Monday, February 29, 2016

Emergency Preparedness for our Pets

Connor on my lap. He and my other cats depend on me to take care of them.

Earlier this month, the area where I live in Virginia was hit by snow, then sleet, then freezing rain, then rain. So ice clung to trees and power lines.

One morning at about 5, we heard a loud boom. We got up and ran to look out the window in the direction of the noise. A fire was in lighting up the ice and snow at the intersection right above our house. Flames were spewing out of the main line to the transformer, which had broken off when a tree fell over on it.

Everything turned out OK. But as I ran through the house, looking out of the windows, seeing how the flames lit up the trees around us, all I could think of was, we’ve got to get the carriers out in case we have to get out of here.

Because we would never leave without our cats.

I was reminded of that this past week when an EF3 tornado hit Appomattox County, which is the next county over from us. A tornado warning was issued for our county too, but the tornado affected and created devastation in Appomattox.

Are Larry and I prepared for a disaster? Are we prepared to pack up our cats at a minute’s notice and have everything we need to take with us? No, I admit we’re not. And I used to be a public health educator who wrote and talked about disaster preparedness. 

We never know when a natural or manmade disaster will force us to shelter in place or evacuate, and we need to be ready to care for our pets.

I gathered some online resources to help us get better prepared, and I am sharing them with you in the hopes that you’ll find them helpful.

*The ASPCA website has a section on Disaster Preparedness. It provides a good list of things to consider before something happens, like who would be a good caretaker for your pets if you can’t care for them. It also offers specific information for those with horses, reptiles, birds, and small animals like gerbils.

*The American Red Cross website makes recommendations on Pets and offers a printable Pets and Disaster Safety Checklist.

* provides Pets and Animal Emergency Planning information and includes a video.

Are you prepared for yourself and your pets in the event of a disaster? Or are you like me and need to work on this?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Abbey: Ask me anything

Happy Friday! Abbey here. Mama finally let me have a post. It’s so nice to talk with you directly. I’d like to thank you for visiting this blog. We are enjoying making new friends!

Since everything you know about me so far comes from Mama, I thought I’d use this post to answer any questions you have for me.

You can ask me anything. I will answer in the comments below, so be sure to check back for the answers!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On Wednesday: Home with Cats #3

“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
--Jean Cocteau

Every Wednesday, I explore different ways home is changed, improved, and complicated when cats are part of that home. 

This week: Permission to be contemplative.


Chase Bird

Abbey and Natasha




Monday, February 22, 2016

Taking better photos of cats


It’s not easy, is it? Getting decent photos of our kitties is more difficult than getting good photos of people, at least for me. Kitties don’t always quietly pose. They turn their heads at the last minute. They decide the photo shoot is over and walk out of the room. 

But over the years, I’ve learned a few things that make it a little easier to get better photos of my cats.

Connor turning his head at the last minute.

Take a lot of pictures. 
This is one of my mantras. Take many more photos of your cat or cats than you will ever “use” for a family album, Facebook, your blog, etc. 

You are probably going to have a number of blurred photos because your kitty moved at the last minute. And if I had a penny for every time I ended up taking a photo of my cat’s back or tail, I’d be a rich woman. If you take 20 photos, you might end up with one or two really clear, engaging photos. But it’s worth it. And in our digital world, you’re not wasting film.

This was reinforced with me when I worked as a newspaper reporter. It was a small weekly paper, so I did double duty as photographer. I learned to take multiple photos even of groups of people posing for a picture because invariably someone on the front row would have his or her eyes closed in some of the pictures.

I decided to keep a photo of Chase Bird leaving the room. I took this photo is 2014. 

Have the camera at hand. 
Your kitties are doing something really cute or you want to catch that look on her face as she gazes out the window. But you have to go to the closet and haul out your camera. By then, well, kitty has gone on to other things.

I usually have my phone nearby. And I keep my camera on the dining table in the living room for easy access.

Connor deciding he didn't want a portrait taken.

Get on their level if possible. 
It’s easier on my knees if I stand and take photos looking down. But I end up with much better photos if I get down on the floor with the cats and take straight on or angled shots. It means I do a lot of crawling around, and my joints make all kinds of noises when I finally get up. But I get better pictures and enjoy spending up close and personal time with my kitties.

I took this picture of Chase Bird in 2014. I missed his face.
But I like how the texture and colors of his fur show up.

Don’t delete all the “bad” photos. 
Even if it’s not a perfect picture, it’s a picture that captures a moment in your cat’s life. I have pictures that I wouldn’t necessarily share with anyone else. But looking at them brings back memories of my kitties.

Blurry, yes. Not a great picture at all. But I took this picture about a month after we
adopted Abbey. Chase Bird still wasn't having much to do with the
new whippersnapper at that time. This picture makes me smile.

Don’t stress out.
Sometimes I don’t have my camera, or my cats won’t stay still long enough to get a clear photo. But I finally realized that even if I couldn’t get a picture of the moment, I could enjoy the moment. I could be there with my cats with no distractions. And isn’t that the most important thing, to enjoy all the moments we have with our kitties? 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On Wednesday: Home with Cats #2

Abbey looking out on the backyard

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
--Jean Cocteau

Every Wednesday, I explore different ways home is changed, improved, and complicated when cats are part of that home. Of course, it’s not all pretty. Some of what I’ll write about are the things we have in our home that we’d rather not have. 

This week, it’s pretty. 

As we learn about our cats’ needs, and as those needs change, we try to adapt. My husband Larry has built two pieces of furniture to help with the adaptations.

Some years ago, we had a stool at the foot of our bed so that Waddles, who was getting older, could more easily jump up on the bed.

One night she missed the stool and fell to the floor. She hurt the elbow on her front left leg. There was no break, but the vet said she had a lot of arthritis.

Larry set about building a ramp for the bedroom, something that Waddles could walk up and down with no jumping required. This is what he built: 

When he said he was building a ramp out in his shop, I admit that I didn’t expect something so pretty that fit in so well with the room. Most importantly, it was so useful not only to Waddles, but our other cats as they got older.

Late last year, Abbey started clawing at the blinds in the living room window, a large picture window that overlooks the backyard. Normally we keep those blinds down because the other cats had found other windows for bird and squirrel watching.

But Abbey wanted to see out the living room window. So we started raising the blinds. She and Natasha sat on the floor and peered out. Sometimes Abbey climbed up on the back of the nearby sofa and looked out. But they didn’t have a really comfortable way to lounge while they looked out on the backyard. 

So Larry decided to build a bench for them. He had the top of an old exercise bench lying around in his shop. He covered it with carpet. That formed the top of the bench. He created legs by combining two 2x4 boards for each leg, then contoured them so he could wrap them with manila rope. That way, the cats can use them for scratching posts. He was concerned about the stability, so he built a base for it. Here’s the bench:

Natasha and Abbey on the upper level

Abbey on the lower level

Again, he built something that fit in with the house but more importantly, provided a great place for the cats to lounge, nap, and watch the outside world.

Larry’s additions to the d├ęcor of our house show another way that the presence of cats can lead to changes in the home’s appearance and in its “visible soul.”

Have you ever changed your furniture to accommodate a pet?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Meet Connor

In Friday’s post, I asked you to guess what Natasha was thinking, and said Natasha would reveal the truth today.

And this is what Natasha was thinking:

“Are you kidding me? Another cat?”

Yes, we have adopted another cat. Meet Connor Romeo Barbour.

Connor Romeo Barbour - taken Feb. 14, 2016

Romeo, as he was named at the county shelter, was an owner surrender. His picture on Facebook was as cute as could be, but there was a sadness in his eyes. I couldn’t forget him. 

I wanted to go meet him. But my husband Larry said that he thought two cats were enough for now. I believe that when bringing in a new animal, it’s good for both me and my husband to be happy about it. And maybe . . . well, maybe two was enough.

Wednesday Larry called me at work. I thought he was just calling to say hi. But then he said he was thinking about Valentine’s Day and what our gifts to each other might be.

“Why don’t we go adopt Romeo?” he asked.

It took no convincing. Yes!

Connor on the day we brought him home.
You can from his eyes that he doesn't feel good.

So that afternoon we brought him home. It has been a tough few days. He wouldn’t eat much on Wednesday night and ate nothing on Thursday. He was also favoring his left front leg and paw. 

Thursday afternoon we took him to our vet and discovered that he had a fever. The vet couldn’t find anything specifically wrong. She said he could have gotten bitten and had an abscess somewhere we couldn’t see. His breath smelled like he might have the beginnings of an upper respiratory infection.

To start, the vet gave him an antibiotic shot. We were to call the next morning.

Connor late Thursday night, as he began to look more comfortable.

Thursday night, we were scared. Connor was lethargic, barely moving, looking miserable. I stayed with him all night. I felt hopeful when he kicked off the blanket and started moving around more. He began to look more comfortable. And at 6:15 Friday morning, he ate a little dry food.

We took him to the vet later for sub-Q fluids. He has been on the mend and is now eating, drinking water, exploring, cuddling, and purring. 

Connor on Friday afternoon taking a bath after eating.
A simple thing, but it made me so happy!

Connor on Saturday, feeling better and better.

We haven’t let the girls interact with him except to look at him while I carry him around in case he has had something contagious. I hope after the initial bumps in the road that usually occur when introducing cats, things will smooth out and all three will enjoy each other.

Connor Romeo is the best Valentine’s gift I’ve ever received, and I think Larry would agree. How was your Valentine’s Day? What has been your favorite Valentine’s Day gift ever?

Friday, February 12, 2016

What is Natasha thinking?

"Natasha is thinking . . . "

Happy Friday! For today’s post, let’s use our imaginations.

Do any of us really know what our cats are thinking? Do you ever imagine what they’re thinking when they give you certain looks? Do they ever tell you—in so many words—what they’re thinking?

Let’s guess what Natasha is thinking. Post your caption in the comments below. Natasha will reveal what she’s really thinking in Monday’s post.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On Wednesday: Home with Cats #1

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
--Jean Cocteau

Chase Bird, one of our Angels

The quote above is one of my favorites because for me, it’s true. 

Waddles, who made her journey to the Rainbow Bridge in 2011

Sam, who went to the Rainbow Bridge in 2013,
and Thunder Cat, who passed away in 2009

Cats change a home. For my husband and me, cats make our home a more pleasant place. A place that we, in trying to create a quiet and peaceful place for the cats, have made more quiet and peaceful for ourselves. 



The “visible soul” of a home becomes different when cats are present. 



Every Wednesday, I’ll explore different ways home is changed, improved, and complicated when cats are part of that home. Of course, it’s not all pretty. Some of what I’ll write about are the things we have in our home that we’d rather not have. 

But always, in the end, the home is a better place when following cats.

If you have cats, how do they affect your home? If you don't, what helps you see the "visible soul" of your home?

Monday, February 8, 2016

What is it about cats?

Natasha and Abbey

“There is no such thing as "Just a cat.” 
― Robert A. Heinlein

One of the reasons I started this blog is to emphasize the value of cats as part of all of Nature, a part of God’s creation as important as any other.

How many of you have heard someone say these words: “It’s just a cat.” It could be when your cat dies, when a cat in a shelter is euthanized, when someone expresses concern for the welfare of an animal. “It’s just a cat” implies a devaluation of the animal. He or she just doesn’t matter, so why in the world are you getting so upset?

How many of you have heard people express hatred for cats? It’s not just a preference to have dogs in their home versus cats. It’s not just a desire not to be around any animals. It’s “I hate cats,” a socially acceptable thing to say. 

How many of you have thought you were talking to a real cat person, one who felt the same way about felines as you do, only to find that people “love cats” in differing degrees?

Several years ago I sat next to a woman I did not know at a banquet. I noticed that she was wearing a cat-themed, very chic sweater. I thought I had found the perfect conversation starter. 

I asked her if she liked cats. Oh, yes, she said. I told her about my cats. 

Then she told me about the cat she had who had gotten sick. She had taken him to the vet, who said he could be treated, but the treatment would be costly. She had chosen not to have the treatment.

“A thousand dollars? For a cat?” she said, laughing. Yes, laughing.

Sometimes it’s a lack of funds that keep people from getting vet care for their cats. Sometimes it’s a matter of the cat not being worth the expense. He or she is just a cat.

When I was growing up on a farm, cats were always around outside, but I don’t remember any having names. I’m certain they never received vet care. And I’m certain they were never allowed indoors. They were just barn cats, farm cats. 

Many people have barn cats or farm cats who live outdoors, but they are recognized, named, cared for. Not on our farm.

And only a handful of friends and relatives had a cat that lived indoors. 

So I grew up not understanding cats, not really thinking about them except to think I probably didn’t want to live with one. I was mirroring the values I saw around me.

Of course, all of that changed when I adopted my first cat. Since I’ve been on the “other side”—the side that values cats—I’m more sensitive to the casual attitude people have about cats and the outright hatred that some people have.

I don’t expect everyone to be a cat lover. I don’t expect everyone to have a cat in the home. What I do want to see is universal respect for cats.

There is a lot to be explored with this subject—how values are created, how our culture shapes us, how the media shapes us. I’ll be writing more about it down the line. But please share your thoughts on this. 

Have you noticed that the language about cats in the general public is not always respectful? Has anyone ever told you, “It’s just a cat”? Where do you think our attitudes about cats come from?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Meet Natasha

Meet Natasha Noelle Barbour. She is about four years old. Like Abbey, she was an owner surrender to the county shelter. We adopted her from the shelter just two months ago, on Dec. 3.

When we adopted her, it was with some fear. Were we bringing another cat into the home too soon?

We were struggling because our Chase Bird died on Oct. 27, 2015. Our gray tabby boy, who was only about 10 years old, died unexpectedly when cancer was discovered during a procedure for something else. 

After his death, Larry and I were in shock and grieving. We’re still grieving. But what began to concern me was Abbey’s reaction to the loss of Chase Bird.

We can never know what our cats’ perspective is on loss. But one morning we took Chase Bird away in a carrier, and he never came back. And Abbey became quiet, rarely playing, lying around more than usual. She was lonely.

After many tears and much discussion, Larry and I decided to bring another cat into the home while Abbey was still young. I wanted her to have a companion. And I knew we could provide a home to a cat who needed one.

Natasha and me at the shelter on the day we adopted her.

I saw Natasha’s picture on Facebook and emailed my friend Barbe, who is a leader with the volunteer group that works closely with the shelter. Natasha was already spayed and was friendly. She gave head bonks to anyone who opened her cage and interacted with her, Barbe said.

Larry and I went to meet her, and Natasha was definitely a cuddle bug. And the next day, we adopted her.

Natasha on her first day at home.

She had come into the shelter with another name and had her name changed to Natasha. Larry and I were considering naming her something else and using Natasha as a middle name.

But when I went to pick up Natasha, Barbe was there. I asked about her name, and Barbe said she had named her Natasha because she looked like a Russian princess. I knew then that Natasha would be her name.

As we were driving away from the shelter, I turned on some soft Christmas music. The first song that played? “The First Noel,” one of my favorite carols. And I knew my new baby’s name would be Natasha Noelle.

Natasha seemed at home almost immediately. She didn’t hide, and she ate well, both dry food and wet food.

Natasha loves the turbo scratcher and the orange roller ball toy, and we sometimes combine them for her.

She’s still eating well. We have worked to help her feel secure—cuddling her, talking to her, giving her comfortable places to make her own space.

She’s gentle and doesn’t vocalize much except when she’s waiting for the food to be ready. She purrs when we pick her up or pet her, and it’s a loud purr. Most of the time, she prefers to sit close by rather than on our laps.

Natasha watching snow fall outside of our den window. I'm so glad she's here.

She and Abbey have gradually accepted each other. I love it when they gently touch noses. Sometimes they squabble, and they don’t really play with toys together. But they chase each other around the house, sounding like a herd of elephants. They eat close by each other. They are becoming companions.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Meet Abbey

Abbey the day after we brought her home.

Meet Abbey Hunny Bee Barbour. She is a ginger tabby girl who is almost two years old. She has white paws and a white chest and amber eyes.

Abbey and the turbo scratcher, one of her favorite toys.

She has lots of energy and tends to get the zoomies late at night and early in the morning. She makes a sound that I can only describe with this spelling: “mewr.” She does it while she’s playing, while she’s waiting for food, while she’s walking around the house. It’s her meow.

She loves dry food, but not treats. She eats a little wet food, but not much. 

"I won't sit on your lap now, but I'll sit close by."

When I get home from work in the evening, I pick her up and she lays her head on my shoulder. She tilts up her little face and “kisses” me. She follows me around the house. She rarely sits on my lap, but she will often sit on my husband Larry’s lap when he’s watching TV.

She is stubborn and feisty and determined, and all that is wrapped in a sweetness and softness that melts your heart every time.

Abbey at the window in the "kitty Zen room"

I first met Abbey on February 1, 2015. Her name was Hunny Bee then, and she was at the county animal shelter, where her owner had surrendered her. She was about one year old.

Abbey, on the day I met her at the shelter. She was Hunny Bee then. I hated walking away from her.

On that February afternoon, I was at the shelter cuddling the cats, giving them human touch with the Friends of Campbell County Animal Control, the volunteer group that works closely with the shelter to help adopt out as many animals as possible.

Hunny Bee snuggled against me as I held her and walked around the other cats to see if she had any reaction to them. She seemed calm.

I was ready to adopt another cat, but my husband wasn’t. Then I saw on Facebook that Hunny Bee was adopted, and I comforted myself with the thought that she had a home.

Except later I saw her on Facebook again. She was back at the shelter.

Larry and I went to the shelter on Sunday, April 19, so he could meet Hunny Bee. One of the volunteers told us that she had been adopted but brought back four days later. The reason given for surrendering her back to the shelter was that all she did was hide under the bed and was mean to the children.

I know, and probably you know too, if you’ve been around rescued cats, that they need some space when you bring them into a new environment. 

The next day we officially adopted her. 

And Abbey’s stories continue.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Welcome to Following Cats

Hello, and welcome to Following Cats. I hope you will join me on a journey of discovering the wonders of life when you follow your love of cats.

My name is Tina Barbour, and I live with my two cats and my husband in Virginia. Abbey is a ginger tabby girl who will be two in April. Natasha is a black and white girl who is about four. They are both rescues.

Abbey, Natasha, and I will all be authors of this blog. I will tell stories, post pictures, tell you about things I’ve learned about cats, and help advocate for the welfare of cats and all animals. Sometimes Abbey and Natasha will give you their perspectives on life.

I’m a late-blooming cat person. I spent my youth and young adulthood oblivious to the beauty of cats. It’s still surprising to me that I became a cat person. I’m sure I’ve surprised friends and family too.

I remember years ago, right after I had gotten married and my husband and I merged our cats into one family. A friend from grad school wrote me and said, “I always knew you’d find a good man. I never thought you would become a cat mama.”

The 18 years or that I’ve had cats in my life have been the best years of my life. The love, joy, and peace that I experience with cats—that’s what I want to share with you.

I will post three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I hope you will enjoy what you experience here and will interact with me and others in the comments. 

Hope to see you on Wednesday, when I will begin introducing you to my cats.