Happy Black Panther Day

There is are International Days for both Jaguars and Leopards and there’s a World Jaguar Day. Additionally, we have Black Cat Appreciation Day (August 17th) and National Black Cat Day (October 27th). BUT there is no day specifically attributed to the Black Panther. Until now.

In loving memory of Diego (my “Panther Boy”),
I am declaring this day of his birth (April 4th) as Black Panther Day.

Although the term “Black Panther” has been attributed to

A member of the Black Panther Party
A fictional superhero

in the world of felines, there is no such species as a “Black Panther”.

The term “black panther” is most frequently used to describe black-coated (melanistic) leopards (Panthera pardus) or jaguars (Panthera onca). The world ‘melanism’ is derived from a Greek word meaning black pigment. Here it refers to the increased development of dark-colored pigment melanin in the skin or hair.

The appearance of a black coat is attributed to the expression of recessive alleles in leopards and dominant alleles in jaguars.

allele
n. one of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome

On cats like the leopard and jaguar, spots on a melanistic animal’s coat will often still be visible depending on the incident light. (When sunlight hits Ramses just right you can see tabby stripes on his tail) The appearance of a black coat may also depend upon the animal’s life stage.

Melanistic leopards and jaguars are rare. Studies estimate only 11% are born with this coloration, and it’s possible to have both melanistic and non-melanistic cubs in the same litter.

Confirmed sightings are infrequent, and confirmed sightings of black leopards (especially in Africa) are very rare – with the most recently verified sighting taking place in Kenya in 2019. Before that, it had been over 100 years since one was seen and photographed in Africa.

In India, wildlife filmmaker and photographer Mithun H captured a photo of these two leopards near the Kabini Forest.

Famous black panthers include Bagheera (The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, 1894) and Sir Purr, mascot of the Carolina Panthers’ football team.

On a more personal note, the Black Panther holds special meaning for me. It is my Totem Animal – also called Spirit Animal, Power Animal, and Familiar.

When I was a Sophomore we lived in the foothills of East San José. Our house sat at the bottom of a hill and on sunny days I’d kick-back on the hillside, enjoying the panoramic view of the valley below. One day I was tramping through the browned grasses looking for a place to sit, when suddenly a black shape appeared in front of me. It was a large black cat. It was a black panther. (Afterward my Dad insisted I’d seen a dog, but I know the difference between the two. Not only are their body compositions different, but the way a cat MOVES is uniquely cat-like. Smooth and sensuous.) I felt no fear. I gazed at the cat. The cat gazed at me. Just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished into the hillside. That night I dreamed of BEING a black panther on the hunt. This dream repeated itself several nights after that.

The Black Panther has been connected to me ever since…

I’ve written a more in-depth article on Spirit Animals here.

What’s the difference between a leopard and a jaguar?

LEOPARD

~ Native to Africa and Asia.
~ Slender bodied with long tails
~ Small, angular heads featuring sharp cheekbones and clearly defined lines
~ Smallest of the “big cats”, weighing in around 175 pounds

JAGUAR

~ Found in Central and South America
~ Stocky, compact, and muscular body with barrel-like abdomen and relatively short tail
~ Large, broadly-rounded head with smaller ears and wide jaw
~ Weighs up to 250 pounds

The jaguar’s huge jaw muscles and teeth give it the strongest bite force of any mammal! (Take that, stupid pit bulls!)

References
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Wild Cat Sanctuary
Big Cat Rescue

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My World ~ One Year Later

My World was taken from me one year ago, the day I lost Diego. I cannot believe twelve months has passed because I remember that morning like it was yesterday. He suffered a seizure that morning and as we were driven to the vet’s office I knew these were our last moments together. After looking at the video I somehow had managed to take, the doctors confirmed it was a seizure. Moreoever, they were certain it was caused by a tumor behind his right eye. The last pictures I took of Diego were from that morning in the hospital and you can clearly see the right side of his face was misshapen – especially around the eye.

Like Ortoloni, Diego has a story that needs to be told – and it will be told. But today, in his memory, I would like to share some never-before-seen photos of the Lord of House Greychin. My Best Friend. My Familiar. My Diego.

Diego’s World
Galerie de El Diablo (His art gallery.)
On YouTube

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Today is our birthday.

Today is our birthday.
You would’ve been 17.
And I still miss you
Every single day.

I miss the smell of your skin,
And the feel of your fur,
And the look in your eyes.

I miss your funny little “r-row”
And the way you’d lift your head
With your whole mouth open
(When you’d do that).

I miss you in your bed,
Your two front paws
Hanging over its edge.
Waiting for me to notice you.
To come over to you.

Thank you for the 16 years
We had together.
My Panther Boy.
My Familiar.

We will be together again.
I will join you one day.
Until then, my Sweet Diego,
Happy Birthday.

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Symbolic Loss

Both my Mom and Dad died many years ago, and in my adult lifetime I’ve lost many cats with whom I shared a deep bond. None of these losses has inflicted as deep a pain on me as losing my beloved Diego. Since that day, I’ve been reading a lot about grief – trying to make some sense of my feelings.

This last week something has been trying to push up through my subconscious, then BAM! there it was:

Your pet may also represent the last link that you have to a special person, place, thing, or time in your life. Loss that is associated with another, significant loss in your life is referred to as a “symbolic loss”.

The unexplained sadness I’ve been experiencing since moving to Hootersville suddenly made sense. I’ve been grieving the loss of my previous life. All this time I have been carrying around a “ball in a box“. (That ball got even larger with Diego’s death.) Diego was the final link to my life in Santa Clara…

When I visually think of Diego, it’s always in that bedroom. In OUR space. In that room we became inseparable. It was during those years that I began to expand this website. To write about anything and everything that piqued my interest. I created “Diego’s World” to give him a voice here, too.

I’ve always felt awkward being photographed and hated the resulting pictures. In that room, with Diego as the only observer, I started taking pictures of myself. I experimented with lighting and angles. These “sessions” took place in the wee hours of the morning after I’d come home from seeing a local band (or two). I was fully made-up and dressed to kill. Sometimes Diego would join me. Posing for a picture still makes me a little anxious, but with Diego as my assistant those early-morning photos would be the best I ever took; and after a night out I looked forward to that down-time with him.

I also loved our Sunday mornings in bed. We’d take selfies and watch the widlife running through the tree right outside our window. He also started expanding his communication skills, creating a special language recognized only by the two of us. I can still see him with his front paws propped on the edge of his bed (on my bed).

Diego was independent, wise, and fierce. I dearly loved that time when it was just him and me. I miss that cozy space. I miss him in that space. I miss me and him in that space.

My decision to leave the Bay Area – a placed I had grown-up in – was done with the best intentions for both of us. It was a decision made out of hope for the future. Although I knew that the changes I faced were going to be nothing I had experienced before, I viewed them with the typically carefree optimism of an Aries. Diego had no choice in the matter. Where I went, he went. Six months later, he began sneezing small amounts of blood. I changed to unscented litter and the issue subsided. Then it came back. I researched allergies in cats and thought it might be the drier air here (I was having allergy issues). I bought a humidifier. The symptoms came and went. Until last December when the issue finally revealed itself to be a tumor. Would he have developed this tumor if we had remained in Santa Clara? I ask myself this every day. I don’t have a good answer. Add to my grief a heavy layer of GUILT.

Yesterday I was in the South Bay and drove past where I used to live. My insides were crying. I suddenly realized how much I had severed to forge this new life. Even if a life-altering decision is made voluntarily, the changes it brings can be difficult to navigate.

The 3-card spreads I’ve been pulling all point to a path of self-discovery. This is just one “ah-hah” moment among many for me.

I can’t move forward without letting go of the past. So, I find myself mourning the loss of both Diego AND my former life. This grieving process may take longer than I expected…

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Coping with Grief

The passing of Diego has left one big hole in my heart and my life. Instinctively I knew this cat would fill me with grief so dark and deep that it would be near impossible to work through it. I am taking things one day at a time, one paw-step at a time. Posting my thoughts and feelings provides an avenue with which to work through the pain.

My adoption of Ramses has once again given me the gift of caring for another living creature. Of being responsible for a life. But my grief is still palpable. Yesterday Ramses had to visit the vet for a minor issue. That morning it hit me that the last time I made that trip to the vet was the morning Diego was put to sleep. It brought back memories of the horrific seizure he had, where he literally walked off the end of the bed and crashed to the floor. Diego was barely recovering from it when I gently placed him in his carrier. As we drove to the vet I knew that was our last morning together. Needless to say, these memories brought forth tears.

The Friday after Christmas I brought Diego’s ashes home. It has brought me comfort on some level having him “home” again. That he’s still here with me. When Ortoloni passed away I saw his “shadow” for months afterwards. All over the house. I’m not experiencing that with Diego. Ortoloni’s death was quick. He died in my arms at home. Perhaps he wasn’t ready to leave me which is why I was seeing his ghost. And perhaps that is why I’m not “seeing” Diego – he knew he was ill and was ready to leave.

I don’t know. All I DO know is that my heart still aches. For his face. For his voice. For the touch of his luxurious fur. For all his wonderful idiosyncrasies. For his presence. For his companionship. For his love.

The other day I was trying to put into words what losing this cat meant to me. How deep the bond was. How it differed from having a connection with a human. In the vet’s waiting room yesterday, I started reading the latest copy of Modern Cat. In it was an article entitled “How to Grieve the Loss of a Cat“. This article articulates the distinction perfectly:

“When a beloved animal dies it can be devastating, overwhelming, and unfathomable…The emotions we feel are the same as any loss—but magnified…”

“The human-animal bond is unique…”

“What’s unique about cats we’ve bonded with for years is that they’re an intimate part of our everyday life. Because they’re there every night and day, by the time they pass we’ve often accumulated more time with them than we have with individual friends. Even family members are unlikely to be with you that consistently.”

“To put it in the simplest of terms, a pet is that friend that always offers unconditional love and never utters a word of criticism…They are always there for you in your moments of greatest happiness and overwhelming sadness.”

“The connection people have to their cats is one not possible between humans…These pure souls become integrated into the fabric of our lives. Their presents to us include affection, companionship, better physical health, a strong emotional connection—[they] promote social and physical activity, make us laugh, and allow us to take responsibility for another living creature. Pets also soothe us, calm us, and help us live in the moment.”

“The longer the time spent in any relationship, the deeper that relationship becomes, which translates to a deeper sense of grief…”

“Remember to be gentle with yourself; this is a fragile time for you. The grieving will lessen over time; it is a hard transition from being able to hug and kiss your cat to having him or her eternally in your heart…”

“Eventually, the waves are less frequent and not quite as intense. However, there are triggers that at any time can overwhelm someone again…give sorrow the space to transform and most of all, to trust your way. You might need to process your feelings with someone you trust, or you might need to go throw stones in a river by yourself. Keep reminding yourself that your grief is love. That means it’s valid and important. And to avoid getting stuck in chronic misery or numbness—the only way through your grief is to feel it.”

(BTW, this article can be applied to the loss of any beloved pet.)

You can read the entire article here.

The Pet Loss Support Forum at rainbowsbridge.com has been a blessing. So many members lost their loved ones right before the holidays. Connecting with others dealing with loss has made me feel less alone. Less adrift. A little less sad. Through our words of support we are not only assisting others in healing, we are helping ourselves heal. One member posted something about “The Ball in the Box Theory of Grief” as a way to understand the grieving process, so I Googled it. I am passing it on in the hope it may help someone else.

Coping with Grief: The Ball & The Box

One of the things that might be difficult to understand is that for most people, the grief of a loss never leaves a person completely. The loss stays with most of us forever. It changes over time — it may start off as huge and overwhelming, but becomes smaller over time.

Imagine your life is a box and the grief you feel is a ball inside of the box. Also inside the box is a pain button…In the beginning, when the loss is so fresh and new, the grief that many people feel is overwhelming and large. It’s so large, in fact, that every time you move the box — moving through your every day life — the grief ball can’t help but hit the pain button…The pain a person experiences may feel unrelenting and never-ending…Over time, however, the ball starts to shrink on its own…the ball becomes so small that it rarely hits the pain button. When it does, it is still as painful and hard to understand as it was the very first time we felt it. But the frequency of the hits decreases significantly. This gives a person more time in-between each hit, time used to recover and feel “normal” again.

Remember that the next time you see someone, as they may be struggling with their own ball in the box.

You can read the entire article here.

Every time I experience a “triggered memory” of Diego, I visually picture MY Ball in MY Box. I don’t cry as much – or as hard – as I did the week after I lost Diego, but my “pain button” is still being hit pretty often. I know time will heal the deepest pain.

Today this video was posted in the Forum. Tears were shed. But I also smiled. A tender smile of love for My Best Friend & Familiar. My Lord & Liege. Lord Greychin. El Diablo Diego. My DIEGO.

(Panther Boy, come to me tonight…)

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