Forgive my recent absence, friends. I have just returned from a rather epic adventure, and while I had assumed I would be having all these amazing experiences and feel dazzlingly creative and spend a whole bunch of time writing while I was away, I found the opposite to be true. I spent most of the time just trying to absorb the experiences I was having, let alone to feel creatively inspired by them. I was happy just to be up and awake and energized enough to walk another ten miles that day. Each day I fell into bed utterly exhausted and each morning it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed and do it all again. Forget about morning pages or mind maps or blog posts or even journaling about what happened each day. Just having the wherewithal to keep going felt like a triumph.
Don’t get me wrong; I had a fabulous time. I am epically grateful. Hubs and I spend three weeks roaming around Western and Eastern Europe. I celebrated my 40th birthday. We went to a friend’s wedding in Bulgaria. We made new friends in Turkey and Greece and chatted with fellow travelers in Rome. We saw ruins, we browsed museums, we ate plate after plate after plate of new and delicious food. We drank ourselves silly on raki and rakia and wine. We dipped our toes in the Black Sea and rode busses and trains and boats and planes and cars. We made the most of our precious time away from our daily routines in Los Angeles.
It was exhausting.
I have discovered, as a creative person, that it is not merely the experience itself that fuels my creative life. It is the time and space to absorb the lessons of the experience, to process my thoughts and feelings about it, to figure out the take-aways and to discover the absurdities and the funny moments. To see how it has changed me, for the better and for the worse.
I did learn that I need to lose about 20 pounds because the extra weight makes my feet swell in a very uncomfortable way.
I did learn I still don’t much care for lamb or mushrooms or anything anise-flavored.
I did learn that I have a great affinity for the cats of the world (okay, I knew that one already, it was just reinforced).
Beyond those easy things, there is much more to uncover, and I will share those thoughts and experiences in the coming days. I know that getting outside my comfort zone, no matter how exhausting it is, is one of the most important elements of personal growth. But I think it’s going to take a little time in my comfort zone to unearth that wisdom.
Until then, here are some cat pictures from my travels.
Something unexpected happened on this morning one year ago today.
I was outside working in my garden when I spotted a woman walking down middle of my street pushing a shopping cart that had a cage perched in its basket. I could see that inside the cage were two cats, one black and one grey. In fact, they were two of the three very friendly cats that had been visiting my yard in the evenings over the past few weeks.
It seemed a bit strange, what she was doing, but I thought maybe they belonged to her. She got halfway down the street, when she stopped to talk to a neighbor – leaving the cart and the cats unattended in the middle of the street. My initial instinct was to let her go on her merry way. They weren’t my cats, and I didn’t know this woman. I figured I’d watch her walk around the corner and never see them again.
But instead of going forward, she turned around and came back towards my house. I could see she was looking for something, occasionally stopping to crouch or peer into yards. I suspected she was looking for the third kitty of the trio. I felt like because she had turned around I was given another chance to speak up and say something to her about this odd situation. I’m not usually bold or confrontational, and I could feel my heart rate elevate and my palms start sweating.
Once she got to the street in front of my house, I called out to her. She pushed the cart over to my sidewalk. I could see she was mentally disabled in some way.
I asked her if the cats were hers. She said no. I asked what she was doing with the cats, why she had them in a cage. She said she didn’t know.
Well, that’s odd, I thought.
I pressed on with my line of questioning. “Do you live around here? Are you taking them to your house?”
“Yes,” she replied, “but I’m not allowed to have cats and I don’t have the money to feed them.”
“Then why are you taking them?
“I don’t know,” she smiled and laughed, “I just really like them.”
Oh boy. I imagined her taking them back to her house, keeping them in the cage and not feeding them, and then them dying of starvation, eventually.
“I know you want to do the right thing, and I appreciate that,” I said to her, trying to figure out the best way to save these poor cats from this terrible fate. “I think they are doing okay on their own outside. Why don’t you let them out into my yard?” I asked, tentatively, and probably in a too-enthusiastic voice.
“Well….” I could see her thinking about it.
“I bet they’ll still come and visit you every day. They visit me, too. They are very friendly kitties. But I think the best thing to do is to let them out to be free.”
At this point, my well-meaning husband comes outside and sees that I’m trying to convince this woman to let the cats out of the cage, the same cats he and I were trying to figure out how we were going to get them into a cage to take them in for spaying/neutering so we wouldn’t have even more feral cats in our neighborhood.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, motioning to the cats. “She’s got them.”
I turned to face him and in the gruffest voice I could possibly muster without sounding too threatening to the woman’s ears I said, “Turn around and walk away.”
“But…” he tried to go on.
“TURN AROUND AND WALK AWAY,” I said again through gritted teeth.
This is unusual behavior for me, so he stopped talking, gave me a funny look, and turned around and walked back into the house.
As I turned back to the woman, she was getting the cage out of the cart and setting it on the sidewalk. She then opened the door. She was letting them go!
“I think you’re doing the right thing,” I said to her. “And don’t worry, I know the kitties understand you want to help them, and I’m sure they’ll come visit you again.”
The black cat and the grey cat snaked their way between my picket fence posts and dashed under the cover of my artichoke plants. The woman picked up her cage, inserted it back into the shopping cart and disappeared around the corner. I’ve not seen her since.
After getting all three spayed/neutered, chipped and vaccinated, I worked to find them homes. They were just too friendly and sweet to damn them to a life on the street in Los Angeles.
But the little black one, my secret favorite, had other plans. Always the friendliest and most outgoing, he would hide when anyone came over to meet him.
I’m pretty sure now it was his way of saying that he was staying. He’s still here. And he is never going anywhere, because that damn cat has us in the palm of his, well, paw.
So I consider today Murray’s coming home day. It’s the day that began the chain events that resulted in him becoming part of our family. There are days when I love this cat so much it hurts. He is goofy and affectionate and I’ve never seen him hiss once, not even at our other cat who is much less happy about his presence than we are.
I think he is an incarnation of Bobby McFerrin, telling us every day, “Don’t worry, be happy!”
Okay, little nugget, I’ll work on it. Until then, feel free to nap on my bed, sit in my lap, capture all the bugs in the house and purr, purr, purr your mighty purr.
I created this slideshow using SlideShare. If you aren’t familiar with them, check it out. This particular presentation was made with Haiku Deck. You can just plug-and-chug and it makes it super simple and fun.
Did you even know there was such a thing? I didn’t, until this year when I suddenly became involved with the plight of the feral cat. I didn’t ask for three strays to show up on my front porch one day last March, but once they were there, my little ol’ heart couldn’t turn them away. These three cuties were still young and were much friendlier than a typical stray cat, but they were clearly the product of an unchecked neighborhood cat community that would continue to multiply unless someone stepped in to do something. That someone turned out to be me.
Thus began my trip down the rabbit hole. I wanted to get these three little squirts, whom I named The Lull Street Stray Cats, spayed and neutered so that they wouldn’t multiply. My original intent was to release them back into the neighborhood. I did quite a bit of research and discovered that Trap/Neuter/Return programs, or TNR, have proven to be the most successful in managing feral cat populations. The most recent statistics provided by theAmerican Humane Association show that in the United States, over 70% of cats turned into shelters are euthanized. Instead of turning these cats into animal control where they would most likely die, I found an organization called FixNation here in Los Angeles that provides free spay/neuter/vaccinations to homeless strays and feral cats in the region, as part of their TNR program. What they’re doing for homeless cats in Los Angeles is truly amazing. They have sterilized over 100,000 cats and are on the front lines of helping to reduce and control the homeless cat population in the area, and educating the public on how to treat these cat colonies humanely.
I ain’t gonna lie to you, suddenly finding myself responsible for these three little lives was a little overwhelming. It’s not as simple as putting the cats in a box and whisking them off for their appointments. You have to take a class on how to trap them correctly, there’s paperwork to fill out, there are decisions to be made and it is time-consuming. On top of that, I soon began to think that The Lull Street Stray Cats were just too friendly to condemn to a life on the streets. I realized that they were so well-socialized they deserved to have homes. Luckily, FixNation also provides low-cost spay/neuter/vaccinations as well as free microchips for those cats who will ultimately find homes. Considering the average cost of fixing one cat can range between $60-$200, I was grateful that I found a place that caters to bleeding hearts like mine and offers services that cost well below what a private vet would charge. In addition, I discovered that the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services offers free $30 vouchers to help with the cost of sterilizing a pet. They are given out first-come, first-served at several local shelters, and there are no income restrictions to qualify.
Even with all these financial incentives, it was still going to be a bit daunting to pay for all this, so I decided to run a crowd-funding campaign on IndieGoGo. I am lucky to have wonderful friends with generous hearts, and through donations was able to pay for all the services the kitties needed.
The Lull Street Stray Cats had their visit to FixNation and took up residence in my house for about a month until I could find them all homes (that’s a story for another day). I’m happy to say that one of the little furry nuggets wiggled his way into our hearts and has found his forever home with us. His name is Murray, and quite frankly we couldn’t imagine life without him now.
There are still feral cats in my neighborhood that need to be spayed and neutered, and I am committing myself to the task of taking them to FixNation and releasing them back into the neighborhood. It seems the best way to keep the neighborhood cat population low and to give these cats a fighting chance at a decent life.
I hope you’ll consider being an ally for stray cats in your neighborhood. If you’d like more information about how to care for feral cats in your neck of the woods, please visit Alley Cat Allies.
(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 5/5/12)
You see, my little stinker, Mars, passed away almost exactly one year ago. He was both cute and a terror. He was my first cat. He was with me for 14 years. He taught me alotabout cats. He saw me through grad school, a divorce, a move to Jersey City, several boyfriends, a move to Los Angeles , and basically was there while I turned into a human adult. He rolled with the punches. He was really good at just being a cat.
Mars got really sick at the end, and the last few months with him were wonderful…bittersweet, but wonderful. He had to be put to sleep on the closing night of a show I was in – The Vagina Monologues. It was a pretty terrible day saying goodbye to this cat, this creature that had become my friend and seen me through a multitude of major life changes, and leave all of that behind to go onstage. But, the show must go on. And go on it does.
Fast forward one year.
I’m in The Vagina Monologues again. I’m experiencing major deja-vu. And I’m feeling this extraordinary need to have something in my life to love. Frankly, 2012 has not been such a great year so far and I need a little sunshine. I’m thinking it’s about time to have a cat in my life again. Adam – who can best be described as “cat tolerant” – has finally acquiesced on the notion of getting a new feline friend. So I immediately go on the hunt. “This time”, I think, “this time I will do it right”. I will take my time. I’ll define what I’m looking for. I’ll find the cat that will fit best into my family life. And, most of all, I’ll trust my gut. I go to many adoption days. I meet lots of cats. I pet them. I hold them. I talk to them. I look online. I read about different breeds. There are so many lovely cats – but none that call out to me. I start to worry that I’m making a big mistake, I’m moving too fast, I’m jumping into something that I don’t really have time for, have room for in my life. I’m starting to obsess that I’m obsessing about cats! I don’t want to be the cat lady! I’m going to be 37 in a month, it’s a quick and slippery slope…
I wait until The Vagina Monologues closes. I decide to go to the Super Pet Adoption event at the La Brea Tar Pits. I know I want a rescue cat. And I figure, this event will decide for me. There will be so many cats there, if I don’t find the right one there then I won’t find it anywhere. I go by myself, on the last day, during the last hour of the event. I walk into the cat adoption tent. People are everywhere, there are stacks and stacks of cages with dozens of cats from dozens of shelters and rescue groups and it is overwhelming. My nose starts to run uncontrollably. I start to worry I’ve developed an allergy and it would be wrong to bring a cat home. I walk up to the first row of cages and am immediately met by a very helpful albeit aggressive woman who wants to know exactly what I’m looking for in a cat and which cats in her group will be a fit for me. She volunteers at the Downey shelter. I meet several really great, sweet cats. I learn that all the cats from Downey are scheduled to be euthanized the next day. I didn’t know I was going to get the hard sell here, that my heart would be tugged at with such force. But I go with my original plan – I’m going to look at all the cats, and see if there is one that seems like the right one to bring home. I walk around some more. Some cats are from shelters, some are from rescues and live with a foster family. All the cats need a new home, some more desperately than others. So many cats!
I walk by a row of cats from the Castaic shelter. And I’m stopped in my tracks by this face:
I’m struck by how much this cat reminds me of Mars. This cat has all the things I loved about the way he looked – black and white, long hair, pretty face – and a black nose to boot! So I walk over to get a closer look. This is Bubbles (ugh, awful name) and a girl kitty (was really hoping for a boy). But I just stand there for a few moments and look at her. A very nice volunteer named Bridget comes over to give me the low-down on Bubbles and answer my questions: a climber? don’t know, talkative? not really, good with other cats/dogs? not sure. Bubbles has been in the shelter for a month as an owner surrender, and as they could remember it was because the owner had passed away. She had come in with another cat who was adopted right away. Bubbles was not particularly responsive to me, but something kept me standing there. I pet her, and she didn’t bite or hiss. I brushed her with the same result, didn’t seem to bother her. Taking her to the meet & greet was out of the question as she did not do well in a carrier on the car ride there. So no holding her. Bubbles kind of gave me the cold shoulder. Bridget said she thought Bubbles was depressed. She said “Bubbles, perk up! You’re blowing it!”. But by that time I had made up my mind. This was my cat. I couldn’t explain it rationally, but my gut said this was my cat. I was nervous, scared I was making a terrible, rash decision, but before my head knew what had happened my mouth had said “I’ll take her”. Some paperwork was filled out, some cash exchanged, and I was on my way with a box that had a cat inside.
Holy crap, I have a cat!
The car ride home was an unhappy one for the now-unnamed cat (Bubbles had to go) and poop was involved (hers, not mine). But we made it home, and I brought the cat into the bathroom to slowly introduce her to the house. That lasted about 2.5 seconds. She wanted out, so I let her. She walked around the whole house, checking it all out. She didn’t hide. She even played with the feather toys that Mars had always loved. Adam came home, and met the new addition. She didn’t run away, she didn’t hiss… All seemed good. That night she decided she wanted to sleep under the bed, which given the circumstances seemed like a perfectly good idea.
At 5:30 the next morning I woke up to the sounds of the cat emerging from under the bed. She stretched, shook off her sleepiness and immediately jumped into bed with us. She turned on the purr machine, and pranced around the bed in a sort of blissed-out, kitty-paws, trance. She snuggled up between Adam and I, and I thought before Adam kicks us out I’m going to take our new friend into the living room to get to know her. I’d been thinking about names, taking suggestions from friends, and decided to try them out on her to see what she thought. I sat on the couch and called “Venus!” and she stopped in her tracks, looked sharply at me and literally ran and jumped into my lap. “Well, I guess we know what your name is”.
It’s been a week now, and Venus has claimed us. She is appropriately named. Whereas Mars was a fighter, she is a lover. She is incredibly affectionate, and has even won Adam over. She’s got her spots in the house she likes, typically in the windows peering out at the birds. She has behaved perfectly, and has found her voice – she makes these cute, funny little squirrel sounds. And she purrs constantly.
I really don’t want to be the cat lady, but I think it’s a role I’m meant to play. I’m completely smitten with this cat. I don’t think I could have chosen a better match. She seems really happy to be here, and I am absolutely delighted to have her. Even Adam has taken a shine to her. I keep catching him petting her and talking to her…so unlike he was with Mars!
This cat has my heart in her paw, and I’m so glad to have been able to give her a new, loving home!
The spirit of the time as experienced by me, Amy Clites