My kitten Effie passed away in June from feline infectious peritonitis when she was only 9 months old. After she died, it was important for me to memorialize her short life. I compiled every photograph I took of her into a book and put her ashes in a box on my dresser. (Full disclosure: For a few nights I kept the box of her ashes in my bed. Grieving is weird sometimes.)
When Effie died, I didn’t have any tattoos — I always thought I would get one eventually, but I had never felt strong enough about something to get it tattooed on my body. But Effie was so important to me that I had no hesitation about memorializing her with a tattoo.
I spent a few months mulling over ideas. I knew people who got paw prints of their cats or other small symbols of them, but I felt like I wanted to go bigger. I eventually decided that I wanted a large portrait of Effie on my arm, so she would be with me always.
I live in Portland, Oregon, and we have no shortage of great tattoo artists. I was one of the few people I knew without tattoos, which is convenient when you’re searching for the perfect artist. Everyone I knew had an opinion. I had always loved my friend Christine’s tattoos, so I asked her who had done them. She told me she went to Alena Chun at Icon Tattoo and that Alena loved cats as much as I did. It was important to me that the person doing my tattoo understood how important Effie was to me, so someone devoted to her own cat seemed perfect.
Alena also has a memorial tattoo of her pet rat, so I knew she understood my desire for a tattoo of Effie. She told me her tattoo gave her closure, and she feels like her rat is with her all the time now. "I always knew I would get a tattoo of her and I always knew Melanie [another artist at Icon] would do it, because she is one of my bestest friends and is also someone who completely and utterly understands animal-human love connection," she said.
Alena has also done at least two other memorial tattoos for cats: one just of a cat’s face, and one of a cat peeking out of a backpack. She also recently did a tattoo of a hazelnut branch to honor a dog named Hazelnut. Two other artists at Icon, Lisa and Melanie, have tattoos of their cats, too, so it is definitely a cat-loving place.
My consult with Alena went well, and I felt like she was definitely the right artist when we started talking about the size of the border around Effie’s portrait and she said she felt like it really depended on the personality of the cat.
We looked at pictures of Effie and chatted about my ideas, and then scheduled an appointment to get the outlining done in November. I got a small text tattoo before my tattoo of Effie, which helped relieve my anxiety about how painful it would be. I assumed I would be a big wimp about getting tattooed, but the tattoo I got on my inner forearm didn’t hurt much at all.
When November rolled around, I dragged my best friend to my appointment with me. She kept me entertained and snapped a few pictures for Instagram of the process. Of course Alena and I talked cats, and she told me all about her cat Mei. She also plans on getting a tattoo of Mei eventually.
I liked the tattoo just as an outline, but I was so excited to get color a few months later! The color definitely hurt, but not as bad as when my current kitten attacks me with her claws out at 4 a.m., so I could deal with it. Now it’s finally stopped peeling and is completely healed. I’m so glad that springtime is finally coming and I’ll be able to show it off soon.
I’m still grieving Effie, and I think I always will be. Six months was not enough time with her, especially when she was sick for so much of that time and the experience of losing her was so traumatic. Nothing will ever make that OK. But to some extent I now feel like I always have her with me, which is comforting. Like Alena, I feel like my tattoo has given me a sense of closure. I’m sure that someday when my other cats pass away (hopefully of old age and not from a horrible disease like the one that killed Effie) I might feel the need to memorialize them on my body as well.
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