Tag Archives: black cats

Cat Couture as Anxiety Cure

On Facebook, I belong to a couple of cat groups because I enjoy seeing the photos and hearing snippets of stories about cats. On one of the groups, I saw that a woman named Penny Cardino posted adorable photos of her cat Shadow dressed in a Christmas dress. Before you think I am talking about a woman with too much time on her hands, playing dolls with her cat, learn the reason for this. Shadow suffers from a severe anxiety disorder. Wearing her Christmas dress makes her happy. I knew that thundershirts sometimes work for dogs with anxiety, although I haven’t personally heard of a cat who has been helped by one (that I can recall). But this was the first time I had heard about using clothing to comfort an anxious cat. Penny agreed to be interviewed about Shadow and her anxiety problem.

Where did you get Shadow and how long have you had her?

We found Shadow in at a gas station in 2011. Our vet said she was about 7 weeks old and looked to have been abandoned. The first night she would not come to us, but we could tell she was very hungry. She would walk up and then dart away quickly. I went inside and got her something to eat and a cup of water. It took us three days, but we finally managed to get her trapped. A good friend of mine kept her over the weekend for me while we were trying to decide if we could keep her or not (we have a very territorial male Siamese). We decided that she had been through enough and thought that Ashby (the Siamese) would come to accept her. That was almost 8 years ago.

When did you first learn about Shadow’s anxiety?

While we were gone during the day, we kept her in a huge kennel in our son’s room so she and Ashby could get acquainted safely. We would go in and shut the door and spend time with her. She would sleep with William (our son) and then, about four months after we brought her home, we eventually just let her stay out and put the kennel away. She always wanted to go to William’s room at night and sleep with him but she didn’t want to stay in there by herself, especially in the dark. She would follow him to his room, and later we would hear her crying to get out. At that time, I did not think anything about it–I just thought she wanted to be in the living room with everyone else.

Then she would start to cry if someone new came to visit. The crying got worse; it went on for hours and nothing would settle her down. She would pace constantly. Her cries were loud and long. We talked to our vet; I really did not want to medicate her because it was not an everyday thing. Mainly, it happens when the security system goes off, visitors come to the house, or if there is work being done around the neighborhood close to the house. I started letting her go to William’s room when company came, but I would have to turn the light on for her. Occasionally, if the house was very quiet, she would call out intermittently, as if she were looking for someone. We finally answered her one night and said, “we are right here.” She quieted down, and it was as if she were making sure she was not alone.

I started to make mental notes of how frequently she had these episodes and how long they lasted. There are times that we come home from work and she is in the midst of an episode and we have no clue as to what started it. Shadow is strictly an indoor cat; Ashby is as well. Shadow wants nothing to do with the outside, and she panics if we are holding her and open the door to look outside. She will push it shut with her paws.

How does her anxiety show itself?

When Shadow has an anxiety attack, she usually starts to cry back to back. She has different vocalizations, and we have learned them, but her anxiety sounds very distressed. She paces back and forth, she won’t eat, drink, play or get on her cat tree. Her episodes can last from a day to a week, depending on the event that led to it. Her cries will break your heart because they are long and mournful. She does cry in her sleep at times and has nightmares. William says he hears her crying and will wake up and talk to her, stroke her head and let her know he is there until she calms down. What is odd about this is that during her nightmares, her eyes never open.

How did you learn to put the clothing on her? Did you try a thundershirt first and what happened?

I used to swaddle William when he was an infant after a bath or when he would cry. I would rock him until he settled down. So I wondered what would happen if I tried that with Shadow. I saw the thundershirt commercial and tried it, but she started bucking like a bronco and her cries were more piercing. I also tried a little Prozac, but that made her sick as she does not tolerate medications well.

While out shopping for a baby shower gift, I came across a baby t-shirt that was very soft and seemed like it might fit Shadow. I decided to see if this would work better than the thundershirt. When the next anxiety episode hit, I put on her shirt and she jumped down, walked over to her daddy, and jumped up on his lap. She talked to him and her meows were not distressful. She sat with him for a bit, then jumped down but her demeanor was totally different–she was more calm and not pacing. Shadow went and got on her cat tree and actually took a nap. We were amazed that this one little shirt would make such a difference.

I have tried different materials and different styles. She is not a fan of tutus or anything that has a real tight band around the “waist.” Occasionally, she will wear a hat for picture purposes and then I take the hat off. We never leave her clothes on while we are gone; she only wears them when we are home. She last had an episode that lasted three days, our neighbor stopped by to give us some homemade pickle relish and it set off her anxiety.

Have you swaddled or clothed other animals or seen it done before?

My grandmother had a Yorkie that came from a neglectful situation and had to have all of her hair cut off. The mats were so bad that the groomer shaved her entire body, leaving only the hair on her head and tail. This dog would not come out of the bedroom and looked pitiful if we had to go somewhere. So my grandmother bought her a hair bow and a big open bag. In the bag, along with her wallet with money and ID, she paced a baby pillow. Then she fixed that pup’s hair in a bow and off they would go. They went everywhere: to the mall, Walmart, but Dillard’s was their favorite. Everyone would come peek at “Sandy.” For some reason, that little dog perked up and had a completely different attitude when her hair was fixed. She eventually grew a beautiful coat, but still wanted her hair done up in her bow.

Do you have other animals?

We have two other animals–Ashby, our Siamese and Whiskey, our Black Mouth cur.
Ashby will be 9 in March and Whiskey will be 9 in February. Whiskey will not stay still long enough for a picture. Ashby has many, many pictures.

Shadow and Ashby

What else would you like to say about Shadow?!

Shadow is a special girl; she helped my son when he was in elementary school. While he had many friends, he would still get bullied or made fun of and I would talk with him or try and make the hurt go away. Sometimes a parent just can’t make it better no matter how hard we try. But Shadow could make it better. I heard him talking to her one day; he told her that she knew how he felt. He told her that the person that abandoned her was a big bully and she understood how much it hurt him when the kids would laugh at him for being smart or a little overweight because of what she had gone through. Once in awhile, he would cry into her fur and she just sat with him while he let it out. When he and I would talk again, he would feel better. He has learned how handle the bullies.

William and Shadow

Shortly after receiving Shadow’s help, William wanted to tell Shadow’s story. He said that his peers needed to know how “dumping” an animal is cruel, both mentally and physically, so he created a Facebook page for Shadow called Shadow’s Sanctuary. He says that he did this so he could show people the long term effects of being abandoned have on the animal and the people who care for them. Shadow has about 1,000 followers. He hopes to break the cycle of abandonment. William is now 17 and Shadow is still by his side. She is afraid of the dark, unless we are with her. If we know we are going to be out after dark, we always leave a light on for her so she isn’t afraid. She loves her brother, Ashby, and is crazy about my husband. It takes a long time for someone to gain her trust, but once they do, they have a friend for life. I often wonder though, with Shadow, who rescued whom.


Luanne’s comment: I realized after reading Merril’s comment below that I ought to make a comment about dressing cats in the general, as opposed to the particular as in the case of Shadow. Most cats are stressed out by being dressed up. It isn’t something to try just for the fun of it, unless you are talking about cats who are willing to wear hats and jewelry for photos (as some of mine are). Years ago, my daughter tried to put a sweater on Tiger, and Tiger was so upset it took her four years to forgive her human sister! But Penny’s story about Shadow shows that all cats are different and have different needs. The trick is figuring out what they need and when. That is something that Penny and her family have mastered!


Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction

Black Cat Appreciation Day?!

Yesterday was Black Cat Appreciation Day–and I missed it! Blogger Brandy Heineman writes about it in her post. Unfortunately, I was traveling and had been away from my black cats, Pear Blossom and Nakana, as well as Felix and Tiger, for what feels like months.


Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Writing

What Is It About Black Cats?

After my oldest cat Mac died, there was no question of “replacing” him with another cat. He had a large and impressive personality and nobody will ever take his place. But I’ve been volunteering at a local no kill shelter for six months now, and since the first night I’ve wanted to make 8-year-old all-black Nakana part of our family.

The moment we “locked eyes,” it was love at first sight—at least on my part. Soon after I began to work with the cats in the cat roaming room, Nakana developed ringworm and had to be isolated. I don’t work with the cats in isolation because I don’t want to risk bringing home an illness to my elderly cats. For months she stayed in that room because she just couldn’t shake the ringworm. Apparently, stress makes the ringworm more difficult to eradicate.


After she recovered, she was taken to PetSmart, in hopes that she would be adopted. But there she sat for another couple of months! This was at least Nakana’s second time around at the shelter (after having been returned by someone). I started stopping by PetSmart to wave at Nakana. She would reach her paw toward me. One time I told a couple looking how I have worked with the cats at the shelter, and that Nakana has a marvelous disposition. You see, if I could find her a good home, I wasn’t going to keep her from being adopted just because I wanted her. She needed a home as soon as possible and I couldn’t bring her home with sick Mac taking up so much of my time and energy. The couple took one look at her and shrugged, turning toward the pretty light-colored and patterned kittens and cats.

After I adopted Nakana and brought her to see a vet at the shelter, the vet told me that she has had three black cats and they were her favorites, but that the reason Nakana wasn’t adopted before I took her was because “a lot of people don’t like black cats.”


Is this because of superstitions that exist in the United States about black cats? According to Wikipedia, black cats are good luck in Great Britain and in Japan.

By the way, superstitions about cats can be good or bad and can affect more than black cats. If you want to read a wonderful children’s book that tries to subvert superstition about cats (in this case, a white cat) read The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth.

Sorry for that tangent.

In America and much of Europe, superstitions about black cats tend to be negative. The Pilgrims brought this attitude to this continent. This is where the notion of the black cat as a witch’s familiar comes from and why some people believe black cats are bad luck, especially when they cross one’s path.

How silly is that? They are just like all other cats: in need of loving homes and families. Although all cats have different personalities, it is true that many cat people declare with certainty that orange cats are almost as outgoing and verbal as dogs and that black cats have independent, curious, and friendly natures. I would agree with this assessment! Not all, certainly, but many.

Because we grow so many wackos and because of these preposterous superstitions (which could put ideas in the mind of wackos), Halloween is seen as a dangerous time for black cats. While there is disagreement about just how dangerous, why not just be on the safe side and keep all black cats indoors and protected through the fall? My cats are strictly indoor anyway (for their own sakes and for the sake of the wildlife), but I am particularly careful around Halloween.

But is it true that some people just don’t like black cats? Shelters have a more difficult time finding homes for black cats. My son knew this and when he went to adopt a cat two years ago, he purposely took a black kitten he named Meesker.

Meesker is one of my three grandcats!

Mac was 17 ½ when he died. He was an orange and white tabby, with a true orange tabby personality. I found him in my yard all those years ago. Fifteen years ago I found another cat in my yard—a black and white tuxedo cat I named Pear Blossom. She is now my grand lady cat. She’s black, but unlike a black cat, she has white whiskers and almost perfect tuxedo markings. Then we found Felix, a brown tabby, in our same yard, and he became our third cat. Tiger is a calico with tabby markings—maybe a patched tabby would be more accurate? Not one of them is a solid black cat, but then I didn’t choose these cats. They chose me.

But I have had a black cat before. When I was a little girl, the cat across the street had kittens, and I whined and cried enough that I was allowed to pick out a little black kitten my mother named Toby.  I hope Toby’s life eventually turned out better than it was at my house. He was afraid of so much. He was afraid to go outside. He was afraid to be any place except under my bed or hiding in the basement. And when my parents adopted my baby brother, my mother was afraid of having a cat in the house with a baby. She actually thought a cat might kill the baby!


So one day while I was at school, my parents took Toby to a farm to live out his life. And I never got to say goodbye to him. Then my father took me to an expensive toy store to pick out any toy I wanted. I had never picked out a toy I wanted before. In the midst of my tears over Toby, I selected an empty black patent leather Barbie case.  And have felt guilty my whole life that I chose a toy to make my father feel better about stealing my cat.

CATS AND DOLLS. Is that all you can write about?

Now I have a black cat again. Nakana is not Toby. She’s not anything like Toby. In fact, Nakana is a mature, good-natured, curious, calm female cat. One that all those people choosing kittens over her missed out on.


I’m having a hard time taking new photos of Nakana because she keeps moving toward me to rub against me for petting. What a hardship ;).


Have you ever had a black cat?


Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing