My Latest “Cattoo” Was (Almost) an Impulse Buy


On a sweltering July day, I stretched out on a table in a tattoo studio and prepared myself for three hours of pain.

It had taken me seven years to figure out what my previous cat tattoo was going to be, but this one came together in about two weeks.

You see, I had a tattoo that was in need of an evolution. Okay, some might call it a cover-up, but calling it a cover-up implies that you’re ashamed of the previous tattoo. I’m not; I just felt it was time to transform it to fit my life journey as it is now.

The original tattoo was a set of Chinese characters from the book The Cat and the Tao by Kwong Kuen Shan, the rough English translation of which was "I find my own happiness."

But I’m finally starting to feel like I have found my own happiness: My life as a cat writer, shelter volunteer, and animal rescue advocate has brought me more joy than just about anything else I’ve ever done. I’d also made a big decision: I was finally ready to move away from Maine, the place where I was born and raised, to Seattle, where I feel more at home than anywhere I’ve been.

Now it was time for the tattoo to move on, too.

It all came together in a series of amazing coincidences. Several months ago, Catster Editor-in-Chief Janine Kahn introduced me to the art of Horitomo, one of the best tattoo artists in the United States. I knew I wanted one of his designs — or, more accurately, a tattoo inspired by one of his designs.

One day during my lunch break, I was thinking about Horitomo’s work and I searched for images online. The design I’d been considering was pretty cool, but I saw one that was even more amazing. "That’s what I want!" I told myself. "And it’s time to honor Iris, one of the most amazing cats I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing."

Minutes later I was on the phone with Sanctuary Tattoo, the same studio where I’d had my previous cattoo done, and after I left work that day I stopped by to consult with artist Scott Bruns and show him the image.

At 11:30 a.m. on July 5, I lay down on my side on Scott’s table. "You ready?" he asked. "Yup," I said. And the black work and outlining began. Photos of my newest cat tattoo follow.

As the tattoo gun buzzed, I breathed into the pain. As the endorphins, the body’s natural opiates, started circulating, the stabbing sensation dulled and I started to feel a little bit high. (Curious about exactly what endorphins do? Check out this article on

After Scott finished the outlines, black work and shading, he took this photo.

Then it was time for the color.

It was getting a little more difficult to ignore the pain, so I distracted myself by checking Facebook while he worked. Then I closed my eyes for a while and let the music playing in the studio take me away. I listened to the conversations of people who were preparing to get tattoos of their own. I checked Facebook again.

About two and a half hours in, the whole tattoo area felt like a giant bruise. The endorphins weren’t dulling the pain much any more, so sitting still and not twitching was an exercise in mind over matter. Breathe. Relax. Breathe. Relax. Breathe. Relax.

Finally, it was done. I looked at the tattoo in the mirror and I was amazed. Scott had truly brought my vision to life, and now I have a beautiful art work on my skin that honors the first cat to teach me about nurturing, communicating with animals (and listening to what they’re telling me), and the existence of the spirit world.

Read more Catster articles about tattoos:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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