Book Review: Guardians of Being

Guardians of Being combines the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, with the whimsical illustrations of Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the MUTTS cartoons,  in a heartwarming, inspirational and joyful package.  The Oprah Magazine has called the book “an inspired collaboration between spiritual teacher Echkart Tolle and comic strip artist Patrick McDonnell.  A book to make you wiggle with joy.”

From the publisher:  “More than a collection of witty and charming drawings, the marriage of Patrick McDonnell’s art and Eckhart Tolle’s words conveys a profound love of nature, of animals, of humans, of all life-forms.  Guardians of Being celebrates and reminds us of not only the oneness of all life but also the wonder and joy to be found in the present moment, amid the beauty we sometimes forget to notice all around us.”

This is a book to be treasured.  The wisdom of the words, combined with the charming illustrations, make this a book to be savored, not just to be read.  Browsing through this book is an almost meditative experience, and it will most definitely remind the reader about what really matters in life.

Two of my favorite quotes from the book are:

Everything natural – every flower, tree, and animal – has important lessons to teach us if we would only stop, look, and listen.

Just watching an animal closely can take you out of your mind and bring you into the present moment, which is where the animal lives all the time – surrendered to life.

I have always believed that animals are amazing teachers.  It’s nice to see that I’m in good company.  Treat yourself to this book – and while you’re at it, pick one up for your closest friend.

Blogger Purrfection Award

The Conscious Cat is tickled to have received the Blogger Purrfection Award from Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing – thank you, Crystal!  If you’re a writer and you’re not already following Crystal’s blog, you should (and she also has some adorable cat photos in her sidebar!).

I’d like to pass the award on to the following purrfect blogs – they’re all special in their own way:

About Vet Med – animal news, facts and fun stuff.  This is the personal blog of Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, the Guide to Veterinary Medicine at

The Creative Cat – art, portraits, photos, writing.  This is the blog of animal artist Bernadette Kazmarski.  Look for a profile of Bernadette here on the Conscious Cat soon.

Madame Purl – Adventures of an Aspiring Fiber Artist.  This blog belongs to Rose Hoffa, knitter, spinner, and cat lover.

The Boomer Muse – the daily photo diary of a hyper-hyphenated, tree-hugging, Canadian Baby Boomer/Photographer/Writer/Intuitive Consultant/Cat Lover.  I really can’t say enough wonderful things about this blog – a feast for the senses.

The Daily Tail – Daniela Caride’s blog, a wonderful collection of cat stories, dog stories, pet related news, and more.

Musings of a Bookish Kitty – a great book review blog by Wendy Runyon.

Please pass this award on to other deserving blogs!

The Healing Power of Cats

There are many stories of animals as healers. Research shows that simply petting a cat or dog can lower your blood pressure. Therapy animals who visit nursing homes and hospices bring peace and joy to patients who may not have smiled in months. There are stories of horses who help people heal emotional and psychological issues, stories about dogs who can somehow sense cancer in people, even before doctors can find it, and dogs who can tell when a person is about to have a seizure. At one time or another, all pet owners have experienced the comfort of having our pets close by when we are sick even with something minor like a cold or the flu. Research has even shown that the frequency of a cat’s purr can aid with healing of bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles as well as provide pain relief. 

I’ve met a number of these healer kitties during my years of working at veterinary clinics.  They would work their magic in various ways – by curling up next to a recovering cat or dog, by cuddling up to a worried client in the waiting room, or by comforting a staff member who had just assisted with a difficult case or a euthanasia. But none of these cats was more of a healer than Buckley, the subject of my book Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher. 

Buckley would do all of the things mentioned above while she lived at the animal hospital.  After she came home with me, she became my assistant Reiki practitioner.  Reiki is an energy therapy that originated in Japan.  As a Reiki Master Practitioner, I transfer energy to my client by placing my hands either directly on or slightly off the body.  I work with pets and with people, and I’ve found that animals, especially cats, are incredibly receptive to the Reiki energy.  Some even say cats invented Reiki.  While that may be a little far fetched, cats seem to intuitively how to utilize the energy for their greatest good. 

Buckley loved being in the Reiki room while I was giving treatments, and as long as the person receiving a treatment liked cats and did not mind Buckley’s presence, she was allowed to stay. But just being in the room was usually not enough for her—she became an active participant in the healing session. She would get up on the Reiki table and often curl up next to or on top of the client. I realized after a few sessions like this that she intuitively knew where extra energy was needed, and the client would often report an added feeling of heat or pulsing in the areas where Buckley had been situated during the session. I often skipped the areas Buckley laid on during a session and concentrated on others instead. I knew my little healer kitty had it covered. 

I think she also transmuted the energy in the house in general. All cats do this to some degree. Cats are sensitive to energies and have the ability to change negative energies into something peaceful and calming. Buckley seemed to be a master at this. More people commented on the peaceful energy in my house after she came to live with us than ever before. 

Animals bring a spiritual component to healing as well. Buckley’s intuitive knowing during a Reiki session about where the energy was needed came from a spiritual dimension. It takes many human Reiki practitioners years of practice to achieve that level of intuitiveness.

How have the animals in your life helped you heal?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Safe Toys for Your Cat

What should I play with today?

There are hundreds of cat toys on the market, and as anyone owned by a cat knows, there is no way of telling for sure which toy will delight your cat, or which will generate a quick sniff, followed by a look of disdain and a turned tail.  So if you’re like most cat parents, you will continue to bring home toys in your quest to amuse and spoil your feline charges.

When shopping for cat toys, the most important thing  is the safety factor.  Cat toy safety really comes down to one thing:  if it can be swallowed, it’s dangerous.  

This means stay away from toys that have small parts that can come loose during an energetic play session.  Anything with glued on parts, metal pieces, tassles or strings should be a no-no.  Sometimes you can remove these parts (which is how Amber ended up with a lot of what we call “blind and deaf mice” – once the glued on eyes and ears are removed, these mice turn into perfectly safe toys).  But it’s always best to find a toy that doesn’t require removal of loose parts.

Toys with strings and rubber bands can be fun for your cat as long as you supervise play.  Never leave these toys with your cat unattended – rubber bands can loop themselves around your cat’s neck and choke her, strings can be chewed and ingested, and can present a life-threatening emergency if the piece of strings wraps itself around the cat’s intestines.  

So which toys are safe for your cat?

Amber loves anything that’s stuffed with catnip.  The fewer adornments, the better.  A great source for simple, and safe catnip toys is The Mouse Factory – they have a wide selection of fun toys, and their catnip is seriously potent.

The Kong line of cat toys offers a lot of fun and safe choices as well, you can find a sampling in the Conscious Cat Store and you’ll also find them in many pet stores.

Interactive cat toys are great fun for you and your cat – after all, what’s more fun than a rigorous play session with your kitties?  Some of these interactive toys, such as the feather teaser (a feather toy on the end of a string) require supervision because of the string part, but they can provide hours of fun for cat and human.

Of course, there are plenty of choices for toys that don’t require a trip to the pet store – paper bags, boxes, empty toilet paper rolls, or even just a wadded up piece of paper can be as much fun for your cat as expensive, store-bought toys.

Whatever safe toy you choose for your cat, have fun!

Amber’s current favorite is a fuzzy crab-like toy on the end of a long fuzzy string.  She allowed me to film her for a few seconds while she was playing with it:


What are some of your cats’ favorite toys?

Amber’s Mewsings: Amber and the Laptop

It’s about time that I get some computer time!  I tell you, it can be tough being a writer’s cat.  Not only do I have to be my mom’s mewse, but since she’s on the computer on her desk practically all day long most days, it’s hard to get a paw in edgewise.  And when she leaves the house for a while, she turns the computer off!  I haven’t been able to figure out how to open what she calls her laptop, and I hate that thing anyway.  When it’s in her lap, there’s not enough room for me, too, and that’s just wrong.  You can see me giving the thing the evil eye above.  She recently got something she calls a BlackBerry, even though it looks nothing like a berry to me.  I got all excited at first, because I thought maybe I could use that to write on, but I tried typing on it and realized that my paws are too big to work the tiny keys.

But I digress.   What I really wanted to talk about is that, despite the frustrations mentioned above, being a writer’s cat is really a very cool job.  For starters, it means that my mom is home with me a lot, and I really like that.  I just like knowing that she’s nearby, even when I’m sleeping.  And she says I’m her mewse, which I guess means that I inspire her writing, which is really nice to know.  I know how happy it makes her to be a writer, and I’m glad that I can contribute to that happiness.  It’s also kind of nice to have her at my beck and call all day long – and I have her so well-trained that she doesn’t even realize that that’s what’s happening.  She thinks it’s her own idea to get up and give me a treat occasionally, and to feed me my dinner in the afternoon rather than making me wait until dinner time.  Okay, so maybe the staring holes in the back of her head approach, whining and weaving myself around her legs, and generally making a pest out of myself after a certain time in the afternoon is a bit obnoxious, but it never fails to work, so why should I stop?!

Another thing I like about being a writer’s cat is that I force my mom to take breaks.  Even though she loves what she does, it’s not healthy for her to do it 24/7 (what an odd expression – how did humans come up with that?  I only have four paws, so I can’t count much beyond four.)  So I make sure that she takes breaks throughout the day by asking for cuddle time, looking so cute that she can’t resist taking my photo, or showing her where my dinner plate is (because , some days, I swear, she forgets what she’s supposed to do with it!).  And after a certain point in the evening, I think she needs to get off her computer and come to bed, so sometimes, I have to lead the way and wait for her in the bedroom.

As you can see, being a writer’s cat is not for the faint-hearted among us felines.  It takes a special cat to be a writer’s companion, but it’s also very rewarding (and I don’t just mean food rewards!).

Life Lessons from Our Pets

I have always believed that animals come into our lives to teach us. First and foremost, they teach us about unconditional love. But they also teach us to stretch and grow, to reach beyond our self-imposed limits, and to expand our consciousness. They take us to places we did not think were possible for us to go. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of these animals in my life. 

There was my soul mate kitty, Feebee, who was instrumental in guiding me from an unsatisfactory corporate job to a fulfilling career in the veterinary profession.  For the first time in my life, I discovered what loving what you do for a living feels like.  There was my office cat Virginia, who made my dream of a fulfilling career complete. Whenever I had visualized my perfect job, that dream had always included a cat sleeping in a sunny spot on my desk. One of Virginia’s favorite sleeping places was the spot right next to my computer on my desk at the animal hospital, in front of a sunny window.  There was Buckley, who changed my life in ways I never could have imagined by helping me discover my true passion.  Her lessons were profound enough to inspire an entire book.  And there is Amber, who I share my life with now.  Her gentle, wise presence brings love and affection into my life every day, and she inspired this site, which is dedicated to sharing information about health, happiness and conscious living for pets and their people. 

I’ve found that there are three main lessons that all animals teach us, if only we are willing to listen.  

  1. The teach us to live in the moment.  Our pets don’t spend time analyzing the past, and they don’t worry about the future.  They are fully focused on whatever it is they are doing in the present moment, whether it’s enjoying a meal, playing with a favorite toy, or napping in the sunny spot on the rug.
  2. They help us to slow down.  We get so caught up in the business of our daily lives, and we rarely take enough time to relax.  Spending time with our pets is the best stress relief I know of.  Research has shown that simply petting a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure.
  3. They help us connect with our spiritual core.  As humans, we have an innate need to get in touch with something greater than ourselves.  For some people, this connection comes through religion, for others, it comes from being in nature.  For me, it has always come from being around animals.    

Listen to the animals in your life – you might be surprised at the lessons they have to teach you.

What have you learned from your pets?

Chronic Renal Disease in Cats

stalking cat

Guest post by Renee L. Austin

As cats age, we watch for physiologic changes that may affect the long term outlook for health. Many health concerns arise because we notice shifts in behavior, appearance, and activity levels. One condition associated with aging and cats is so inconspicuous that once the physical signs do become apparent, the disease is already quite advanced.

Chronic Renal Disease or Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) is often seen in aging cats. It results in a gradual decrease in the function of the kidneys. The kidneys serve a number of purposes; they produce urine and filter waste products from the body, regulate electrolytes such as potassium and phosphorous, they produce erythropoietin which stimulates red blood cell production by the bone marrow, and they contribute toward regulating blood pressure. Once the loss of function begins it is not reversible, and other vital organs are affected along with how your cat may feel in general.

Signs of CRF can be very subtle at first, especially with a species that relies upon masking illness and appearing healthy for its survival. Watch for increased thirst and urination, vomiting or other signs of nausea, lethargy or depression, poor hair coat, loss of appetite, lingering over the water bowl, eating cat litter, constipation, a strong ammonia-like odor to the breath, and changes in vision and hearing.

CRF is diagnosed beginning with a thorough physical examination and simple diagnostics run through your veterinarian’s office. Changes in the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine and flush out waste are one of the earliest means of detecting the disease and will be assessed in a urinalysis. Blood tests will check for increases in Blood Urea Nitrogen and Creatinine to determine whether there is waste ‘build-up’ in the blood. Any changes in electrolyte levels and general blood cell health will be measured as well. Your cat’s doctor will also want to monitor blood pressure and perform a careful eye exam which may include measuring ocular pressures. 

There is no cure for CRF, but once it is diagnosed there are a number of actions you can take to help slow its progression and keep your cat comfortable at home. Dietary management, supplements, medication, and fluid therapy are all options that your veterinarian may discuss with you.

It is best to catch CRF before you notice signs at home by making routine visits to your veterinarian for examinations and lab work.  By doing this, subtle changes can be detected and monitored over time and preventative measures can be taken in the earliest stages. A good dental maintenance program will also help support overall organ health. Once-a-year visits may be appropriate for the younger feline, but as the years advance, more frequent visits might be in order.

Changes that occur as cats age are complex, and signs of CRF can be similar to many different disease processes. Be certain to make those appointments with your veterinarian and work closely together to understand your cat’s aging issues, as well as steps you can take to manage Chronic Renal Failure. 

Renee AustinRenee L. Austin is the founder of Whimsy Cats, a specialized home care business for cats with chronic medical conditions and special needs. She also provides consulting services for veterinary practices. For more information visit

Giveaway: Animal Magnetism

The Conscious Cat is giving away one copy of Animal Magnetism by Rita Mae Brown.  In Brown’s own words, “much of what I am is a result of a life with and close to animals.”  These words perfectly capture the spirit of this book.   In this heartwarming and often funny collection, Brown shares stories of the animals that touched her life.  Click here to read my review of this book.

To enter, please leave a comment letting me know why you’d like to win this book.  One comment per person, please.  For an additional chance to win,  you can blog, tweet or share on Facebook about this giveaway and leave the link in a comment.  The deadline for entering the giveaway is Sunday, January 24.  Good luck!

Book Review: Unexpected Miracles by Dr. Shawn Messonier, D.V.M.

unexpected-miracles-book-coverUnexpected Miracles – Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets is a must read for anyone interested in integrative medicine, holistic health and natural remedies for pets.  Dr. Shawn Messonier, D.V.M.  is a nationally recognized authority on holistic pet care and integrative medicine.  He is the author of the award winning Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, the host of the weekly radio show Dr. Shawn, The Natural Vet on Martha Stewart Radio, and his column  The Holistic Pet is featured in newspapers throughout the United States.  He owns Paws and Claws Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas.

From the publisher:  Dr. Shawn Messonnier has been a veterinarian for more than fifteen years. Once a conventional practictioner, he’s embarked on a crusade to help pet owners keep their treasured furry friends healthy and happy, treating each patient not as a disease but as a unique living entity. Dr. Messonnier brings the reader into his waiting room and introduces them to some remarkable animals…and the courageous owners who never gave up on their pets. Using case studies and higlighting diseases that commonly afflict our pets, Dr. Messonnier shows us the integrative methods he has developed to help these creatures not only survive the maladies they were originally diagnosed with but in many cases go on to live long and healthy lives.  Unexpected Miracles will change the way you think about your  pet’s healthcare forever.

The book is a fascinating collection of often heartwarming stories of cats and dogs who were either given a poor prognosis, a death sentence or a completely wrong diagnosis, and whose owners were coming to Dr. Messonier in hopes of finding a cure or at the very least a way to help their pet live a longer life.  It also offers a thorough look at what truly integrative medical, or in this case, veterinary, care really means.  An integrative approach to veterinary care uses both conventional treatments, commonly thought of as Western medicine, and natural, alternative and holistic treatments ranging from supplements to herbs to acupuncture.  By taking a truly holistic approach, Dr. Messonier treats the patient, not the disease, and uses the best of all available treatment options to achieve optimal healing for each individual patient.  This includes looking at the pet’s environment and potential exposure to toxins, reducing vaccinations from the old paradigm of annual “shots” to only those required by law or no vaccinations at all, to eliminating by-products and low quality ingredients from the pet’s diet.

While each story shared in this book is about the individual pet and the condition the pet’s owner sought help with, there are definite commonalities in all the cases, and it’s these commonalities that will give the reader a thorough understanding of what an integrative approach to health is truly all about.

In addition, the book is a testament to how much we love our pets and that most of us will go to great lenghts to find ways to keep these wonderful creatures happy and healthy by giving them the best possible care.

I think this book should be on every pet owner’s book shelf as not only a reference book, but also as a reminder that sometimes, hope is the best medicine.

For more information about Dr. Messonier, visit his website at

Amber’s Story

One of the questions most frequently asked of me since the release of Buckley’s Story has been why Buckley?  What was so special about this particular cat, rather than any of the other cats who have been part of my life, that inspired me to write a book about her?  You’ll have to read the book to find out how she changed my life in ways I never could have imagined by teaching me universal lessons about opening my heart and living a joyful life.  As the old saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  In my case, the teacher came in a seven pound feline body.

Inevitably, the second most frequently asked question I get is will you write a book about Amber?  Who knows, some day, she may get her own book.  Those of you who’ve visited this site have gotten to know her in her occasional Mewsings, but not all of you know her story.  So – even though it’s not a book (yet – you never know!), here is her story:

Amber and her five kittens were brought to the Middleburg Animal Hospital in the spring of 2000 by a client who had found the little family in her barn.  Despite being emaciated and scrawny-looking, Amber’s eventual beauty was evident even then.  She is a dark Tortoiseshell color, with an amber-colored heart-shaped spot on top of her head, which became the reason for her name.  Her kittens found new homes in fairly rapid succession.

However, nobody was interested in the beautiful mommy cat.  She spent her days in the big adoption cage in the hospital’s waiting area, but with the constant inflow of homeless kittens that is typical for spring and summer, nobody wanted to adopt an adult cat.  I had recently lost my almost sixteen-year-old soul mate cat Feebee, and the grief over his loss was still very fresh.  I did not think I was ready for another cat, but coming home to an empty house was becoming increasingly difficult.

One weekend in July, I decided to take Amber home, “just for the weekend”.  I wanted to give her a break from the abandoned feral kitten we had placed with her after her own kittens had all found homes.  The kitten was a rambunctious six-week old grey tabby, and Amber was becoming increasingly exasperated with his constant need for attention.  As far as she was concerned, she had done her mommy duty with her own kittens.

After living in a cage for all these months, Amber was initially a little overwhelmed by having access to an entire house, and she spent most of that first weekend near or under my bed.  By Sunday evening, she had relaxed a little and started exploring her new environment.  I liked having her gentle and peaceful energy around the house, and I decided that she could stay a little longer.  Not quite ready to acknowledge that she was home with me to stay, I told everyone that I was “just fostering her”.

Somehow, the flyers advertising that she was available for adoption never got distributed, and she only returned to the animal hospital for regular check ups.

Amber is a gentle, loving cat with a wise old soul.  For the past nine years, her peaceful and solid presence, not to mention her almost constant purr, have been bringing love and affection into my life every day.  She enjoys sleeping in our sunny living room, curling up with me when I sit down to read or to watch television, and watching the birds at the feeder on our deck.

She is a teacher to the core of her being, and she is my writing muse.  There are days when I sit down in front of the computer and stare at the blank screen with no idea of what I’m going to be writing about, but as soon as she comes into the room and curls up on the window perch next to my desk for a long nap, I feel inspired, and the words start flowing.

Animals come into our lives for many reasons.  Some very special animals touch our souls and change us forever.  Amber is one of these special animals.

Sadly, Amber passed away on May 13, 2010, after a sudden, brief illness. I will always miss her.

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