The Cats in the Pages

Guest post by Clea Simon

“How’s Musetta?” These days, people I know ask about my cat more often than about me. “Is she still plump? Have you had her teeth cleaned yet?”  While I answer (well, yes, and soon again) with the facts about my real cat, the flesh-and-blood feline who often sleeps in a chair behind me as I work, snoring gently, I know that’s not who they really mean. These inquiries are often from readers, and they’re really addressed to my little pet’s black-and-white doppelganger: the feline heroine of my Theda Krakow series.

I started writing those books in 2003. By the time the first, Mew is for Murder, was published in 2005, the real Musetta – whom we adopted in 2001 – was already a full-grown housecat. But in the book, she’s still a tiny little tuxedo kitten, an awkward lost stray who wanders into my heroine’s life and steals her heart. She grows up in the subsequent books – Cattery Row and Cries and Whiskers – to the point where she has “fish breath” and needs that dental appointment in Probable Claws. And by that point, I have managed to not only endanger her person, Theda, and several of their two- and four-legged friends, but also Musetta herself, as my real kitty has never, ever been. When the fictional Musetta apparently gets lost in a wild winter storm in Cries and Whiskers, I had trouble writing. (The real Musetta is indoors only, though she did once creep up my apartment’s back stairs and gave me a scare.) When she gets into worse trouble – I’m not telling – I found that I was typing as fast as I could, and had to remind myself to breathe. Only the presence of the flesh-and-blood jellicle on the chair behind me reassured me, and helped me finish the scene.

In many ways, this literary version of my pet is restorative for me. After all, she was first introduced in my nonfiction book,  The Feline Mystique. She is the kitten I adopt after the death of my long-time pet Cyrus, the little bundle of love that begins to heal my broken heart. And I get to relive that reawakening, that healing, that warmth, every time I write about her, particularly every time I risk her in some fictional adventure – and then get to write about how happy she is, safe home at last, in Theda’s arms.

But there’s another side of feline love, and I have tried to bring that to the pages of my Dulcie Schwartz books: “Shades of Grey” and the new Grey Matters. These books deal with a beloved cat, very much like my Cyrus, who is no longer with us. But unlike the real Cyrus, who lives on in my heart and my memory, Mr. Grey remains a palpable presence in Dulcie’s life. As we so often hope our pets will, perhaps in part of our hearts believe they do, he stays with his person. A loyal cat to the last, Mr. Grey appears when Dulcie needs him – when she discovers her roommate’s body or falls out with her boyfriend, her professor, and her roommate –  and, unlike the real cats in my Theda books, he also dispenses advice, going over her various predicaments with the kind of bemused affection I always imagined a cat would have.

I wrote him like that because this is so often what I wanted, after Cyrus was gone. And it was so often what I felt I almost had – the voice I almost heard in the wind, the weight and warmth at the foot of the bed As for the rest, I figured that, as a ghost, he would be exempt from most of the restrictions placed on real cats. But because he is, after all, still a cat in spirit – if not in body – his advice would be enigmatic and loving, wise but never exactly direct.

While I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Theda and Musetta, and like to think that even without words, Musetta managed to make herself very well understood, I’m enjoying this new direction. Correction: I love writing a talking cat. It’s so much fun! Like our real pets, our fictional cats can have such distinct personalities. And since I’m now meeting them in the realm of fiction, I am free to let them express themselves however they want.  It is liberating.

A confession: At various times, I have spoken out against “talking cats” in mysteries – and now I’m living to happily eat my words. In fact, I am now sending around yet another mystery manuscript, a book in which the protagonist – a bad-girl animal psychic – takes a lot of grief from her cat, a crotchety tabby named Wallis. And I am also preparing to start on yet another Dulcie Schwartz book, too. So as I begin to think about “Dulcie #3” (as my publisher calls it  – I’m thinking “Grey Zone”), I find myself listening – an ear for the wind, for my real-life Musetta’s purr – hoping to catch Mr. Grey’s voice, once again.

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

New from The Conscious Cat – Teleseminar Series

Amber and I are excited to announce
The Conscious Cat Teleseminar Series!

Join us for monthly teleseminars on a variety of topics!   You’ll be able to learn more about your favorite cat writers and get a chance to ask them questions.  You’ll learn about cat health, cat nutrition, how to keep your cat’s environment safe and toxin-free, and how to care for a sick cat.  We’ll offer help in coping with pet loss and the devastating grief that follows.  We’ll be adding more topics, and we’d love to hear your suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered. 

Our first Teleseminar will take place on Tuesday, March 30 at 8pm Eastern.  We’ll be talking with Clea Simon, author of several cat themed mysteries, including the brand new Dulcie Schwartz mysteries as well as the Theda Krakow mysteries.  Clea is also the author of The Feline Mystique:  On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats, and several other non-fiction books.  Clea will talk about her latest release, Grey Matters, her fictional and her real cats, and more.  She’ll also answer questions from listeners.  If you’ve always wanted to ask a mystery writer about her work, here’s your opportunity! 

On Thursday, April 22 at 8pm Eastern, we’ll have our first Ask the Cat Vet Teleseminar with Dr. Fern Crist.  You already know Dr. Crist from the pages of Buckley’s Story and from some of Amber’s Mewsings – this will be your chance to get to know her better and get your cat health questions answered.  Dr. Crist has ben practicing veterinary medicine since 1982, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993.  She served on the board of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.  Dr. Crist is married with five children, two of which are not fuzzy.

The seminars are free, but long distance phone charges may apply.  To participate in the conference, dial 1-712-432-3100.  When prompted, enter conference code 674470. 

We’re looking forward to having you join us for the seminars!  If you have suggestions for future topics, please leave them in a comment.

And don’t forget – we’re celebrating our blog anniversary all week long.  Don’t forget to enter our fantastic anniversary giveaway!

Blog Anniversary and Giveaway

It’s our First Blog Anniversary!

The Conscious Cat is one year old today!   And what an amazing year it has been – a year ago, I couldn’t have imagined how quickly this blog would become popular and how fast our readership would be growing since our first post.  Thank you to all of you who read, comment, and share what you read here with others – this site wouldn’t be what it has become without your support. 

I started The Conscious Cat to share my passion and knowledge about conscious living, health and happiness for pets and their people.  Over time, I began to include book reviews, author interviews, feline lifestyle articles, and more.  Amber, the inspiration behind this site, has her own category, Amber’s Mewsings, where she shares her feline wisdom with us mere humans.

We’ll be celebrating here all week long!  To kick off the celebration, we’re offering a fabulous giveaway – a gift basket from Whimsy Cats that includes an autographed copy of Buckley’s Story and lots of fun surprises for your feline family members.

To enter the giveaway:

  • Leave a comment on this post.
  • Tweet about this giveaway or share it on Facebook for an additional chance to win and leave the link to your tweet/share in a separate comment.
  • Subscribe to The Conscious Cat via  e-mail.  If you’re already subscribed, you’re automatically entered in the giveway.
  • Blog about this giveaway on your blog and leave the link in a separate comment.

The giveaway is open until midnight Monday, March 15.

Our birthday week celebrations continue tomorrow with an announcement of some exciting new things coming to you from The Conscious Cat.   On Wednesday, we’ll have a very special guest blogger.  And of course, our birthday week celebration wouldn’t be complete without Amber’s Mewsings on Friday.  We hope you enjoy our birthday week!

Book Review: Grey Matters by Clea Simon

I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Grey Matters from the moment I finished Shades of Grey, which was the first book in Clea Simon’s Dulcie Schwartz series.  Grey Matters picks up a few months after the end of Shades of Grey (click here to read my review of Shades of Grey).  Dulcie is a doctoral student at Harvard university who is fascinated with 18th century Gothic novels.  She is deeply immersed in the fall semester, hard at work on her thesis, and frustrated with her thesis advisor, who seems distracted and uninterested in her work.  When she finds the body of a fellow graduate student on her advisor’s doorstep, her life gets even more complicated. 

Her best friend is busy with her own studies and a new man in her life, Dulcie’s boyfriend is working long hours and seems to be withdrawn and distracted, she hits a significant snag in her thesis, and finds herself on her own as she gets caught up in investigating the murder.   The ghost of Mr. Grey, her beloved deceased cat, returns to offer his wise and comforting, but often veiled and cryptic advice.  Dulcie’s new kitten is trying her best to make her way into Dulcie’s heart, but since she doesn’t “speak” to Dulcie in the same way as Mr. Grey’s ghost, it’s slow going on that front.

Immensely likeable and multi-dimensional characters, exceptional plotting, and a fascinating academic setting make this a highly entertaining and enjoyable read.  The cats are an important part of the book.  Unlike other cat-themed mysteries, they do not help with solving the crime, but rather, are an integral part of the story.  I absolutely loved the ending of this book. 

A real treat for cat lovers and mystery lovers alike!

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

Pet-Friendly Cleaning Tips

Did you know that many commercial cleaning products can be extremely toxic, and even deadly, to your pets?  Cats are especially susceptible since they groom themselves by licking and as a result ingest anything that comes in contact with their feet or fur.

Dangers of Chemical-based Household Cleaners

Many household cleaners contain contain hazardous ingredients such as organic solvents and petroleum based chemicals which can release volatile organic compounds  into your indoor air. Some ingredients in household cleaners are known to cause cancer in animals and are suspected human carcinogens. Inappropriate use, storage and disposal of these hazardous household substances may impact your personal health and the health of our environment.  Lysol, Pine-sol and other products containing phenols are deadly to cats as they can cause serious liver damage.  Chlorox bleach, especially when concentrated, can cause chemical burns when it comes in contact with sensitive pet paws.

Non-toxic Cleaning Products

With the wide variety of naturally based and non-toxic cleaners available, there is no need to continue to use unsafe, toxic products.  Brands such as Seventh Generation and Method offer every type of cleaner imaginable and are available in all major grocery stores.  If you have cats, try to steer clear of natural products containing essential oils.  Even though many manufacturers of essential oils claim that they are safe to use around cats, this is not always the case.  Tea tree oil in particular can be deadly to cats.

Some of the safest and least expensive cleaners are baking soda and white distilled vinegar.  Some suggestions for use are:

Baking Soda:

  • Pour a layer in the litterbox before adding fresh litter to quell odors.
  • Add 1/2 cup to the laundry to freshen pet bedding.
  • Use as an abrasive cleaner for sinks, bowls, and non-porous surfaces.

White Distilled Vinegar:

  • Use to disinfect feeding dishes, the litterbox, and non-porous toys.
  • Add 1 cup to the wash cycle to freshen and soften pet bedding.
  • Apply a diluted solution (one part vinegar and one part water) to help remove the appearance and odor of urine stains from carpets.
  • Baking soda and white vinegar combined make a great non-toxic drain cleaner – pour some baking soda down the drain, follow with a cup or so of vinegar.  The mixture will foam, and the foaming action will clear your drain.  Repeat if necessary.  For tough drains, follow with hot water.

If your pet does come into contact with toxic chemicals, contact the Animal Poison Control Center for help.

Photo source: Miele USA website

Feline Life Stage Guidelines

The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association released the Feline Life Stage Guidelines, a 12-page document designed to promote important information regarding wellness care for cats.  The guidelines have been developed in response to statistics that show that while cats outnumber dogs as pets, they receive significantly less veterinary care.  Studies have also shown that many cat owners are unaware of their cats’ medical needs, citing an inability to recognize signs of illness or injury. 

The guidelines address wellness exams, recommending annual visits for healthy cats under 7 years of age, and twice yearly visits for cats 7 or older.  They address a lenghty list of items that should be covered in an annual or bi-annual exam, including looking at behavior and environment, medical and surgical history, elimination, nutrition and weight management, dental health, parasite control, diagnostic testing, and vaccinations.

The guidelines also address how to overcome barriers to veterinary visits.  Many pet owners perceive cats as being self-sufficient because they hide any discomfort, pain or illness so well.  There can also be a lot of stress associated with getting kitty to the vet – many pet parents don’t want to be the “bad guy” by putting their cat in a carrier and taking him to the vet’s.  Recommendations include ways to reduce the stress of transport, making cat and cat parent comfortable at the clinic, and keeping the clinic environment as calm and stress free as possible.  (For more on how to tell whether a vet clinic knows how to accommodate cats’ unique needs, read Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly.)

There is only one area where the guidelines fall short, and that’s nutrition.  I would have liked to have seen a firmer stand on what constitutes good nutrition for cats.  With statements such as “both canned and dry foods have been found to support health during all life stages”, “satisfactory diets for cats contain all the required nutrients in proper balance, are palatable and digestible, and are free of spoilage and contaminants. The specific source of nutrients in feline diets is irrelevant when these criteria are satisfied” do not make me feel comfortable that there has been much progress when it comes to educating veterinarians about nutrition.  The guidelines cite evidence-based studies for the effects of feeding canned vs. dry food (including contribution to dental health) and state that based on the available data, specific recommendations in favor of any of these practices cannot be made.  I supsect that most of these studies have been funded by major pet food manufacturers.  Thankfully, many veterinarians are starting to see evidence that their feline patients who are fed grain-free, canned diets or raw diets have fewer degenerative health issues, maintain their weight, have healthier teeth and gums and fewer allergies and intestinal problems, and are recommending these diets to their patients. 

However, aside from the section about nutrition, the Feline Lifestage Guidelines are an important step towards getting cats the care they deserve.  Ultimately, cats and their parents will benefit from these guidelines.

Book Review: Wagging Tales by Tim Link

Wagging Tales: Every Animal Has a Tale , subtitled Conversations with Our Animal Friends, is a collection of conversations animal communicator Tim Link held with a series of cats, dogs, and even a praying manthis. 

From the publisher:  Many people have a special bond with animals, but few have the ability to understand the innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires of different creatures. Author Tim Link is one such individual–a man blessed with the ability to communicate with animals telepathically.

In this book, the author details some of his most dramatic and moving encounters with the animal kingdom. From helping a lost cat find her way home to comforting a Catalan sheepdog after back surgery, Link shares stories that are both entertaining and heartfelt. A full-time animal communicator and a Reiki energy healer for animals, Link has never failed to reach an animal, even if that animal has transitioned to the next world. In these dramatic and moving stories, Link describes how he communicates with animals, not only in words, but also through feelings, smells, tastes, emotions, and images. By building powerful intuitive connections with other species, Link has transformed the lives of numerous animals and the people who care for them. His stories will transform the lives of readers as well, as they learn to open their minds and hearts to all creatures great and small.

Whether it’s a story of joy, loneliness, or redemption, every animal has a tale, and Tim Link has brought magically resonant tales to life in this powerful collection of stories.

My own experience with animal communication has been that each communicator develops his or her own unique style of accessing and relaying the information they receive from the animals they communicate with.  The spectrum ranges from those who connect directly with the animal’s spiritual nature and convey profound messages of insight and guidance, to others who relay more practical messages.   This book offers a look at how animal communication works for this particular animal communicator.  The stories are sometimes charming, and sometimes heartbreaking.  The author’s love for animals and delight in his role as interpreter between the species as well as his desire to build stronger relationships between animals and humans comes through in each tale told.  

This is a light-hearted and quick read,filled with lots of practical insights about what animals think and feel about their lives, from human work schedules that they don’t like to why they don’t want to share their toys.  The book offers an entertaining and unique look at animals, along with lovely photos and practical pet care tips. 

Tim Link is President and CEO of Link’s Wagging Tales, Inc.  He has been featured nationally and internationally in numerous articles and television and radio programs.  Tim and his wife live near Atlanta, GA, with their many pets.  For more information about Tim, please visit his website.

FTC full disclosure:  a review copy of this book was sent to me by the author.

The Cat Who Likes to Wear Clothes

Guest Post by Joann Biondi

People often ask me what I do to get my cat, Lorenzo, to wear clothes. Do you bribe him with treats? Use toys to distract him? Put him on tranquilizers? I do none of those things. In fact, I do nothing other than slip the shirts over his head and onto his furry little body.

Ever since he was a kitten, Lorenzo has loved wearing clothes. I have no explanation for this other than the fact that he is one cool cat with the patience of a Buddhist monk. Or perhaps, just perhaps, he is a reincarnated fashion model who was just a tad too catty on the runway and has suffered a karmic set-back. 

It all started when he was just a few months old and used to steal dirty clothes from my laundry basket. He’d drag them around the house, chew on them, and then curl up and go to sleep with them. It wasn’t much of a problem except when company came over and they spotted a rolled up ball of underpants beside the coffee table.

But one day I got mad at Lorenzo and decided to get even, so I placed a spandex tank top over his head and onto his body as a joke. Lorenzo was unfazed. He adjusted his shoulders, threw out his chest, and looked at me with an expression that said, “You think this bothers me? Well it doesn’t. In fact, I like it.” He walked around wearing that tank top for days.

For most cats, wearing clothing is unpleasant to say the least. Owners try to dress them up in silly costumes and take a photo for laughs. But the result is often a feline that looks as if it’s having an epileptic seizure—get this off me! There are other cats that just hunker down into a pose of utter humiliation and horror, especially if there is a hat involved. And then there’s Lorenzo, who struts his stuff like an Italian fashion model on the cover of GQ magazine.

I have had several cats before Lorenzo, and I never tried to put clothes on any of them. Nor did the thought ever enter my mind. But with Lorenzo, it seems natural. It’s as if he knows that that’s what he was put on the planet to do—wear clothes, pose for the camera, and make people laugh. I have been photographing Lorenzo wearing clothes for over a year now, and I must admit, doing it is one of the most fun and rewarding things I have ever done.

It’s fun because for Lorenzo, the camera is catnip. He responds to it, or more precisely, he responds to me when I have the camera in my hand. He knows what’s going on, and he is an active, earnest participant in the shoot. And when I know that I’ve gotten a good shot of him and I shout out loud, “bellissimo Lorenzo,” he preens, and turns his nose up in the air as if he knows that he has done a great job.

The rewarding part of the photography work is what I have learned from Lorenzo. One of those things is that the cliché of cats being stubborn and aloof is just that—a cliché. As I button up his shirt and then watch him through the lens, I marvel at how perfectly content he is while doing it. I marvel at how he has found his way in the world, and is totally willing to step outside the preconceived notion of a cat’s comfort zone. So what if he doesn’t act “normal” and defies the rules of standard cat behavior. So what if people laugh at him.

Yes, I may be reading more into this than other people can see, but I’ve always felt that we have a lot to learn from animals if we allow them to teach us. And what I’ve also learned from this Maine Coon cat is, shouldn’t we humans also shed what is safe and predictable in order to embrace something new no matter how weird we may look? Shouldn’t we humans drop the old clichés that have ruled our lives for so long?

Joann Biondi is a Miami-based writer and photographer. Her cat, Lorenzo, has his own website http://www.lorenzothecat.com and his own Facebook page .

Watch Lorenzo model various outfits in this video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MFLUXScZrk

Meditating with Your Cat

Guest post by Stacia D. Kelly, PhD, MHt

My husband thinks it makes for a funny picture whenever I sit down to meditate. In our house, I usually have a cat or two as I sit cross-legged on the couch in my lap or somewhere nearby purring happily and meditating right along with me. Of course, said husband also freely admitted a week or so back that our girl Bella laid right down on his chest while he was listening to a Nancy Georges hypnosis session – shame on him for not listening to one of mine! 😉

Bastien, our youngest rescue, is learning to be a great hypnosis assistant. He’ll either curl up in my lap or next to my clients during a hypnotherapy session to settle right down for the 40 minutes or so, purring the entire time. And while he irritates his sister felines, Bella and Bijoux, since he’s so young, he is such a momma’s boy that he tries to do whatever I’m doing. If that means meditating, he’s right there with me. And, thankfully, my clients love him.

I wish I knew what’s going thru their minds when they curl up with me, but I know the soft purr and warm body only help to enhance my focus. Somehow, they just know the right spot and the right level to help you achieve that perfect moment of Zen.

Mine never interrupt; none of them ever have.

I’m not sure what the trigger is…the breathing, the music, the sudden calmness? Sagesse, an angel kitty now, was the only one who helped me through those late nights as a first time mom. She’d learned how to calm and meditate with me when she was a kitten, so, when I needed it most, she was right there next to me vibrating that same purr, in the same spot. She helped me make it through those first weeks. Gabe, our hunter, hit the same note when it was time for me to let him cross over. I wasn’t ready, but he was, and he let me know with that soft purr on just the right note.

So, how do you meditate with your cat? (I haven’t tried this with dogs, but please do and let us know the results!) Some are naturals…some require some guidance. Thankfully, mine have all gravitated right to it, but that may be because we make it such an intrinsic part of our household or it’s such a part of my nature, I only attract those who are inclined to be good about it too.

First, create a space for yourself that you are going to use consistently to meditate. This is a must, whether you’re trying to get your 4-legged to cooperate or not. It helps to set your subconscious up for success when you’re ready to sit down to focus. I use my couch and a cross-legged position. My body naturally falls into a receptive mode and starts to relax. My husband will meditate in bed and the cats are fine with it. (They refuse to participate if I’m in bed and meditating…instead I get the meows and the growls.) Wherever it is, make it consistent.

Next, start to introduce soft music when you’re out of the house, and they are more naturally at rest. Use harps, strings, nature sounds. Note: DO NOT USE music with BIRDS! They start stalking the CD player or the TV. I’ve watched it happen!

Next, use that same music they’ve been listening to during day for your relaxation/meditation sessions. You will see they start to quietly unwind and come to curl up next to you as your breathing evens out. Most will want to touch you in some way, so they may lie in your lap or next to you. Do NOT give in to to the need to acknowledge their presence. NO petting. If you must, lay a hand on them and keep it still. Remain focused on your meditation.

And, just breathe.

Open your eyes whenever you’re ready.

You can see our cat family at http://catklaw.com/kittens/ – this is our hidden yet dedicated site to all those who are familiar in our lives. I don’t post up often, but they are integral to our family.

For those interested in a Guided Meditation with their feline family members, please, post up! I’ll create one to share!

Stacia D. Kelly, PhD, MHt takes a whole mind-body-spirit approach to health and well-being and teaches her clients to do the same. She is the Mind-Body-Fusion Specialist. Breathe. Focus. Achieve. She is a Master Certified clinical hypnotherapist, a 1st degree black belt, and spends way too much time with her nose in a book. She writes paranormal romances with a very hypnotic style and tries to inject humor in all her non-fiction writing. She plays doorman (woman) to three cats while the young one is off to school and the husband is all over the state for either the day job or a band. Stacia is also the founder of CatKlaw, Inc., a Creative Solutions Company, and Mind-Body-Spirit Works, a Holistic Health Practice.

Stacia is offering one of her guided relaxations titled Relax Into Being as a free download.

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