Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A stroll down memory lane... with my pets

Having this little contest has made me very nostalgic about my own pets.  When my husband and I got together we had a combined total of 8 pets (I won't own up to how many of them I brought to the table).  I had previously had other pets in my life as well (cats, horses and even a teddy bear hamster).  Since I'm asking others to share their stories I thought maybe I'd tell you about the pets that inspired the portraits I've made for myself!
Ginger -- Scratchboard portrait of her 2009 (c) Pam Boutilier
Ginger is the only pet that we have who is still alive and lives with us!  I got her when my first cat passed away.  We were living in an old farmhouse and actually needed cats around to deal with rodents - I remember being a bit resentful, my heart was hurting over losing Blackie and I wasn't quite ready to open it up to another cat.  I went to a friend's farm and selected two cats, Bagheera and Ginger.  I chose her because she was the last one still at the communal feeding bowls so I figured that meant she was healthy.  I must have been on to something because she is now 20 years old and the most regal old lady cat I've ever met!

Even as recently as last year she was still no-nonsense when it came to dinner time:

Dufus being a dork, and a Whiteboard sketch of him c.2013 (c) Pam Boutilier
Dufus was our heart-cat and the namesake cat of Cat-in-a-Box!  We are pretty convinced that he reincarnated from my husband's childhood cat, Hoover.  He was born months before I even met my husband (and I think it was a year before cat and husband-to-be met) and in spite of that Dufus was a total daddy's boy!  He loved my husband and would greet him every day like this (and because of 'Michael's Rule' he had to pick him up every single time):
We lost him last summer and I think that was perhaps the hardest pet loss we've had.  My husband wrote a lovely eulogy for him that I posted previously on this blog.  We are forever grateful that he lived 2 1/2 happy years after being diagnosed with heart disease, which was very good considering the nature of his condition - we cherished every moment.  He was both metaphorically and literally a cat with an enormous heart!

(Left to Right) Nessie -- Whiteboard portrait 2009 -- The Nessie bjorn (c) Pam Boutilier
Although she was a dainty cat, being a siamese Nessie was never afraid to voice her opinion.  When she got older she went completely deaf - and it so happened that I was working as a veterinary phone consultant at that time, if she had something important to say while I was on a call things could get... interesting (thank goodness for mute buttons!).  We lost Nessie just over a year ago to cancer.  Ever the lady, she was an elegant cat right to the end.  It was for her that we created the 'Nessie bjorn' - basically a large scarf that I could tie around my torso to hold her against me.  In her final months she wanted to be held constantly, and the Nessie-bjorn let me have my hands free for work and still hold her.

Michael and scratchboard portrait 2009 (c) Pam Boutilier
Michael was the most gorgeous and also one of the dumbest cats I've ever known.  He has always been a great inspiration for my art because of his classic beauty - I've done more portraits of him than any other single subject, he the even adorns my blog header!  However, it was what he taught us about life that had, by far, the greatest impact on me.
You see Michael died unexpectedly and of unknown causes a few years back (after lengthy discussion my husband and I chose not to have a post-mortem exam done on him).  He was only around 10 years old and had been perfectly healthy all his life, we'd even had bloodwork and radiographs (x-rays) done on him recently for some routine dental work.  I came home one day and he was on his side laying on a blanket, dead.  The shock of it was one thing, but was hit me hard and deep was that the night before he'd asked me to pick him up and I was too busy.

You read about stories like that - what someone didn't do or say to a loved one before they were unexpectedly taken away.  Our life was busy at that time, we had four cats and I worked from home so they were constantly around.  It was not unreasonable that I'd shoo him away because I was working on something... of course I wouldn't have if I'd known he was going to die the next day, but that's the point, you never know.  I can never go back to that evening and pick him up and give him the affection he wanted and deserved - but I can tell you that ever since that day I have never refused affection when a loved one asks for it.  We consider it 'Michael's Rule' - I hug and kiss my husband every day, even if I'm annoyed at him over something.  We both pick up or pat our pets every time they want it.  We don't have kids but this would apply to them too.

Our loved ones could be taken from us at any time.  Trust me, it's well worth the few seconds to pick up a kitty, pat a dog, or hug a person - seconds to acknowledge them before going back to your important work, seconds to let them know that you care.  This is what Michael taught me - and I value and remember this lesson every day of my life.

Emma, and Pastel portrait of her 2008 (c) Pam Boutilier
Emma was my husband's dog, and she was sunshine incarnate!  A street dog from Detroit she learned young that you sometimes have to bend the rules to survive - and though she was a very good dog (my husband had done great obedience training with her at a young age) she still had the most endearing and playful mischevious streak.  Emma was a bridesmaid at our wedding and a great companion to both my husband and myself for many years.  We lost her back in 2010 after a long battle with heart and kidney disease.  I remember carrying her up and down the stairs to our industrial loft (the metal grating was too uncomfortable on her feet and the stairs were too much for her heart at that point).  We knew it was time to say goodbye when fun-loving Emma just wasn't having fun anymore - sadly her rapid downturn happened when we were both out of the country and we weren't with her at the end (it wasn't fair to make her suffer until we could get to where she was).  The years have softened the loss though - and when I think of her I remember how engaged and excited she was about everything in the world around her, a lesson for us all!

Laurich c. 2008 - being in the snow, which was his favorite spot
Laurich is one of the few pets that I don't have a completed work of art on... hmm.. I'll have to remedy that.  He was a very handsome dog and best man at our wedding.  He was my first dog - and spent his early life patrolling the farm on PEI.  He was calm and steady where the other dogs were boundful (Emma) or explosive (Rosie), I don't know when his birthday was but I think I'd have to guess he was a libra :D.  He wasn't a dog to play with toys much, but for some reason he always needed to have a plush toy in his mouth when he greeted you.  He also was a chow-hound who couldn't be trusted alone with any food (I remember vividly the episode where he ate an entire BOX of tiny meal bars, leaving all the wrappers licked clean on the floor - then we had to drive with him in a car for five hours... that was... aromatic).  He was a good boy and we are so grateful for the 13 years we had with him before he passed away the year before we lost Emma.

Rosie and Ink portrait on hand-aged paper 2008 (c) Pam Boutilier
Ah Rosie!  She was adorable and LOVED people, to the point that you'd begin to wonder if she thought she was human.  Unfortunately she HATED other dogs, which didn't go over so well when Emma moved in and we all of us were living in an 800 square foot home!  Laurich was the one dog she did like - maybe because he'd stand beside the bed so she could put her front feet on his back and bite his ears when they play-fought.  Or maybe because if a strange dog approached the house she could stand with him towering behind her and tell the strange dog off - until she turned around and realized Laurich had gotten bored and wandered back in the house at which point, her 'muscle' gone, she would abruptly shut her yap.  She was a character!  Though I'm philosophically opposed to bulldogs, I was so glad to have our little adopted Rosie in spite of, or maybe because of, her foibles and flaws!

Charlie and Ben
(Left to Right) Ben and Charlie -- Pastel of Charlie 2009 -- Scratchboard of Ben 2010 (c) Pam Boutilier
My dear boys - a Shire and a Belgian.  The reason we lived in a run-down farmhouse while in PEI was so that I could have horses.  Initially 'horse' - Charlie, but I learned that there is little as sad as a solitary horse and so it wasn't long before we got Ben (we jokingly said that Ben was a Christmas gift for Charlie that year).  They were the sweetest creatures - but different as night and day.  Charlie was the ultimate 'earth' constitution - laid back, food motivated and with a high need for affection.  Ben was a 'wood' constitution - high-spirited, motivated and not going to do things someone else's way just because they said so.  Ben always loved animals more than humans - as a human you really had to gain his trust, but he was much quicker to befriend the cats, dogs and other horses he met.  Sadly because of career developments we couldn't keep the boys - but they each went to carefully selected homes where they had more horses and other animals to be friends with, and jobs to do, which I think was actually a better situation than lounging around our place while I studied all the time.

Blackie was the first cat I was truly friends with.  He lived 13 years - passing away from heart failure when I was just starting vet school.  There is something very special about the bond you have with a pet that is with you from childhood through into your 20's - they are with you through so many life changes that they become an integrated part of those changes and memories, I think they often help us grow up.   Blackie was a grump to anyone who didn't know him - he'd hide under the bed and attack people's ankles - but to me he was simply my buddy.  I was both introverted and shy, and Blackie was the friend who bridged the spaces between having human friends, the one who didn't demand anything, to whom I always knew what to say, and who grudgingly let me dress him up in Cabbage Patch doll clothes (when I was 10, not in vet school :D).

Cosette, Bagheera, Misty - and Ralph
(Left to Right) Cosette, Bagheera, Misty, Ralph
The three kitties who were in my life the shortest amount of time are still fondly remembered as was Ralph, my teddy-bear hamster.  My husband's kitty Cosette, who sadly ran away.  Bagheera who we lost to a coyote (sadly, one of the hazards of being a farm cat in PEI).  And Misty - technically my first ever kitty - a dilute tortie who was a bit of a spaz that liked to climb the curtains but could never figure out how to get back down from the curtain rod - I was too young to understand that was stressful for my working single mom and so Misty rapidly found a new home and was followed by the more complacent Blackie.  Ralph I had when I was very young - I seem to recall him driving my Barbie convertible... wonder where I got that idea?

There you go!  A heart-felt stroll through my pets (mostly in-memoriam).  Every pet touches us in some way, and some touch us in ways that truly change us.  This is at the heart of why I do pet portraits, and why when I look at a cat or dog (or horse or mouse) I wonder who they are, what's their personality, what friendships have they shared? 

And also why I'm running my little contest (for which you've got until Noon EST on Friday, April 11th to enter if you're going to!!).



Sande said...

What a beautiful bunch of memories. I enjoyed visualizing your dogs in your wedding. You've done such a wonderful job of showing the beauty and nobility of your furry friends. Your artwork shows your respect and love for them.

Reflections From Life Art Blog said...

Nice article on your pets. Glad I'm not the only one with a crazy amount of animals! My husband has taken to calling me the crazy cat lady and our house a cathouse (we really don't want that name getting around). Lol!

~ Nancy