Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

No Way

No Way that fix-it guy is going to get my mouse!

Blondie has been going crazy with the tiny toy mice that I send her. She exhausts herself playing with them. Before taking her nap, she hides them in various places. After her nap she digs them out from under pillows and furniture and begins playing again. She carries them around in her mouth. She wakes her mom up by sitting on her chest, staring at her, Wake up! Wake Up! Wake up! Four in the morning is a startling moment to wake up with anyone sitting and staring at you, nonetheless with a cat sitting on your chest inches away from your face, staring at you with a mouth full of mouse! Willing you to wake up, wake up wake up!

I woke up in the hospital bed one night after my surgery and as I rolled over I became aware my night nurse was standing about four feet back from my bed, quietly staring at me, listening to my breathing she said. Willing me to wake up first probably, because the last time she woke me up I was combative and socked her in the face! It was a strange feeling to know someone was staring at me while I blissfully and fitfully slept. Did I snore? Did I talk in my sleep and give away ungodly secrets?

​Regarding Blondie, I am just delighted that she is enjoying my gifts so much!

This cartoon developed one day when her mom had a repairman out to fix her clothes dryer. She said Blondie sat in the living room with the mouse stuffed in her mouth the whole time he was there working.​ The image stuck with me, couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just had to give it a try. Hand-drawn first, I then scanned and computer manipulated it.  I had in mind this image of Blondie sitting upright, tall, still, prim and proper like a princess, with her tiny cheeks bulging with a black mouse, and anxiety in her eyes wide-open; how long, how long, how long was she going to have to suck on this soggy mouse? When could she breathe? When could she get a sip of water?

There was no way she was going to let this fix-it guy steal her mouse. But, she may also have been hiding the mouse, and feeling remorse, thinking it would give away her secret…that she had quietly secreted away another mouse behind the dryer and it was the cause of the strange noise her mom had heard.

I tried to get the character of Blondie’s stubbornness and the strain of having to hold something in her mouth for so long – she couldn’t swallow, the mouse was undoubtedly soaking up her saliva, drying out her tongue, making it feel fuzzy, and her eyes would get wide and buggy with the stress of it all.

Poor kitty, all she had to do was spit it out, but maybe she didn’t have any spit left.

The Defiant One teaches me about courage
The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie)

The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie) #1

I found this quote on the morning after I had made changes to my painting The Defiant One for all the wrong reasons. It seems all too appropriate for a discussion I was having the day before with a friend about the importance or lack of importance concerning perfect drafting skills. I said I didn’t care about drawing correctly, that I thought the character of the drawing was more important. I don’t look for drawing errors when I look at art.  I look at the whole composition and how it works together. And I believe character is key. It is that which expresses the unique feeling whether one draws the cat correctly or not, and that expression of feeling is most important. It is character that turns it into a painting and not a photograph.
On Painter’s Keys the next morning:

​Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice.

They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” ​

The night before, Blondie’s ears haunted me. I couldn’t sleep. I had already made many small corrections to this painting, but suddenly when I was looking at its enlarged version on my laptop, I saw that the ears were way too large for her head. I had drawn them incorrectly. They were too tall and too pointy. They looked like bobcat ears. Perhaps the devil’s ears. BUT they contributed to the character of her stance. She was excited, riled up, the hair on her rump standing up in anticipation. Blondie waited for her mom to do something, perhaps something Blondie didn’t want to do, and her fierce alert and defiant pose said so.  Okay Mom, take the darn picture, let’s get this over with, okay! I’ve got mice to play with.
Shamefully,  last night I decided to redraw and repaint Blondie’s large pointy ears that gave this painting so much unique character. Truth be told, I was afraid of failure. I’ve never been able to draw with ease. Always a struggle. And I didn’t want anyone pointing out that I was bad at drawing! I lacked the courage to believe in my work. This lack of courage rears its ugly head a lot with me.
Oh woe is me…what’s a gal to do?
I learned a valuable lesson last night, two lessons.
  • One, I am a hypocrite, I say one thing and do another. BAD. I don’t care about the drawing, yet I feel a deep need to make mine look right. What?
  • Two, I learned from the above quote that it is okay make mistakes because the errors work with the whole picture to create character and emotion and draw people in to experience something powerful —whether you as artist recognize it or not—an experience of connection and a wonderment. Oh look how those ears stand up so tall and pointy and don’t they add to the mood of that cat’s stance!
If courage and wisdom had not escaped me, I would have left the ears alone.
Here’s the altered ears. Smaller, shaped better, and more proportionate to her head.

The Defiant One with new ears #2 CORRECTED

They added very little to the total emotion of her stance. So I made the new ears appear more pointy by limning the edges and tips of the ears with white light. Now some of the pointy character is back, but they are not as big. Not as fierce!

​Next time I hope I will be able to control my urges to make it perfect. I claim to not care, but I lack the courage to live with my failures if I cannot do it. I’ve got to let go of that. I’ve got to let go of the idea that my bad drawing means failure—not only in my painting of cats, but also in my landscapes and papiér maché cats. It is, rather, about character and emotion.

Surveying His Domain


Almost everyday Tai The Terrible worried about his domain. He wanted to know what was going on, who was in his neighborhood, whether there were any mice, rats, coyotes, or feral cats roaming the streets. Who was causing trouble? Did he need to prepare for battle? Or was he just a curious nosy cat?

He waited patiently by the front door until I let him outside. He wandered five or ten feet from the door where he could get a wide open view of his dominion. There he sat.  His platypus(s) tail lay flat-out behind him, a sign of his high status and breeding.  Excited to be outside, he looked left and right, and now and then twitched in place.  His overall appearance of serenity belied his seething tension, his readiness in every muscle for battle or flight. He wasn’t called Tai the Terrible for nothing.

After a while, his hunger for interesting and exciting activities satiated, the boredom set in. Time to find a comfortable safe place for his afternoon nap. Or perhaps try a little camouflage among the tall grasses and wait for his folks to turn into the driveway.

© 2014 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

Cool Hip Fat Cat
July 10, 2014, 8:38 PM
Filed under: cat paintings, cat sculptures, Confessions | Tags: , ,


While on his date with Blondie she told him she wished he was a little more hip than the old business-like Fat Cat. She wanted not a hot-shot cat making money at risk-arbitrage, but a hip cat working for the good of all catdom. Not wanting to lose Blondie, Fat Cat transformed himself into the coolest hippest fat cat in Florence. Here he is now wearing cool adult sunglasses, no children’s blue frames anymore, a beaded necklace adorned with the popular peace sign strung on hemp twine. He is a cool, peace-loving animal. And with Blondie by his side, he will probably lead his gang to generate peace as they wander the neighborhood.
All you cats constantly growling at each other, quit it!

Besides, if he wants to stay the leader of the gang, he needs to get smarter and bolder and do things wildly different from any other fat cat.

What Hip doesn’t know is that lurking in the mind of his Creator is his nemesis who also wants to be the leader of the Meow Gang.

Catemporary Détente

Tai surveying the road from his driveway.

A people cat, Tai the Terrible loves the companionship and affection from his people, and he sits with me when I’m watching television. He climbs on my lap, testing the jello slowly, unsure if its Jello-like substance will hold him. He wobbles a bit on my jello, then settles down in his sphinx pose, kneading his front claws deep into my skin. But if you touch him in his sensitive places or try to brush his fur in certain areas, he becomes this quarrelsome creature with a sphinxian split personality. I let him do what he wants to do. He is heavy and hot on my lap like a heating pad in cold weather.

Most of the time, he curls up all by himself on the fuzzy on the big chair next to mine for which he has taken temporary ownership while his mom is away.

Tai the Terrible

Tai is a seal-point doll-face fluffy Himalayan cat with pale blue crossed-eyes. Whenever he is wary of his sibling or an enemy of another kind he skirts around them like a sticky sloth in slow motion. He is so fluffy I can’t tell where the bones and muscles of his body stop to become just a fluff of cat hair dragging on the floor. His fluffy tail is wide and dark like a beaver tail. His legs are wide and shorter than most cats’ legs and his paws are huge like the paws of a puppy when you can tell that little pup is going to be one hell of a big dog because the size of his feet tell you so. Tai’s paws are dark seal-brown fur, shiny, soft and so smooth, I want to hold them in my hands but he will not allow me to touch his feet.

Tai and his sibling, Brillo the Black, kiss noses and sniff each other’s butt in moments of trust and calm, but their powerful sibling rivalry keeps them wary of each other. They may sleep on the same big bed, each in his own corner, and they may sit on one lap or on one chair together, but when they do so, they do it carefully, with one eye open the whole time.

When they are about to fight they move past each other in the kitchen or by the door, their movements are slinky and sloth-like. I admonish them to be good cats—Now, be good kitties, you guys, good cats, that’s right—and they will come out of their slothy trance, avoiding a fight. When I leave the room, they get into rolling rumbles with tufts of black and taupe fur flying hither and thither.

One evening while I was watching TV, Brillo lay curled up on the rust colored fuzzy in the second TV chair. When Tai came into the room, Brillo’s presence on his chair startled him. He jumped up on the table next to the chair and sat for a while, looking at the chair and Brillo with consternation. What? How did you…?

Slowly, one foot at a time, he lowers himself on to the flat wooden arm of the easy-chair. He sits for a few minutes, eyeing Brillo on his chair, wondering how much he’d be able to get away with. Could he? Should he tempt fate or shouldn’t he? How will Brillo react?

Tai tempts fate. With sloth-like motion, he puts one foot down on the fuzzy; he waits, he hesitates; then slowly places the other front paw down. His two front paws on the seat cushion, his rump in the air, his hind feet come down next, slow and easy, one slothy paw at a time. He stands on the seat of the chair very still, like a clay sculpture or art object, while waiting for Brillo to show some reaction.

Brillo, curled up on the fuzzy, doesn’t move a muscle except to crack one eye open a sliver. He watches Tai, but pretends he is sleeping.

Tai now sits on the fuzzy near Brillo, once again debating whether he should continue. He looks at Brillo, wiggles a bit in nervous tension and hunkers down in the typical Sphinx pose with his head up. I can see he cannot stand not being able to curl up on his special chair. He lays like this for a while and then stretches his neck and lowers his head in an attempt to relax.

Brillo the Black

Brillo, cracks one eye open again, watches Tai, doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t blink an eye. He just watches and waits.

Tai slowly flops over on his side, his back to Brillo, and because his fur is so fluffy it looks like he is crowding the one-eyed Brillo into the corner of the big chair. But Brillo, partially covered by Tai’s fluff, isn’t moving. His one eye, still open and watching. Waiting.

Stretching out even more on his side, taking up even  more room on the seat of the chair, legs splayed out, head relaxed hanging over the front edge of the seat, Tai closes his eyes for some long overdue well-earned sleep. At long last, he is in his favorite chair that had been rudely usurped by Brillo, and it’s as if Brillo isn’t even there.

The little adversarial dance between the two cats took longer to execute than the actual time they laid together on the chair. I had never seen them sleeping this close to each other, but their folks tell me they will both get up on the mom’s lap at the same time and lay there peacefully while she plies their cat hair free from tangled knots.

About two weeks later, when I was sitting for them again, Brillo was on the chair when Tai came into the room. It was obvious Tai wanted his spot again. This time he took it. With no hesitation, he jumped up to the arm, then on to the fuzzy itself, stretched out quickly on his side, partially covering Brillo, and both cats slept like babies together for over two hours! I don’t know who’s more surprised, me or Tai or Brillo, at this temporary cat détente.


This last summer a coyote or pack of coyotes killed beautiful Tai the Terrible. There are packs of coyotes wandering through his neighborhood and other neighborhoods around Florence. Many cats have disappeared in the last year.

We all miss Tai.

Now I am caring for his sibling brother, Brillo the Black, who now has the favored position in the household without contention, but wanders from door to door in a morass of sadness, meowing to go out, to eat, to find Tai.  Fierce hunter that Brillo is, he is not allowed outside any more. Too many coyotes. Too many bear. Too many cougars.  Chased out of their forested habitats by our need for building more homes, all are hungry.  Hungrily preying upon domesticated cats and dogs.

Brillo is developing a dependency on his people for safety, sustenance and cherishing. He has developed a gorgeous shiny black coat, loves to sit on my lap, have his coat brushed, his hind-end rubbed which dissolves him into a frenetic orgasm of love biting.

He will be fine.

Feb.9, 2012 Now I learn that Brillo the Black has passed on.  A beauitful cat, a good hunter, loving. We all miss him.

© 2011 Copyright – Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved for Images & Text.

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