Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Cat Who Launched My Career . . . is Gone.


     This morning, at about 4:30, Ken and I said goodbye to our beloved 15 year old Blue British Shorthair, Earendil Sky.   August 5, 1997 - December 23, 2012.  Long thought of as the healthiest of our four kitties, Sky's decline was mercifully quick.  For the previous day or so she had begun telling me by degrees that she was ready to go, becoming progressively listless with labored breathing, not eating and unable to sleep or even find a comfortable position to rest.  Her extremities were cold.   At 2:30 this morning she woke us up, first trying to settle onto the covers between us, then moving to various spots around the bedroom trying to find a place of solace.  I told Ken that she seemed to be trying to tell us to help her out of her misery and then, when she let out a loud baleful cry, I was certain of it.  We took her to a 24 -hour emergency clinic near us and the Vet, after examining her, confirmed what I knew intuitively.  She was about half her healthy weight, her lungs were "wet" and she had a temperature of only 93 degrees.   It was time to say goodbye.  And we did.

     We brought Sky's body home and laid her out on a towel in the den so Nox (our 15 year old Black Earendil Brit who is a week younger than Sky) and Zak and Quin, our 10 year old Maine Coons, could sniff her and come to some instinctive understanding that she was no longer a part of their family.   We've been told that this is a good thing to do for them.  We buried her in our backyard this morning when the sun came up.  We discovered that there is a healing closure to this time-honored ritual that having the Vet deal with the remains does not provide.

     I say that Sky launched my (our) cat photography career for a few reasons.  I had always enjoyed taking photos of our cats, trying, with more aspiration than technical skill in those early days, to capture some of the beauty I saw in them.  After losing Miss Kitty, Ken's mixed breed cat when I came to live with him, to FIP, we chose to get a British Shorthair kitten because we liked the way this breed looks.  And we chose to get a Blue (gray) Brit because we love the way that light can limn their gray fur in a fringe of silver.   In a cruel irony, this beautiful kitten, who we named Smudge, was also doomed, along with all of his littermates, to a very early death from the FIP virus he brought with him from his cattery.

     After once more thoroughly disinfecting our house and again waiting the recommended 90 days to be certain we would not have to go through this again, we got Sky and Nox from Thora Hart in Southern California.  While Thora's Earendil Cattery was well known for her many show-winning cats, we were only interested in getting a healthy pet quality kitten.  Thora did not have a blue male but she made us an attractive offer on a blue female along with a black male from a different litter that was only a week apart.

     When we picked up these kittens from air cargo at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and I peeked into the front door of the carrier in which they were shipped to us, I was instantly smitten.  I said, “Oh, Ken, you should see her face!”  Now, all kittens are cute and cuddly, but even with the perspective of over 12 years photographing and handling cats of every breed, we remain convinced that no breed embodies more of these cherished qualities of kitten-ness than young British Shorthairs do.  And just looking at this heart-breakingly precious example of the breed who was coming to live with us made me grin from ear to ear.

     From that first day and even after she began to lose her characteristic roundness and the plushness of her coat over the past year or so, I could not look at Sky, curled up asleep in a soft ball of gray fur, without smiling and being flooded with a warm, comforting sensation of  . . . what?  “Hearth and home”?  A feeling that “all's right with the world”?   I realize I am reduced to cliches here, but out of anything I could lay my eyes on in our house, nothing made it look – and feel – like “home” and the right place for me to be - than seeing this special cat of ours in repose.   

      Sky was good at looking good.  And Ken and I soon found out that we were not the only ones who thought so when we decided to have the experience of showing her and Nox.  While we quickly discovered that our lovable Nox, decidedly the more affectionate pet of this pair, was indeed confirmed to be the “pet quality” cat we were sold  – Ken used to say of Nox's brief show career that he couldn't get arrested in the show ring – Sky's reception was quite the opposite.  She quickly became an 8-ring Grand Champion in CFA's Premier class for alters and then went on to achieve Supreme Grand Alter status in TICA.  Beyond burying us in rosettes and spoiling us with “beginner's luck,” showing Sky gave us a feeling for cat shows and the perspective of exhibitors – the people who would soon become our primary customers. 
     Back at home, it was Sky's immensely photogenic qualities more than anything that kept me trying to get better at capturing on film (remember film?) what I saw in her.  And it was the advent of the digital camera – the freedom to experiment and learn from my mistakes that its zero cost images and instant feedback provided – along with the technical guidance and encouragement of Ken, who supported my passion with ever more capable cameras, staging gear and studio lighting, that enabled me to amass a sufficient portfolio of portraits of our cats and those of a few friends that earned us an invitation to shoot our first show in May of 2000.

     Beyond motivating my photography career, there are so many ways that we cherished Sky and as many personal and private reasons why she will be profoundly missed and long remembered.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Bengal Banner for The International Cat Association (TICA)

This image includes the call names of the cats used.  We were commissioned by TICA to create two banners, seven feet tall that retract into a case at the bottom to bring attention to the TICA area in NYC at Meet The Breeds.  What follows is what we term "The Bengal Banner."  The Maine Coon Banner is below this post.