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Katze Ball

“Your cat will figure it out.” This is the catchy tag line from the designer of the Cat Ball, a fabric dome or cat-cave which Jennifer Schmidt came up with while working as a costume designer. This is one of the few things I’ve bought Miss Picky and Persnickety that she actually likes and uses. Designed by Jennifer Schmidt, available from her website thecatball.com, it is a hexagonal (six-sided) fabric ball with a large entrance at one end and a smaller exit at the other.

Photo courtesy Jennifer Schmidt, the catball.com

Photo courtesy Jennifer Schmidt, the catball.com

I wrote Jennifer:

For a few weeks after receiving my Cat Ball, Pumpkin basically ignored it. She saw it, she sniffed it, but she wasn’t interested in climbing into it: I put it on the bed, on the floor, on the couch. I was resigned to it being yet another purchase that she turns her nose up at like the three different scratching things, or the food dispenser/toy, all of which have been donated to cat charities.

But then I came home one day to find her sleeping in it. And tonight, after a monumental man versus cat struggle to get her into the cat carrier (wounds inflicted, ego bruised, you guess which is which), in order to get her nails clipped at a local vet, she came home (with me) and hid under the bed. I know she appreciates having shorter nails which don’t get caught up in things, or maybe she’s really pissed off at having shorter nails, who knows, but she did agree, a few hours later, to some play time.  And surprised me by basically lunging into the Cat Ball. We played a string game in and out of it. She had a great time twisting and turning around inside it as I passed the string by one hole and then the other. She’s curled up in it now, asleep, as I type this.

Pumpkin asleep, after playing in the Cat Ball.

Pumpkin asleep, after playing in the Cat Ball.

Jennifer replied:

Sometimes I wonder why we keep these silly animals. I have plastic wrap all around my dining chairs, which it turns out were designed to be tall, fabric covered and totally stable, so the cats started scratching them. Actually, take KITTENS started mountain climbing them, and it went from there. It’s a battle we can only fight with stuff like plastic wrap and that sticky tape stuff. I guess I’m thinking of your ego bruising after this epic cat carrier battle. Maybe the vet techs have tricks- and if they do, please tell me! Getting a cat into a carrier can be so hard.

If you could have only been a fly on the wall the day Pumpkin walked into her previously ignored Cat Ball! I get so curious when I hear a story like this. What finally motivated a cat? In any case, I really appreciate that you took the time to write to us! Such a sweet story, and it does have a happy ending!

I asked Jennifer to tell me how she came up with the design:

I believe that accidental collisions of two entirely different worlds can result in innovation. In 2009 I was employed as a costume designer and had been hired to make three adult size soccer ball mascot costumes. I had never done anything like this before so I decided to start with a miniature prototype. The miniature sat around my workshop while I made the full size costumes, and after getting two tiny orange kittens I had the brainstorm to turn this prototype into a kitten bed.This costume prototype had two openings that corresponded to the head and feet of the actor.

I named this bed design “Cat Ball”, and added it to my Etsy store. Eventually I received an email from Kate Benjamin at Hauspanther.com (her blog was named ModernCat.net at that time) informing me that she’d posted my Cat Ball® beds to her blog, and I should expect to get increased store views as a result. I was flooded with responses! The two Cat Ball® beds I had made sold out and people were writing and asking for more! Customers were actually buying Cat Balls® from me before the fabrics had been selected. It looked like I had developed a viable product so I bought a business license.

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Sewing the novelty Shark Bed (now sold out)

One thing I hadn’t thought about when I developed the product was the territorial nature of cats. I received a message from a customer, who had just received her Cat Ball®, that she was immediately buying another unit, saying, “the cats won’t share!” It’s a funny situation that I hadn’t forseen, but it does affect my sales! I also like to get creative and make novelty designs. These creations are a great way to attract interest and our most popular novelty design is the great white shark Cat Ball® bed.

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philosophy and the cat

2014-11-18 19.22.43“What Philosophy Can Tell You About Your Cat” edited by Steven D. Hales (Open Court Publishing, 2008.)

This is one of my favourite philosophy books, along with those I’ve mentioned in previous posts by my friend Gary Steiner*. Each of the 18 chapters is written by a different philosopher or person who has something to say about philosophy and cats, with titles such as:

What I Learned from a Cat that No Philosopher Could Teach Me (Gary Steiner)

The Friendship of Felines (Diane Jeske)

Cats and the Aesthetics of the Everyday (Allison Hagerman)

Our Obligations to Domesticated Animals (Evan Moren0-Davis)

Are You Any More Rational Than Your Cat? (Bryony Pierce)

Do Cats Have Beliefs? (Manuel Bremer)

Cats in the Afterlife (Judy Barad)

2014-11-18 19.23.02This isn’t a light read, nor is it a joke; serious questions are raised about our relationship to animals in general, cats in particular, and the answers–when there are answers–are enlightening.

It’s impossible not to have noticed that cats pause at the threshold, between indoors and out-of-doors, especially. It takes them a moment to undergo the transition, to gird themselves up for the larger world outside or the smaller one inside. Sometimes they pause for maddeningly long stretches…Cats are mistresses of the liminal, the borderland between the beautiful and the sublime; this region of experience is populated with things that have some form and some formlessness. This power of the threshold among cats comes from cultivating the parts of experience that are almost too big to handle, but not quite… (Randall E. Auxier, “The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful”)

Something that I am learning from my life with cats (the two that I had for almost twenty years each, and the one I have had sharing my place for seven months), is that it is the present moment that is what the cat experiences, and what the Buddhist practices, and what I am trying to do more of in my life. Mindfulness. I’m not suggesting Pumpkin is intentional in her present-ness, she just is. I used to imagine the cats had a rich store of memories, that those hours spent staring at a wall were indicative of something going on in their heads, memories of past hunts, of encounters with the other cat. Now I think, no, perhaps what I experience as mindful attention to the present, sitting cross-legged on my zafu and zabuton cushions for twenty or thirty minutes a day, Pumpkin and her kind has always experienced. This attentiveness is, of course, both an offensive and defensive behaviour: offensive, in the sense of hunting; defensive, to be alert to movement that might mean danger.

She was, for some while this evening, lying on her stomach, paws folded under her chest, eyes half-closed, but not quite: watching me write and read. When I would look over at her, she’d give me the slow blink of acceptance and non-aggression, and I would return the long blink, with a smile. She is here. This crumpled piece of paper she’s nosing around and leaping on is here, now, and she would like me to stop typing and play with her, and so I will.

2014-11-18 19.23.35* Steiner’s books include Animals and the Moral Community, Columbia University Press 2008; and Animals and the Limits of Post-Modernism, CUP 2013.

Rescuing one another

The inter-connectedness of life is especially poignant when one species saves another species. Here are some moving stories of people saving non-human animals, of animals saving animals, and one of a cat making life better for an autistic girl. All found on the wonderful site,  The Dodo (https://www.thedodo.com/).

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The fisherman who saved a bald eagle. Watch Dan Dunbar, fishing near Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, rescue an eagle swimming in the ocean. The eagle looked tired (plus, they don’t normally swim). In an un-selfconscious video with thumbs covering the lens some of the time, and some self-deprecating humour, Dan uses his other hand to scoop the bird in a net and allows it to rest aboard his boat, although he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his “fishing partner.”

 

980xturtleMouth to mouth resuscitation of a turtle. David Steen, a herpetologist working in Florida, saves a turtle who had become trapped underwater for too long.

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James and Bob update no.2

James and Bob. Photo: Clara Molden, The Telegraph

James and Bob. Photo: Clara Molden, The Telegraph

I’ve written about former heroin addict and street person James Bowen and how his finding and caring for an abandoned cat saved his life, in two posts:

 The love of a cat (July 10, 2013)

James and Bob update no.1 (July 29, 2014)

My friend Françoise, in Belgium, wrote me recently to say she is taking her time reading the latest book by James Bowen, released this month in the UK as “A Gift From Bob: how a street cat named Bob helped one man learn the meaning of Christmas.” As a writer in The Telegraph said, the title is “cheesy, but so what”–people were lined up around the block at Waterstone’s to buy a signed copy.

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Lineup for James and Bob, Waterstone’s Books, London, October 10 2014

BA25008B-39A6-4847-9120-BC425279D514-2722-000001A70CD8795E_zps7b3f20a3Peter Stanford, writing in The Telegraph, begins:

It was pouring with rain but still they queued round the block outside Waterstone’s in London’s Covent Garden. So many that the bookshop staff decided after two hours to impose a cut-off. They’d come from Jersey, Germany, even San Francisco. Most bore gifts – cupcakes, toys and hand-knitted scarves…

And which giant of literature had prompted this outpouring of adulation on the day the publishing industry calls “Super Thursday” because it is when all their big Christmas hopefuls land in the bookshops? A long-haired former rough sleeper and his faithful feline companion.

Link to the full article

And James now has a website (click on image to go there, but do return!)

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.44.54 AMI’m going to risk The Telegraph telling me not to copy too much of their article, but until I can get my own interview with James, this will have to suffice. Stanford writes:

“The first time I saw him,” says James, “he was sitting on a doorstep near where I was living in north London. He gave me a curious gaze and I said hello. That carried on for three days until I knocked on the door to see if that was where he belonged. The people who answered looked at me as if I was mad.”

So Bob – James named him after a character in US TV drama Twin Peaks – came up to the flatlet where James was struggling to get his life on track and keep off drugs. He discovered a weeping abscess on Bob’s leg, took him to an RSPCA vet and ended up with a £22 bill. “I only had £30 to my name. I paid up and then gave him the antibiotics. Then, one morning, he followed me on to the bus.” An odd couple was born.

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Therapy Dogs

This summer and fall I made two short documentaries about the St.John Ambulance therapy dog program. This came about when I first approached Tanya King, a photographer specializing in fabulous pet portraits, about filming her doing a session with a cat. But cat portraits, it seems, are rare; more common are dogs getting their pictures taken, which is a bit of a surprise given the thousands of cat videos and cat images online. When Tanya suggested I film her shooting not one but twelve dogs for a calendar, I jumped at the opportunity. (Click on the video’s outward arrows button to enlarge.)

SJA has now produced both a wall and a desktop calendar, which can be purchased from their store.

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Following this shoot, I became interested in therapy dogs and began interviewing and following several volunteers. Obtaining permission to shoot in senior citizen’s facilities wasn’t easy, so I had to limit the interviews to those elderly who were cognitively able to sign a release. One of those interviewed, Ginger, passed away shortly after this interview, age 97.