Month: February 2010

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friend is busy with her own studies and a new man in her life, Dulcie’s boyfriend is working long hours and seems to be withdrawn and distracted, she hits a significant snag in her thesis, and finds herself on her own as she gets caught up in investigating the murder.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.

About the author

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.

About the author

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.

About 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 www.lorenzothecat.com and his own Facebook page .

Watch Lorenzo model various outfits in this video:

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

About the author

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.

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.

About the author

Animal Empath Award – February 2010

The Conscious Cat and Stacia Kelly at  Mind-Body-Spirit Works have created the Animal Empath Award.  The award is given to individuals who have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place for animals.  It will be awarded once a month by Mind-Body-Spirit Works and The Conscious Cat.  If you know one of these special human beings deserving of this award, please send a nomination e-mail to Stacia Kelly or Ingrid King for consideration.

Thanks to Stacia for creating the wonderful badge for the award, featuring none other than Buckley!

Our first award goes to Cindy Ingram.

Cindy Ingram is the founder of Casey’s House, a private rescue group in Bluemont, VA, that specializes in older and hard to adopt cats.  Cindy has a special place in my heart because she rescued my precious little Buckley, the subject of Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher, from a farm in southwestern Virginia, where she and about twenty other cats were kept in marginal living conditions.

Casey’s House is named after Cindy’s beloved tabby cat, who came to live with her when she was fifteen years old.  At first Cindy refused her entrance to her house, as she already had two cats and two dogs at the time. Casey, however, was not a cat to take no for an answer. Casey’s “home” at the time was a colony of some fifty cats, and she was probably getting tired of either not getting to her food on time, or eating off of filthy dishes.  Every evening, Casey would be waiting on Cindy’s  porch, obviously hungry, so Cindy would feed her. Slowly, but surely, Casey became a part of Cindy’s family.  Eventually, four of her feline colony friends came to join Casey.  Says Cindy:  “Casey taught me to reach beyond my self-imposed limits, and her house is the dream that now has become a reality”.

In addition to providing a safe haven for older cats, Casey’s House also promotes Trap-Neuter-Return.  Through this program, feral cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be evaluated, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped.  Cats that are friendly to humans and kittens are adopted into loving homes.  Healthy feral cats are returned to their outdoor homes.  Casey’s House spayed and neutered more than 200 cats in 2009, making a significant contribution to controlling the overpopulation problem.

Cindy created a wonderful environment for the cats.  There are very few cages, most of the cats live in a large open room, filled with carpeted ramps, cat climbing towers, and lots of soft pillows and blankets for them to sleep on.  New rescues and those with potential health conditions are kept in separate areas until they’ve been checked out by a veterinarian.    What was really amazing to me was how peaceful the energy in that large room felt.  All the cats seemed to get along, there was no hissing, posturing, or fighting.  Cindy said in all the years she’s done this work, she’s only had one incident with two cats fighting.  Casey’s House truly is a safe haven for cats in need.

Like all non-profit organizations, especially those helping animals, Casey’s House is struggling in these tough economic times.   If you have a favorite shelter or rescue group that you support, please consider making a donation to them – they need your help now more than ever.  And if you don’t already support a shelter, perhaps you’ll consider making a donation to Casey’s House in Buckley’s memory.  Cindy and the cats at Casey’s House will thank you.

About the author

Benefits of Digestive Enzymes for Pets

I previously wrote about how to choose healthy foods for your pet.  In the article, I said that I was not a proponent of a raw food diet, because I felt that the risks outweighed the benefits.  However, I have since come to the conclusion that feeding raw food is truly the healthiest way to feed our pets.  We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the better for us, and the same holds true for our pets.  Additionally, cats are carnivores, and as such, they are designed to eat raw meat.   That being said, some pets, especially cats, can be difficult to transition to raw food .  For those pets, the the next best thing for achieving the same results you get from raw feeding may be supplementing your pet’s diet with digestive enzymes.

The reason raw food is so good for our pets is because it still contains all the digestive enzymes.  When food is processed and cooked, enzymes are destroyed.   Enzymes aid in food absorption by breaking food down into simple, soluble substances that the body can absorb.  Enzymes are important building blocks for a multitude of metabolic functions and can help the body fight the degnerative processes that come with aging, aid in better absoprtion of vitamins and minerals, and help build a healthy immune system.  Enzyme deficiency can show itself in poor haircoat, allergies, intestinal problems, and voluminous stools, often with the fat still clearly visible. 

If you’re not able to feed raw, you may want to consider supplementing your pet’s diet with digestive enzymes.  There are numerous products on the market.  One I like is Dr. Goodpet’s Feline Digestive Enzymes.  In addition to enzymes, it also contains probiotics.  It also has absolutely no scent or flavor, which can be an issue with cats.  Amber readily accepted it on the very first try and has been taking it for the last few weeks.  The most noticeable difference so far has been a marked decrease in the size and the smell of her stools. 

The research, and testimonials, for the benefits of digestive enzymes, are convincing.  Like pets on raw diets, enzyme supplementation can help your pets  look and feel great.  Pets on a raw diet tend to have glossy coats, clear ears and eyes, and better teeth.  They maintain their ideal weight.   They don’t have allergies or intestinal problems.   If you’re not able to feed raw, enzyme supplementation can help you achieve the same results.

As a side note, I wanted to test the benefits of digestive enzymes for myself, so I began taking them right along with Amber (not the feline version, though!  I choose a product designed for humans, Enzymedica Digest).  While I can’t say that my coat has gotten glossier, I’ve definitely noticed an improvement with my digestion!  I’ve also noticed that I don’t get hungry as quickly as I used to in between meals.   My – completely unscientific – assumption is that it may be due to the fact that my body is absorbing nutrients better as a result of the added enzymes.

Please note:  if your cat is diabetic or immuno-suppressed, digestive enzymes may be contra-indicated.  Check with your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet or adding supplements.

About the author