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Posts from the ‘Quilts’ Category

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.

Jungle Kittens , picture by Shelly Roche

Jungle Kittens
Picture by Shelly Roche

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.

Brotherly love, with gratitude to Shelly Roche

Brotherly love, with gratitude to Shelly Roche

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.

Boy and the Bubble

Jaguar Jake hunting bubbles

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.

Sibs and baby 2As 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.

Afternoon delight

Jaguar Jake and Siberia on their quilt












It Takes a Village

January 1, 2014


There can be no vulnerability without risk. There can be no community without vulnerability. There can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.  M. Scott Peck

Because this first blog post of 2014 has a happy ending, we might as well begin it with “Once upon a time.”  So, here goes.

Once upon a time, in a land not far south of Seattle, there was a handsome young cat named Gabriel.  Actually, no one knew his given name at the time he was first seen feeding with a group of feral cats behind an office building.  No one knew how he had suddenly come to be there, but the kind women who fed him did know that he was not feral, and that something was wrong with his back legs.  Terribly wrong, in fact, because Gabriel could barely move without pulling himself with his front legs.

Gabe under quilt

Gabriel snuggled under his quilt, Constance Perenyi, 2013

As it happened, the women who fed Gabriel knew an animal- loving man in the office building who agreed to take the injured tabby to his animal-loving daughter.  Enter Gabriel’s fairy godmother, a woman who has spent much of her life rescuing and caring for cats.  She took one look at this beautiful brown tabby and bestowed on him a name with dignity, hope, and wings.  Gabriel would need all three for the adventure he was about to begin.

Initial x-rays revealed bad breaks and dislocation in Gabriel’s both legs.  The veterinarian believed surgery could work, but the cost was well beyond the means of his rescuers.  His godmother refused to resign herself to the worst.  She had fallen in love with this fellow, seen the spark in his eyes, and knew there was a way to help him if she told his story.  Word spread, and within a few days, Purrfect Pals agreed to take Gabriel and provide the care he needed.

By the time Gabriel arrived at the shelter in Arlington, he had many concerned followers.  A fund was set up in his name, and donations from all over the world helped pay for his surgery.  After a long and involved procedure, the orthopedic surgeon noted he had never seen anything quite like Gabriel’s injuries.  Whatever happened had caused this young cat unthinkable pain.  His will to survive was essential to his recovery.

Back at Purrfect Pals, Gabriel amazed his caregivers.  He healed quickly, used his back legs eagerly, and was soon ready for a forever home.  His adopters, a physical therapist and a nurse, had been following his story, knowing they had the unique skills to help him fully recover.  Gabriel now has a loving family, and an opportunity to make up for a lost kittenhood.  His humans believe he is actually younger than first estimated, and his cat and dog siblings often wish he were less rambunctious.  Gabriel tears around the house with boundless energy, stopping for an occasional cuddle before he dashes up the stairs to oversee his kingdom.

Detail of Gabriel's Quilt

Detail of Gabriel’s Quilt

With the help of many caring people, this story unfolded quickly.  Gabriel was found at the end of June 2013, and was in his new home a month later.  I got to assist with his transport to Purrfect Pals, and his godmother and I watched with wonder as he intrepidly explored the shelter office despite his impaired mobility.  I knew he had to be part of the 13 Cats Project, and started to design a quilt of bright, energetic colors for him to rest on during his recovery.  But before I could even start stitching, Gabriel was well on his way.  His “healing” quilt is now a place for him to rest between his many adventures.

Gabriel got a second chance because so many people were willing to take risks on his behalf.  A fairytale ending was never guaranteed, but then, it never is.  It truly takes a village of fairy godmothers, skilled veterinarians, willing adopters, and a shelter where every cat matters.

As the New Year beckons with promise, we all have a chance to make a difference.  Please welcome 2014 with a donation to an animal shelter in your area. I plan to share part of my first paycheck of the year with Purrfect Pals, in honor of Gabriel, and all of the cats who can look forward to their happily-ever-after beginnings in the months ahead.

Portrait of Gabriel, Paper Collage, Constance Perenyi, 2013

Portrait of Gabriel, Paper Collage, Constance Perenyi, 2013

A Tale of Two Mothers

May 10, 2013


One cat just leads to another.  ~Ernest Hemingway

Yes, it is ironic to start a Mother’s Day blog with a quote from Ernest Hemingway.  I am sure many people referred to Papa as a “mother” during his life, and he most likely deserved it.  He was a troubled, tough guy, with a big soft spot in his heart for cats.  A friend recently returned from the Florida Keys with stories about Hemingway’s house, now a museum, and home to over 40 cats, descendants of Snowball, the polydactyl kitten given to the author by a sea captain over 80 years ago.  Without me even having to ask the question, my friend explained that there was a spay/neuter program in place.  Females have one litter, are then spayed, and the original line continues.

Since that conversation, I’ve thought about how many cats a single, unspayed female produces.  A look online yielded some wild numbers, up to 400,000 if all her offpring are also reproductive.   Snopes  debunked that total, citing a feral cat colony study done by the University of Washington’s Math Department:
Cat reproduction graphic“Here are the assumptions used for the population projection: One female cat gives birth to six kittens per year. Kitten gender is 50 percent female, and only 25 percent of kittens survive to reproductive age. All surviving female kittens become adults and reproduce with the same birth and kitten mortality rates. If no adult cats ever die, how many cats/kittens would there be at the end of seven years? One female cat and her offspring could produce between 100 and 400 cats by the end of seven years.”  

Given that cats can have multiple litters in a year, the estimate seems low, but still a nightmarish statistic for those contending with overpopulation.  Cats can become pregnant at a mere 6 months, when they are still kittens themselves, which is why progressive shelters spay and neuter as early as 2 months of age.  If they are not already strays, many pregnant cats are turned out of their homes because people don’t want to deal with kittens.  Not that long ago, humans did the same thing to our own.  Every town has old buildings that were euphemistically called” homes for unwed mothers,” and in some places in the world, pregnant women still deliver their children in exile from their communities.

If a feline mother is lucky, she is taken in by concerned people who either foster or find a rescue organization to care for the cat and her kittens until they can be adopted.  In my last post, I wrote about the opportunity that Purrfect Pals and Foster Dad John Bartlett have given us through the Kitten Cam.  In the comfort of our own homes, we can watch a mother cat and her kittens, knowing that their stories will end happily when they all find their forever homes.

And now, the stories of 2 cats I want to honor this Mother’s Day.  The first is rather famous.  Named for the Sigourney Weaver character in Alien, Ripley is a slim and elegant cat.  Found as a stray and taken to a shelter, she ended up at Purrfect Pals, where she gave birth to 5 kittens.

Ripley in paper

Ripley’s portrait in paper collage

In John’s words, “Ripley doted on her kittens constantly when they were newborns, always providing them with a warm belly to feel safe with and to nurse. Her fans remember her fondly for her trademarked wide-eyed look every time she heard any kind of noise that couldn’t be 100% identified.”  Ripley won the hearts of thousands of Kitten Cam viewers, and we held our collective breath on adoption day as her kittens left one by one, and Ripley patiently waited.

The wait was worth it.  In the afternoon, John posted a message to tell us someone was on the way to save the day, and later, he shared a picture captioned “Ripley with her gentleman.”  As it turns out, Ripley has a whole family, with 2 loving people, and 2 other cats who have accepted her into the fold.

Ripley shares her quilt with cat sister Lilly

Ripley shares her quilt with cat sister Lilly

And onto the quilt I made her.  Ripley will represent the Kitten Cam mamas in the 13 Cats Project, and indeed, her story is a fairytale, from the lonely streets to a loving home.

Another mother who will be featured in the project still awaits her forever home.  Glorianne is a Himalayan, recently rescued from a breeding facility where she had been regularly bred for a decade.  That means Glori had at least 10 kittens a year, probably close to one hundred before she was finally spayed by Purrfect Pals.   She was surrendered along with 2 breeding males, Gordon and Gunther, who are about her age.  All of them spent their lives in individual cages, handled only when they were bred, but otherwise lacking any interaction with people or other cats.  Without  proper socialization, and in poor condition when they arrived at the shelter, their adoption prospects looked bleak.

Glori and Gunther

Glori and Gunther on their quilts

Enter Purrfect Pals, and their relentless belief in every cat in their care.  Glori, Gordon, and Gunther spent the next few months pampered by foster mother extraordinaire Connie Gabelein, Executive Director at Purrfect Pals. Connie  lured the three Gs out of hiding with countless cans of smelly food.  She slowly gained their trust, and they became more confident.   Last weekend, they were introduced to the world at the Average Joe Cat Show, and are now available for adoption at the Issaquah Petco.  All three have their quilts already, each stitched from William Morris reproduction fabrics in different color schemes.  I figured that if ever a group of cats deserved dignified quilts, it was the Gs.  As soon as they find their forever people, I will do their portraits, and finish writing their stories.

So, back to the Hemingway quote.  I admit to using it a bit out of context.  Papa didn’t intentionally refer to cat reproduction, although he was surrounded by unspayed females, one generation leading right into the next.  My interpretation of his words is this: when cat lovers invite one feline into our hearts and homes, there is inevitably room for more.  Ripley’s family found that open space.  It is my fervent hope that Glorianne, Gordon, and Gunther find their people soon.  Even more than that, I hope that everyone will realize the importance of adopting from rescue groups and shelters, and that in time, no other cats will be bred for profit.  On this Mother’s Day, let’s make a special place for all the mama cats like Glori who richly deserve a loving home.

Glori, ready for her forever home

Glori, ready for her forever home

How I learned to stop worrying and love kittens

April 19, 2013


That’s right . . . I haven’t always loved kittens.  In fact, my time working at an animal shelter taught me to dread them.  Kitten seasons, especially the ones that started early and ended late, were bad news for us, and even worse news for the adult cats surrendered to the shelter.  Older cats, sometimes even those barely out of adolescence, just couldn’t compete.  Adopters were drawn to the cute little ones while the others, as we euphemistically said, ran out of time.

In doing humane education, I heard people ask why they couldn’t let their cat have just one litter before she was spayed.  Parents really wanted their children to experience the miracle of birth, and the fun of watching kittens grow up.  On particularly difficult days during peak kitten season, I had to stop myself from saying, “Why don’t you meet me at the shelter this evening so we can share the miracle of death.”  Instead, I explained the problems of overpopulation in the most helpful words I could find.  And I encouraged parents to turn on the Nature Channel more often.

As happens in that line of work, I relied on some interesting coping skills.  One of them was shutting kittens out altogether.  I knew they would be adopted, and that they would get plenty of attention from others at the shelter.  So, I focused on the adults, doubling my efforts to get their stories into the world.  Twice a month, I took older cats to a local TV station for a Saturday morning pet feature.  I touted the benefits of adopting “experienced” cats, ones who would not required kitten-proofing a house.  Usually, there was someone waiting to meet the new star when I returned to the shelter, but not always.  Kitten season was hell.

When a friend sent me the link to the Kitten Cam last year, I initially resisted.  And yes, I judged.  Purrfect Pals volunteer John Bartlett has fostered 37 litters of kittens, the last several of them on camera.  At the time I tuned in, the Scientist Kittens were in residence, still tiny things with their thin, patient mother, almost a kitten herself.  I watched for a few minutes, felt my blood pressure elevate, and walked away from the computer.  John seemed like a nice, sensible man, and I knew Purrfect Pals to be a solid organization, fully committed to helping cats in all circumstances.  Why then, I wondered, had they colluded to promote kittens?  How in the world could I condone this blatant irresponsibility by watching even casually?

I had a lot of thawing to do, and the last several months have brought a big and welcome melt.  I started watching the kittens in the evening after work, and before long I left the livestream running on my computer while I worked.  I got hooked, and, oh my gods, realized how much fun it is to watch kittens open their eyes, learn to walk, and tussle with each other right up to adoption day.   With my early warning system completely disabled, I suddenly understood why parents would want their kids to watch this.

And the best thing is, they can.  John and Purrfect Pals are brilliant.  People of all ages can get involved – and involvement is what happens – and it is even better than having to clean up after a litter in your own home.  Plus, it is obvious how many resources go into raising kittens.  Watch John, admittedly a model foster parent, and you’ll see how much time, energy, and money it takes to do this right.  People inclined to let their cat have that one batch of kittens should witness the entire process on the Kitten Cam.

So, learning to love kittens is changing my life.  For the first time in years, I feel energized about rescue work, and understand it can be a very different experience than what I knew in the past.  In addition to the connections many of us have made through the Kitten Cam, we regularly celebrate the creativity of people who have fallen under its spell.  These cats inspire their fans to be creative.  From making wonderful videos and needle-felting tiny kittens,  drawing pencil portraits and setting up a Café Press shop, people engage with their hearts and hands.  This is the future of rescue work.  It is truly an act of love.  And yes, it is fun!

Science Family Portrait

Science Family Portrait

Watching the Scientist family last year, I remembered how much I wanted to create a book about rescued cats.  I couldn’t even begin to do it until I let myself fall in love with kittens.  It was appropriate that my first reconnection was a paper collage portrait of Ellie Marie and her family.  I am happy to say that I am moving forward with the book project, and have just finished a portrait of sweet Penny (earlier known as Newt), one of Ripley’s kittens.  She is the first of 13 Purrfect Pals cats who will receive a quilt and have her story told in collage and words.

Here’s to kitten power.  Oh yes, keep spreading the word: don’t wait to have your cat spayed!