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Infinite Cat Project Archives for March 14-18, 2016.

Mewsings: March 14, 2015 - "The ideal of calm exists in a sitting cat." - Jules Reynard

catnip cats

Gratuitous Kute Kittiness: The catnip crop is in.

Cat Mewvie: Maru's new cat bed.

cat bedtime stories

Today's Kitty Komic

cat religions

Feline Street Art: (Actually, all cats believe they're god.)

thula the cat

Therapy cat helps 6-year-old with autism.

Wherever 6-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw goes, 2-year-old Thula is sure to follow.

When Iris is painting outside, Thula is always nearby, exploring in the garden. They play with the same toys in their fairy-tale-like playroom, take baths together, learn new things together, go on adventures and fall asleep together after long, exciting days.

They sound like sisters. And while the two best friends are like family, there is one striking difference: Thula is a Maine Coon cat and Iris is a child with autism, diagnosed at age 2. Together they prove what Iris’ mom, Arabella Carter-Johnson, has always believed: “different is brilliant.”

Painting a connection

Before Thula came into their lives, Carter-Johnson and her husband, Peter-Jon Halmshaw, went through a “dark time” trying to figure out the best ways to draw Iris out after her diagnosis four years ago.

Iris’ severe form of autism was marked by irregular sleep patterns, obsessive behavior, refusing to make eye contact, avoiding playing with her parents or other children, and feeling distressed around people she didn’t know. She also had a tendency to disappear into books without wanting to engage with anything around her and didn’t speak or communicate.

Carter-Johnson and her husband reached out to therapists and researched everything they could. It quickly became apparent to them after a “disastrous time in Pre-K” that educating Iris from home might be the best environment for her. Because Carter-Johnson wanted to recreate the same type of activities that Iris would be experiencing in school, she added painting to the curriculum. Occupational therapy was also helping Iris.

Carter-Johnson, a professional photographer, has a propensity to draw or doodle. And one day that habit helped her connect with her daughter, which she was so eager to do. Iris walked up and placed her small hand on her mother’s hand, as though asking her to draw more.

When Carter-Johnson introduced Iris to painting at age 3, she was hopeful to see her daughter so excited and happy over an activity. Iris would come up to her mother and indicate that she wanted more paint. Because they used a lot of water colors, Iris even began mixing her own.

“ She looked at me and wouldn’t push me away,” Carter-Johnson said. “It was a way for us to connect.”
The perfect companion
Through her research, Carter-Johnson discovered that many children responded well to a variety of animals, from dogs to horses. They tried those two first, but Iris didn’t connect. When her brother traveled to Sweden for Christmas and needed someone to cat-sit, Carter-Johnson agreed but was worried about how Iris and the cat would get along, especially since Iris was sick at the time. Instead, she was surprised to see the way they bonded.

That’s when Carter-Johnson decided to reassess her assumption that cats were aloof companions. She posted on Facebook asking about the most suitable breeds, and many people pointed her to the Maine Coon. Living in Leicester, England, Carter-Johnson was unfamiliar with what is one of the largest types of cats native to the U.S. But she was excited to learn that they were friendly, intelligent, quirky, vocal and even fond of water.

When they brought Thula (pronounced Toola) home from a local breeder, the fluffy kitten slept cradled in Iris’ arms the first night. Iris seemed to relax around Thula, stroking her ears and whiskers, and the cat didn’t even mind when Iris held her tail.

“Thula loved all of the things that Iris found difficult,” Carter-Johnson said. “It was like heaven.”
Because Iris hated the sensation of things touching her skin, like clothing or water, getting dressed or taking a bath could be incredibly difficult. But as a water-loving breed, Thula hopped right in the bathtub. Soon, Iris began to take all of her baths accompanied by the kitten. And three months after Thula’s arrival, Iris was fine with wearing tops and layers.

Around Iris’ parents, Thula was a playful, and at times mischievous, kitten. But she seemed to know what Iris needed, adapting her behavior and becoming the perfect companion. If Iris became impatient in the car, Thula would walk over and sit on her lap to calm her down. If she had difficulty during the day or woke up at night, Thula would distract her until she had settled again.

Not long after Thula’s arrival, Iris began to speak to her. She would say “sit, cat” and Thula would obey. Iris would follow Thula around the house, saying “more cat.” There was no pressure or judgment from Thula, unlike how Iris might feel if she was talking to another child or adult, so Iris would talk to Thula and give her instructions. In addition to helping with Iris’ speech therapy, Thula also studied Iris’ movements as she played or painted, mimicking them, and in turn, encouraging Iris to continue.
“ It’s beautiful watching this,” Carter-Johnson said. “We’re her parents and educators. It’s calming to know that she has her little buddy, and someone other than just us.”

Thula would also accompany them outside, where Iris seemed to learn the best because she was away from indoor sensory distractions such as artificial noise and light. With her cat and her outdoor painting, Iris began to blossom right before Carter-Johnson’s eyes.
Passion projects and progress

Around the same time as Thula’s arrival, Iris was introduced to classical music and the violin. She has had music therapy every week since the age of 3, and even though she doesn’t like to play the violin, she enjoys holding and strumming it. Although Iris has been known to become impatient just from sitting in a car, she will sit through a two-hour concert at the orchestra absolutely riveted by the sounds. Carter-Johnson could also see the way that music inspired her painting. They decided to start pairing music with other activities, which encouraged Iris to pursue them.

Carter-Johnson and her husband also began The Little Explorers Activity Club, an autism-friendly group for children to experience new things outside their home. It gave Iris and other children with autism in the community a chance to be around one another while engaging with their interests, from cooking and science to music and history.

Carter-Johnson used this idea of working with Iris’ interests and letting her lead rather than be coerced which she learned from reading books like Rupert Isaacson’s “The Horse Boy” and Kristine Barnett’s “The Spark” that promoted the idea of Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions. They also discovered the Gemiini video platform, which helps Iris with speech therapy.

Over the last few years, Iris has become famous for her Monet-like paintings. Even celebrities like Angelina Jolie have purchased her artwork. Carter-Johnson credits Iris’ intense concentration with her ability to blend colors and patterns so well. She creates her unique paintings by dotting, dabbing and flicking the brush.

The extraordinary art of autistic ‘5-year-old Monet’

Being able to interact with others online who are fascinated by Iris’ story and her artwork has been incredible for her education and confidence, Carter-Johnson said.

Iris loves looking at and helping select the photos her mother posts to their Facebook page, as well as watching videos of her and Thula and hearing from “friends” that like her artwork. Carter-Johnson also uses the postcards she receives from around the world to teach Iris geography. And now, Iris has her very own book that shares the story of her and Thula’s special bond. It is a time capsule that Carter-Johnson hopes her daughter will look back on fondly when she’s older.

While Thula and Iris are still best friends, the two have grown more independent from each other over the past year because Thula seems to realize that she’s needed less now. But she’s always around, whether propped up in a basket on the front of a bicycle or getting her own passport when the family travels to Amsterdam later this year.

While Carter-Johnson knows that they still have a ways to go with improving Iris’ speech and communication, she is thrilled with her daughter’s progress. Iris is better at making eye contact and socializing more with others. Speech therapy is helping her to remember to say “hello” and “goodbye” when she meets people, as well as describing her day to her parents. She also still receives occupational therapy, music therapy and has had luck with doing yoga as well.

“ I’m hopeful for more improvements,” Carter-Johnson said. “One day, I want her to be able to get a job and live independently, and we will try our absolute best to make that happen. Autism doesn’t have to be this grim diagnosis — it’s seeing the brilliance in differences and embracing those.”

Mewsings: March 15, 2015 - "Do not meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on your computer." - Bruce Graham

cat licking last drop of water

Gratuitous Kittiness: Good to the last drop.

Cat Mewvie: Boomer visits the dog show.

cat vs. the soft-close door

Today's Kitty Komic

taku cats

Feline Art: Art by Taku. (Yes, just "Taku").

Mewsings: March 16, 2015 - "When a cat chooses to be friendly, it's a big deal, because a cat is picky." - Mike Deupree

big-eyed kitten

Gratuitous Kittiness: The perfect Saturday morning.

Cat Mewvie: Didga, the skateboarding kitty.

cats meet cthghlu

Today's Kitty Komic

cat's are like medicine

Feline Art: "Captain America" by Jenny Parks.

cat bag

Something new: The Cat-in-the-Bag

Even a visit to the vet can be "drama" if you have a cat. So, we're testing an alternative to the traditional cat carrier for Try It Out Tuesday.

We bought the Cat-In-The-Bag Cozy Comfort Carrier from Amazon for $26.95. There are three sizes. We purchased the large, which fits cats weighing more than 10 pounds. They also have sizes small and extra-large sizes.

We test the bag at Aerial Ronell's apartment. She and her fiancé live in Katy and have three cats.
You start by loosening the turtleneck and bunching up the bag to slide it over the cat's head.

We start with a male cat named Sheldon.

"He seems OK," Aerial said.

"So now we have to get the rest of his body in and zip him up," Tiffany Craig explained.
Once we get him zipped in, Sheldon wiggled around a little bit but didn't put up much of a fight.
Aerial picked him up by the handle and takes a closer look.

It appeared to work.

"He seems pretty chill," said photographer David Soltis.

The carrier is designed to keep your cat calmer because its head is out and it doesn't feel so restrained.

The inventor says it makes nail trimming and vet visits easier because you can unzip the bag while leaving the cat's head through the turtleneck. There are also how-to videos on applying shampoo and then washing your cat inside the bag.

The strap can also be used as a seatbelt-pass-through. Aerial believed her cats might prefer that to the traditional carrier.

"The fact that they're out and they can see a little bit more, maybe they would like it," she said.
On the other hand, she worried about safety in the car.

"I think that my bigger carrier does a better job of making them feel safe," Aerial said. "I would feel better if I got into a car accident that they'd be a little bit more protected."

The inventor suggests placing the cat face forward on the seat while strapped in. She says the handle is triple-stitched and will hold fine.

I also tested the bag with my own cat, Bandit. She's a difficult cat but was easily secured inside the Cozy Comfort Carrier. My cat didn't like it, but she doesn't like anything outside of her routine.

I did feel like I had more control and was able to do more versus when she’s in the carrier.
In the end, the Cozy Comfort Carrier might work for some owners but odds are your cat will prefer to be out of the bag!

To learn more about the carrier, click here.

Mewsings: March 17, 2015 - "A cat pours his body on the floor like water. It is restful just to see him."
- William Lyon Phelps

kittens in tub

Gratuitous Kittiness: "Okay, they're in the tub. Now what?"

Cat Mewvie: Save the ocelot.

cats redecorating

Today's Kitty Komic

kitty rockwell

Feline Art: "Kitty Rockwell" byLucia Heffernan.

Mewsings: March 18, 2015 - "If stretching were wealth, the cat would be rich." - Unknown

five gray kittens

Gratuitous Kittiness: Happy Kitten Day!

Cat Mewvie: Brave young man risks life for two kittens. Bravo!

herding cats comic

Today's Kitty Komic

ascension by zane york

Feline Art: "Ascension" by Zane York.

la cat shelters

Los Angeles Architects Design Innovative Shelters for Homeless Cats

One of Los Angeles’ most unique design events—Architects for Animals® “Giving Shelter” exhibit—returned to the HermanMiller Showroom in Culver City on March 10th. The sold-out event was a fundraiser for LA-based nonprofit FixNation, which provides free spay/neuter services for homeless cats.

Architects for Animals® invited LA’s top architecture and design firms to build and donate creative and functional outdoor dwellings for cats, which were displayed at a cocktail reception open to the public. Kate Benjamin, co-author of Catify to Satisfy and Catification (written with Animal Planet cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy), hosted a Hauspanther Style Lounge featuring hip cat-centric products and home décor. Also on display were over two dozen cat food bowls decorated by feline-loving celebrities—including Clint Eastwood, William Shatner and Betty White—which are now available for purchase via auction on ebay.

Participating firms included Abramson Teiger Architects; CallisonRTKL; DSH // architecture; the team of Formation Association, Arktura, BuroHappold; HOK; Knowhow Shop; Lehrer Architects; Perkins and Will; RNL; Pfeiffer Partners Architects; Standard Architecture | Design; and the team of Warren Office + Schmidt Designs.

The breadth of designs was remarkable. Some incorporated items such as built-in feeding bowls, toy mice, and even an actual fishbowl (with live fish); others were accompanied by video showing cats interacting with the shelters, an added touch that brought the projects to life.

"That was the best part, seeing how these shelters can be translated for the real world and used by homeless cats," noted one guest. "It raises awareness about the need for programs like FixNation’s.”

“Some of the most talented architects and designers in the city participated, creating practical and humane solutions that allow people and homeless cats to co-exist in our community,” said FixNation Co-Founder and Executive Director Karn Myers.

In Myers’ words, “Using lethal methods to control the population of homeless cats is not only cruel, it simply doesn’t work. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a much more effective and compassionate alternative. Our mission at FixNation is to manage colonies of community cats and gradually reduce their number through sterilization.”

Celebrity painted cat bowls and Hauspanther items are available by auction. Select cat shelters will be available for auction soon, please check the FixNation website.

See all 14 designs here.


The Infinite Cat Project
Presented by Mike Stanfill, Private Hand
Illustration, Flash Animation, Web Design

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