I don’t have photos of it but I know it was May 22, 1984 that I took Sally home. I don’t really consider her story a “rescue”—her owner was going to surrender her to a shelter but I knew what would happen to a deaf cat unaccustomed to being held and petted. I agreed to adopt her, actually I kind of begged to adopt her…I knew what would happen to her there. Shelters in those days were frightening places, with unknown millions of animals surrendered and shelters, concerned with space and cost and little guidance from veterinarians or animal professionals, spent little time trying to find homes for pets, instead euthanizing as much as 95% of the surrendered population. Sally was beautiful but deaf and swift with her claws when touched. She deserved better than that. So there was no trapping, no chasing through the woods, no injuries or traumas, just Sally in my car on the way home, not even a carrier.
Adopted for her looks
The little deaf cat who began her life with me as a curious and active but distant and defensive, emotionally neglected one-year-old grew into one of my greatest friends through our fourteen years together. A “pet quality” Angora kitten, she’d been adopted for her looks, the perennial kitten face, silky white fur, petite size. Not all white cats are deaf especially if they have green eyes instead of blue, but many Turkish Angora cats turn out to be, and the person who “bred” her didn’t warn the adopting party.
I met her first almost a year before I took her home. I had just begun the job as assistant public relations director in the mall and my boss told me he was adopting an Angora kitten. A few weeks later he brought her in, a pure white fluff ball who was all over the room with curiosity. The person who adopted Sally truly loved her, but between her high activity level and eventual deafness, and his schedule of being out most of every day, she became a little wild child, unaccustomed to being handled in any way. I heard later that Angora kitties are known for being physically combative and don’t necessarily like to be touched, but when I adopted Sally I thought it was just her youth that had influenced her personality.
A little wild child
I adopted Sally at one year old. At that age she literally bounced off the walls. Catching her meant being shredded, unless you waited until she wore herself out, at which time she would play like a normal kitty and enjoy being petted.
She had a limitless amount of energy and could not be handled, though she would settle down and nap. Worst, she attacked my older cat, Bootsie, causing her to suffer asthmatic attacks. Sally’s time out room was the bathroom, which wasn’t large enough for too much movement so she’d quiet down. It was all I knew to do at the time. So much I had to learn. She was one of the teachers who brought the lessons to me.
I credited Kublai with taming her. He would watch her fly around and literally catch her in mid-air with his paws, pin her down and sit on her while she struggled and squealed, he looking at me telling me someone needed to do something about this little Tasmanian devil. Eventually he would let her go and she would pop out from underneath him and run off to some high spot to think about things—she never sulked or bore grudges—and eventually she quit the aeronautic adventures and began to play with toys.
Possibly it was their early relationship, but as Sally matured, she and Kublai were accepted as the prince and princess of the house, and often spent time together, the yin and yang of each others’ physical and emotional selves.
Best of all, she began to watch Kublai, who literally hung all over me, draped around my neck over my shoulders or with his arms around my neck and his face buried in my hair, and I could see she began to wonder about this affection thing. Before long, she was sleeping on my bed; later, she curled up on my lap one day as if she’d always been there. As a year passed, and then another, her age influenced her activity as well.
For most of her life, while she sat on my lap and slept next to me and was always in the same room with me, I learned to be aware of her body language when petting so I wouldn’t be surprised by a bite and a scratch. I found it easy to spot, not making eye contact, becoming still as I petted, and I would stop until she looked at me again. She was friendly and greeted people though I always warned people against petting her, but who could resist this beautiful silky white cat? Luckily she never did any real damage to anyone.
But veterinary visits were a challenge, even when I started with my house call veterinarian. Once, early on, her muscles were so tight from her tenseness at trying to get away that the veterinarian couldn’t even get the needle into the muscle to give her a vaccine. Her fur regularly tangled and sometimes she had huge knots on her sides and belly, but I couldn’t find anyone who could safely groom her without anesthetic; things are very different with that today. Good thing she didn’t need any sort of treatment until the end of her life.
We were devoted
She became the cat who spent all day in the window, as neighbors told me, watching and waiting for me to come home, and bestowing upon me her fervent greeting when I arrived, who slept on me every single night, who always found me for some lap time when I sat down…She was a real free spirit, absolutely fearless, totally in the moment, unconcerned about her looks as truly beautiful creatures can afford to be, and usually off in some alternate reality.
Because she was deaf her 22 hours of sleep were undisturbed, but when she was awake she was fully engaged; she had two settings, “off” and “high”. She would rear up and then spin her hind legs like the Roadrunner before she got some traction then run around the house at top speed for no reason at all, just because the energy built up inside and she had to run it off. Other cats would scatter when she came because she would run right over them, or sometimes stop briefly for a little tackle and a claw and a bite, then be off.
I sometimes lost her curled up in some cozy spot because she couldn’t hear when I called, but I would rap my heel sharply twice on the floor, and she would usually awaken and come to me. If that didn’t work, an open can of tuna would eventually waft to her nose and she’d come running.
Sally was one of my original garden cats, and was also the subject of the “my first piece of real artwork” (see below). “My little princess” became one of my greatest inspirations for artwork, and it was not just her luxurious looks but her emotional freedom as well which have made her the subject of several works.
Lesson number one
One October day in 1998, Sally quit eating, no drama, just did not eat, and went for nearly two weeks eating only a bit now and then. My perceptions were in their elemental stages at that time, and I had a sense that she was leaving but I could see nothing wrong with her so I was puzzled, then panicked. Exams and tests had shown nothing wrong. It was obvious this was her choice, that she couldn’t live like this and wouldn’t live long. I picked her up and cried one day, asking her to tell me why, tell me anything, just not to leave me without knowing or just not to leave me.
That afternoon she began to eat again—cooked linguini only for a few days, then she was back on cat food. I was overjoyed, though I had no idea why she had done this. But she recovered without any issue.
The following January I was petting her and felt a small flat bump on her lower jaw, and this was what grew into the mass that eventually took her life the following June. I understood in that moment that Sally felt the beginnings of that cancer the previous fall and decided she didn’t want to live with the condition, so she chose to just leave before it grew enough to be painful. She changed her mind for me, endured the pain so that I would have my explanation of her decision.
Lesson number two
In his last days Kublai had taught me that sometimes my inner voice was actually one of my felines communicating with me. By the time it came to Sally’s time to begin saying goodbye, I had learned to recognize it.
I came home from work one day about two months before she died, and she let the younger ones—at that time Namir, Kelly and Cookie were in the front of the line—shuffle for my attention, then strolled down the “catwalk” of a table I had by the door. She stopped in front of me and looked right up into my eyes with her bright expression in those pea green eyes of hers, reached out her paw and pulled my hand to her face, licked the back of my hand twice and looked back up at me. “I love you,” I heard as clearly as if someone had said it in the room. No, her lips didn’t move, nor did anyone else’s, it was the inner voice which I’d learned from Kublai was how they would sometimes communicate with me, when they really needed for me to know something, and Sally really needed for me to know this.
Tears welled in my eyes but I blinked them back as we held our gaze—I didn’t want to miss a moment in any sort of blur—and my unspoken response was automatic, “I love you, Sally.” I saw that sparkle in her eyes and I knew this moment was eternal. She let go of my hand, we broke our gaze and she very practically headed for the kitchen for dinner along with everyone else.
Sally was filled with the joy of being alive—she awoke every morning, gathered all her abundant energy and made every moment of the day the best it could possibly be, never spending time on what she didn’t have or couldn’t do. As all of my feline companions have taught me lessons in life and love, so Sally taught me this lesson, reinforced especially in her last days: even when her life was far from comfortable and she could barely carry out simple daily activities, she simply didn’t do what she could no longer do, and awoke and gathered what energy she had left and did what she could to make every moment, until her last, lived to the fullest.
One evening at the very end she walked in to my office, looked at me and I heard the words, “I can’t take this anymore.” I called the veterinarian the next morning. A magical thing happened the day I had her put to sleep involving Kublai and Fawn, who had gone before her.
As got into my car after work a few days after I had had Sally put to sleep, a thistle seed borne on the wind by its long white down flew past my face, circled around in my car, then flew out the passenger window, and I had the strongest sense of Sally being near me. She was on her way to another life, still the beautiful free spirit she’d been with me, carried where life took her. I still love you, Sally, and I enjoy your occasional visits, borne on the wind.
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“There she slept, and looked like a sleeping angel still.”—from The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault
MEDIUM: Pencil; SIZE: 18″ x 16″; 1987
This drawing is very special to me for several reasons, and not only because the subject is Sally. It was a turning point in my career as an artist; it was the first time I looked at a scene, took in all the necessary details, visualized the finished work, and actually created what I had visualized. This is what has to happen for anything I render, whether it’s a commissioned portrait from photographs or a drawing “en plein air”. Before this drawing, although I had created some works that had merit, it was all child’s play.
And of course the fact that Sally was the subject was one of the things that made it a success, which is one of the reasons I always say that my cats are the reason I am an artist today. Before that drawing, my visualization and interest had been almost entirely technical, concerned more with medium and technique. But her peaceful, relaxed posture, especially knowing what she was like when she was awake and fully engaged, made me weak with love. And as I worked I actually began to choose details that made the scene meaningful and conveyed what I felt, instead of trying to draw everything and convey only what I saw. From that experience I realized that what made good art for me was the inspiration of love, not intellect, so now, be it a cat, a flower or a sunset, I ride that swell of love as I create, and there is no art for me without it. Read more, and purchase a print.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
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