Visit the Tuna Booth at meowfest Virtual

Who’s going to meowfest Virtual this weekend?! The exciting news is that, because it’s digital, anyone can attend this year! General admission tickets cost $25 CAD (about $17 USD). Ticket proceeds benefit the Langley Animal Protection Society and the RAPS (Richmond) sanctuary, which provides a spacious forever home for many cats with chronic medical conditions, or who have made it clear they decline to live with humans.

I’m happy to announce that Tuna is a vendor at meowfest this year, and we’re offering the following to attendees:

  • Everyone who attends will be able to download a cat-themed virtual Zoom background drawn by Francis
  • Attendees can enter to win an illustration of their cat (past or present) by Francis. To enter the contest: 1) Follow @morethantuna on Instagram, 2) Share a screenshot of your meowfest virtual ticket in your IG Story, and use the @mention tag to TAG @morethantuna. That’s it! We’ll pick from among the entries. 
  • On Saturday, July 11 (11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern), Sarah will give a talk in the Tuna “booth” (Zoom room), “How to Deepen Your Bond With Your Cat.” 


Full Tuna Booth Schedule for meowfest Virtual:

  • Friday, July 10 (3pm to 5pm) Francis will be drawing and we’ll both be “greeting” attendees.
  • Saturday, July 11 (11am Pacific ) Sarah’s Talk: How to Deepen Your Bond With Your Cat (This is a short talk, 15-20 minutes. There will be a Q&A afterwards.)
  • Sunday, July 12  (3pm to 5pm) – Francis will be drawing and I’ll be hosting an AMA (ask me anything). 
How to Deepen Your Bond with Your Cat

How to Deepen Your Bond with Your Cat

 

“Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are.
We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
From Coraline by Neil Gaiman

One of the most heartbreaking truths about adopting a kitten or cat is that we will probably outlive them. Most cats have shorter lifespans than most humans. The silver lining to this knowledge is that we can make the most of the time we have with our cats. What we lack in length of time together, we can make up for in depth of bond.

Many of us would agree that part of the feline mystique is, well, the mystique. We think we know our cats, yet there is so much more to these beings than we are capable of perceiving through our ideas about them. The word “cat” is a human label, a construct. Cats aren’t “cats” just because we call them that. When we begin exploring the being behind our label “cat,” to understand ourselves and our felines as expressions of the same mystery, we can deepen our bond even more.

We humans are so accustomed to labeling our experiences that often, we don’t even realize we’re creating labels. While labels are necessary for navigating life—like asking someone to pass the salt or turn left at the gas station—they can also be barriers to truly seeing another.

Thousands of articles offer conventional advice about bonding with your pet. Most of them cover topics like engaging your cat’s intellect (e.g., clicker training); giving a cat scratching posts and/or cat trees, so they can de-stress and sharpen their claws; providing hiding spaces and perches; giving them visual stimulation through windows; playing and feeding in a way that’s aligned with how they play in the wild (hunt-catch-kill-eat); and letting them take the lead in snuggle time, rather than smothering them. These are all crucial to our companions’ physical and mental well-being.

What I’m getting at here, though, is an experience of pure connection. Without the conceptual labels humans have imposed, what are these beings we call “cats”?

All of the below suggestions require removing concepts from the mind. In order to do that, we have to learn to notice that we’re thinking and pause our thoughts. That’s easier said than done, yet in my experience, the practice pays off in a much deeper connection between human and cat.

Step 1: Observe the “raw cat”

Jackson Galaxy uses the phrase “raw cat” to describe cats’ authentic nature, how they would naturally live in the world were it not for human interference. Cats are outdoor creatures, yet we humans have built a world in which it’s largely unsafe for them to go outdoors. (This is the North American perspective; in the UK, it’s often considered cruelty to keep a cat solely indoors.) To see our companions as they truly are, we have to release everything we think we know about cats in general and our cats in particular. 

One way to do this is by using treat puzzles. You can create one from an empty toilet paper roll. Take an empty roll and poke a couple of nickel-size holes in the sides. Place a few treats inside, then fold up the ends. Hide it somewhere that isn’t visually obvious, such as inside a bookshelf, the “cubby” of a cat tree, or a box. Watch your cat hunt for it. Most cats will love this game. Notice their ears and whiskers swivel forward. Does their tail curl? Maybe it even quivers with excitement. Does your cat open their mouth to use their vomeronasal organ (an area of the soft palate that enables them to smell exponentially better than humans)?  When they find the treat, how do they approach it? Do they hold back and then pounce in one sweeping motion? Do they approach it and bat it around? Observe even the tiniest motions as they figure out how to access the food inside.

Step 2: Look without labeling

Humans are visual creatures. From infancy, most of us are taught that the words we know are an object. Yet labels are not the things themselves; labels are sounds that we agree reference a given object or being. Sometimes these words are called “pointers” because it’s impossible to capture the experience in language. The word “forest,” for example, points to the fragrance of warm pine, and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, but the word itself is neither of those things.

Choose another time when your cat is resting quietly. Notice all the labels you associate with him or her: tabby, tortie, tuxie. Male/female. Young/old. Aloof/affectionate. As you notice each concept, release it. What do you experience? What do you see? How does it change your perceptions of this being?

Step 3: Touch without naming

This is a sensory exercise. Choose another time when your cat is calm. Place your hand gently on your cat’s fur. Now imagine all the energy in your mind gathering into a tiny ball and moving down your arm, to the place where the palm meets fur.

Release all words and thoughts that come to mind—keep re-directing your attention to the palm of your hand. Focus intensely on the sensation. Notice when you’re tempted to label it, then consciously release the label and come back to the sensation.

Step 4: Make eye contact (gently)

Now let’s go even deeper. Cats’ eyes are the stuff that myths (and novels) are made of. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat can attest to the mysteries contained in their eyes. As a cat reaches maturity, their eyes take on a fractal-like quality, as though they simultaneously contain and reflect all the mysteries in the universe. We’re going to take a look without those concepts.

For this exercise, it’s very important to use a soft gaze; never stare down your cat. Cats, like most mammals, interpret a hard stare as a threat. Instead, soften your eyes as though you’re about to slow-blink. Choose a time when your cat is resting peacefully but awake on your lap. This works best if your cat is facing you. Soften your gaze and look into their eyes, and again, release any concepts. Look without naming. Allow your cat to stare into your eyes without interpreting their gaze. Take in what you see, and let it quiet your mind. What do you notice? How does this change your experience of your cat?

Zen teacher Adyashanti has a line I’ve quoted before: “That which is looking through your eyes is also looking through mine.” In my experience, “that” is also looking through Ariel’s eyes, and Hedda before her. Experiencing “that” created a profound shift in how I perceive Ariel. Of course, I still give Ariel belly rubs and often use a high-pitched voice to praise her (cats prefer higher frequency sounds), yet I’m aware that what I perceive—what I’m capable of perceiving through a human brain—is only a fraction of her whole being. And honestly, it makes me wonder which of us is really the guardian.

In my experience, these exercises lead to an awareness of our cat’s being-ness, their essence as a sovereign expression of nature. For me, it feels like a brief, intense “Oh wow” moment. As a writer, it’s very hard to put this into words. When you experience it, you’ll see what I mean.

In the comments, please share your experiences of these practices, and any others you’ve found helpful for connecting more deeply with your cat. 

Navigating Emotions After Pet Loss

Navigating Emotions After Pet Loss

Grieving a cat—or any kind of grief—is not a one-size-fits-all experience (as though any experience or emotion were?). Some people can’t stop sobbing, while others reflect quietly. Some are comforted by hugs and rituals; others need solitude to process their loss.

There’s no “right” way to grieve, and there’s no “right” length of time. In fact, I don’t see a loss as something we “get over,” but rather something that becomes a part of our life experience. When our skin is gravely injured, it doesn’t go back to looking the way it did before; it heals, and we have a scar.

Loss changes the fabric of our lives; it changes the way we perceive and interact with the world. And like a scar, walking through grief (not trying to circumvent it) makes something in us stronger, more resilient. Grief is something to be healed, not to transcend.

Grief is nonlinear, too. Our human minds would love to make grief into a process that has a distinct beginning, middle and end…but in my experience, that’s just not true. Grief, like life, is messy and unpredictable. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

We all grieve, and for each of us, our grief is as unique as a fingerprint. If we try to avoid grief, it will redouble its strength and burst forth anyway. However you need to grieve, that’s the right way for you.

Grieving a Kitten

Grieving a Kitten

If you are grieving the loss of a foster kitten, please read this excellent post by Hannah Shaw (Kitten Lady). If you are grieving a “resident” kitten (one you had planned to live with through their full lifespan)), I hope you’ll find comfort in this post.

When a kitten dies, it’s particularly painful, because as a species, humans are hardwired to care for vulnerable babies (of any species). We expect them to live a full and long life, rescued from the perils of fending for themselves, and surrounded by comfort. It feels to us as though their lives were cut short.

There are wide-ranging estimates of mortality rates for kittens younger than 12 weeks, but few are lower than 15% (some are as high as 70%). There are many reasons for this: maternal health problems, developmental issues (especially with kittens who were conceived later than their littermates), blood-type incompatibility, umbilical site infection…the list goes on.

Even in circumstances where a mama cat is healthy and well cared for throughout her pregnancy, deaths happen. Rescue cats are often far from healthy when they come into foster care, which means a higher percentage of their kittens are likely to have some of the issues above.

When a kitten dies, we want to know why. Our human minds like to figure things out. It gives us the illusion of control. But sometimes, we can’t know. And allowing that space of uncertainty is harder than coming up with theories. It’s easier to blame, attack or theorize than to sit with the pain of loss.

Everything that is born, dies. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. It’s an irrefutable fact of nature. Some species have a lifespan of only a few hours. When we cling to ideas of how it “should” be, we suffer—and that compounds the pain of grief.

Nearly every experienced foster I know has endured kittens dying in their care, and it’s especially painful for them. They do everything right, staying up around the clock, tube feeding, racing to the emergency vet at 3am—but still, sometimes kittens are just here for a short visit. Or, as Shelly Roche of Tinykittens said of one recently, “He was just passing through.”

This is the most heartbreaking part of “kitten season.” It’s the reason those of us involved in rescue advocate for spaying and neutering, to prevent this unnecessary suffering. Veterinary care is advancing every day, and people like Hannah Shaw (Kitten Lady) are doing an amazing job of educating as many people as possible on neonatal kitten care (the highest mortality rate is among orphaned kittens). But even with the absolute best care in the world, not every kitten can be saved.

We can find solace in the knowledge that kittens in foster care inevitably lived longer than they would have in the wild, and that they knew comfort, love and safety while they were here.

 

 

Photo by Kote Puerto on Unsplash

One Breath at a Time

One Breath at a Time

After my cat Hedda died, one of the things that helped me was a practice of focusing on my breath. The way air felt, flowing in through my nostrils, following its path into my lungs, feeling my chest and abdomen expand and then release. It didn’t change the situation, and it didn’t stop me from being in a fugue state, but for one brief moment, I could reconnect with my body. And if I could get through one breath, then I could get through another.

When we’re stressed (and especially when we’re crying), we tend to take short, shallow breaths (into the chest, rather than the abdomen). Breathing into the abdomen stimulates the vagus nerve, which calms anxiety and reduces stress.

What are some of the things that helped you get through the first few months after saying goodbye to your cat?

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