy Jags, and later in our household revealed himself to be the perfect Jake.
While we all marveled at Shelly’s devotion and determination – and did I say love? – we were awed by a veterinarian who went way beyond the call of duty to help these kittens survive otherwise unbeatable odds. Dr. Renee Ferguson was on hand whenever her considerable skills were needed, and we will always be grateful to her for saving Siberia at her own home on a frightening dark night when he could have succumbed to pneumonia. I did say love, right? Dr. F did not want to neuter Sibs until his lungs were completely clear, even if that meant that he couldn’t be adopted until he was nearly 5 months old. We waited patiently, and were delighted to see pictures of the good doctor’s happy dance in early January when Sibs was finally declared snip-able. At that moment, we started to plan the drive north to pick up our boys.
And now the true love story. 8 of the Jungle kittens are tabbies, as exotically marked as their namesakes. Jaguar and Siberia were the only “solids” in the lot, with subtle stripes and spots showing through their respective dark brown and gray coats. In this group of uncertain parentage, these guys were obviously brothers. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because of Siberia’s serious illness, they were also the most bonded in the group. Shelly insisted they be adopted together, and did her very best not to separate them for even short periods. The day Sibs was neutered, Jaguar went along to be with him. The day we brought them across the border, they nearly fused in a corner of the carrier. In a rare moment when they explored their new home separately, Siberia ended up behind a closed door, and Jake came to tell us immediately.
Love your mother, yeah she’s a good one.
She’ll build you armor; keep you warm as a hen.
The stars may fall and the rains may pour,
But I will love you evermore.
BecauseYou were born to make this right.
You were born to chase the light.
In the weeks before our trip to Canada, we transformed my sewing room into a kitten kingdom. We furnished perches with beds, installed a tall climbing tree, and stocked up on every toy that looked interesting. The kittens spent the first week in there, and during our frequent visits, we started to get to know them. Despite their closeness, they were two very different characters. Jaguar Jake interacted with us most and cuddled when we held him, while Siberia was much more interested in exploring beyond the door. He was the first to escape, and walked right up to our Finn cat, tail in the air, completely self-confident. When Jake met Finn, he looked surprised, and let out the fiercest little hiss. We all laughed, and even Finn seemed amused in his own way.
Jake’s greatest delight was in stealing feather toys and running off with them. We cached some toys-in-waiting on the bottom shelf of the linen closet, and one day when we left the door ajar, the kittens discovered them. Jake grabbed a da-bird feather replacement, still on its card, and trotted proudly down the hallway. For the next several hours, he hid his prize under different pieces of furniture, always keeping tabs on it, and growling quietly if we approached. His fierceness made us laugh, because underneath the bravado was the dearest little guy, a complete goofball with a sense of humor who was very happy to be with his brother, and with us.
To make sure the kittens could eat their fill without pressure from the adult cats, we fed them in their room. It was quite a parade down the hallway from the kitchen, with Jake in the lead, peeping all the way, and Siberia halting progress by stopping in front of us to yell that we weren’t moving fast enough. Sibs started developing an adult cat voice quickly, and he uses it often enough to earn the title of Town Crier. His brother, in the meantime, stayed very much a sweet kitten, with the softest fur and the gentlest disposition we have ever had the privilege of experiencing.
With a little distance, we can now point to moments when we knew something was off with Jaguar. From the beginning, we noted that he was smaller than his brother. He ate well, and we assumed he would start catching up soon. Instead, he fell further behind, and seemed increasingly less energetic. Imminent growth spurt, we’d say. But that never happened, and as we observed changes in the shape of his stomach, my own tied itself in knots. On our first visit to the veterinarian, I finally blurted out the question that was waking me up at night: could he possibly have Feline Infectious Peritonitis? I was assured that he looked too healthy and didn’t have any overt symptoms. Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that we would soon be hearing the words every cat lover dreads.
FIP is a cruel disease, impossible to detect without symptoms, and difficult to diagnose even as it becomes more obvious. At this point, there is no cure, and not even an effective treatment, especially for the wet form. It can affect one kitten in a litter, or it can kill all of them. And it moves fast. When we finally had enough test results to confirm the virus, Jake’s stomach was large enough to impair his mobility, and he was very tired. We were told that he was not in pain at that point, and we opted to try a round of steroids to help make him more comfortable.
Even through brief moments of denial, we knew what was coming, and were determined to do what was best for Jaguar Jake. And that included reminding him of how much he was loved. The day I took him in for the first test, he was separated from his brother. As I later wrote to Shelly, “I talked to J the whole way, telling him his story again, and reassuring him of how much he is loved by us, and by you. I reminded him of everything he has already overcome, and what a big, strong heart he has. On the way home, acknowledging through tears that things didn’t look good, I thanked him for being such a brave boy.”
And brave he was, until one night shortly after the last test when everything changed quickly. The signs we had been warned to watch for manifested at once. He stopped eating and was started to experience respiratory problems. Most telling to us was that he seemed frightened, and would no longer let us, or his brother, close to comfort him. We tried to reach two veterinarians who do euthanasia at home, but neither was available the next day. By morning, it was clear he was in pain, and we did not want to wait. Our regular vet saw us at the start of her shift.
Remember I want to tell a story of love, and that is what this is. Having adopted “famous” kittens, we were in a unique situation. From the beginning, we knew that the Jungle Kittens had touched the hearts of thousands of people from all over the world. After another one of those crucial pre-adoption discussions, we agreed to start a Facebook page so that fans could keep up with the last 2 Jungles to be adopted. It was a joy to post updates with pictures of Jaguar and Siberia unpacking their tiny suitcases, as Shelly would say. They settled in quickly and happily, and were so used to having their pictures taken that the new paparazzi in their lives were not unduly annoying.
The day we got Jaguar Jake’s diagnosis, we asked Shelly to notify the other Jungle adopters before we told their extended family online. Writing that post was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Every keystroke felt like an electrical shock jolting my otherwise numb body. How could this possibly be happening?
Within minutes, we started to receive messages from hundreds of heartbroken people, all expressing collective disbelief, and offering support. In his remaining days, Jake was in everyone’s hearts and thoughts. And on the terrible morning of April 11th, as we held our sweet, gentle boy for the last time, we in turn were held by friends we know well, and people we have never met, but who loved this kitten as if he were their own.
Oh my precious, oh my love, when they come to take me,
I will hold you from above.
I don’t know why we’re here, and I don’t know how,
But I’m here with you now, I am here with you now.
Because you were born to make this right.
Because you were born to change this life.
Because you were born to chase the light.
Because you were born.
That love has always included Siberia, and when people write about him now, they ask about his health, and how he is adjusting to life without his brother. FIP is unpredictable and casts a long shadow. All we know is that at the moment, Sibs is strong, healthy, and growing. It is likely that our older cats were exposed when they were younger and developed resistance. Only time will tell. Living with this uncertainty is a lesson in staying as present as possible. Getting too far ahead of ourselves and drifting to worst case scenarios does nothing for any of us, but it is a difficult trap to avoid. We are learning that staying open is a moment-to-moment decision.
As to how Siberia is adjusting, we can say that he has a resilient spirit. During the last weeks of his life, Jaguar Jake did not have the energy or strength to play. His brother began adapting then, seeking other outlets for bursts of kitten enthusiasm, and returning to Jake to cuddle and nap. The first 24 hours without Jake were wrenching as Siberia searched every corner of the house. We rearranged our work schedules during the next week so one of us would be home with him, and we have continued to provide him with plenty of opportunities to play. He now has a full array of interactive toys, and he makes his changing preferences very clear.
While he had his brother, Siberia did not need us as much as he does now. Day by day, he is getting closer to us. We got him a “bucky” to cuddle with at night, but he no longer is interested. We often wake up with him sleeping close, and he happily greets us when we return to the house. And day by day, we fall more in love with him. Sometimes, I am seized with fear of losing him too, or of never being certain enough about his FIP status to be able to adopt another young friend for him. But I am getting better about calling myself back from the brink with a reminder to love him more each moment. That is all any of us really has in life.
Over the years, I have made many quilts for cats, my own, and others. I generally can tune into the cat, and quickly intuit the right colors and design. Before we traveled to Canada to adopt Jaguar and Siberia, I started three different quilts for them. I just couldn’t settle on one – nothing felt quite right. As adoption time approached, I chose a very simple pattern to make from warm flannels. The boys loved it, but now, I am called back to finish one especially for Siberia. It is a star quilt, made from fabrics in dark brown, gray, and purple, and bordered with a band of interlocking pieces. Both Jaguar and Siberia have been stars in their own right. Now Jaguar shines brightly in another constellation, and he will as long as we all remember him, and know that his is a story about love.