This Goodnewsforpets interview features Ramona Marek, MS Ed., a former director of the Cat Writers’ Association and this year’s recipient of the 2015 Goodnewsforpets.com Human-Animal Bond award. Ramona is an award-winning freelance writer and member of the American Association Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians. She is a contributing writer for various national and international print and digital magazines.
Marek received the award for the entry that best reflected and promoted the strengthening of the human-animal bond, highlighting the bond between a cat and owner, as well as their relationship with their veterinarian as another direct caregiver. We caught up with Ramona shortly after to learn more about her and her writing.
You were formerly a special education teacher. How did you become interested in working with pets?
There are several ways to answer that question. I grew up around animals and we had pets at home including dogs, an iguana and a cat. Writing has also been a part of my life since childhood and I often wrote stories about animals. On a deeper level, the two careers are facets of one principle: advocating and speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, whether a special needs child or an animal.
My husband commented, “You’re always writing, why don’t you publish something?” True, I wrote poems, short stories and travelogues for my family and friends but never thought about publishing. I went to the library, read books and taught myself about freelance writing. One day I was reading Cat Fancy to TC, my cat at the time, and I looked at him and said, “I can do this.” When I looked deep into his eyes I immediately had an idea for an article about cats in mythology. I submitted the query to Cat Fancy and it, along with a second article, were accepted for publication. That was 10 years ago.
Do you have any pets of your own? If so, can you tell us about them.
Yes, I have two cats. Tsarevich Ivan, a joie de vivre silver tabby Siberian, and Natasha Fatale, a full-time diva dressed as an “anything but plain” brown tabby. Ivan is 11 years old and a social butterfly who adores people, other cats and well-behaved dogs. He is my constant companion, always nearby and sits in the chair with me while I write.
Natasha is 8 years old and my husband and I adopted her from the Humane Society for Southwest Washington when she was an 8-week-old kitten, although more correctly, I should say she chose us. Natasha is a snuggly, cuddly homebody who likes things her way.
How do your pets inspire your writing?
Over the years my pets have served as great sources of inspiration from medical conditions to nutrition to symbolism in world cultures. For example, Ivan is hypersensitive to certain foods and injections. His hypersensitive nature drove me to find a veterinarian specializing in feline health. Natasha is a fearful kitty and trips to the vet terrify her to the point of nausea. It is through my cats, current and past, that I learned cats are underserved in veterinary medicine, don’t receive routine healthcare because it is stressful to the cat and owner alike and, sadly, people mistakenly think cats don’t need routine check-ups.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recognizes these issues and has a Cat Friendly Practice program designed for veterinary practices to elevate care for cats, educate owners, and reduce stress associated with veterinary visits for both cats and owners. The feline medical clinic I use is a Cat Friendly Practice and I appreciate the extra training and knowledge the staff has in terms of stress reduction, cat-friendly handling techniques and understanding feline behavior. It makes the visits more tolerable for all us. This is first-hand experience I share with pet owners. (Note: I am on the Cat Friendly Practice Advisory Council.)
What is it about writing about pets that appealed to you the most?
One thing that appeals to me the most is the opportunity to educate owners about their pets; there is a lot of perpetual misinformation out there in cyberspace. There’s a constant need to bust long-lived myths about pets, especially cats. People think cats are aloof, solitary beings who can survive on their own and don’t require much veterinary care. Veterinary medicine continually advances and it takes all of us in the pet world to get correct information out to pet owners.
You recently won the Goodnewsforpets.com Human-Animal Bond Award for “The Strength of the Human-Animal Bond”. What would you suggest owners do to strengthen their human-animal bond with their pets?
Thank you; I am profoundly honored to receive the 2015 Goodnewsforpets.com Human-Animal Bond Award.
Love comes naturally but a strong bond takes time to develop and deepen with our pets just as with dear friends. Pet owners can strengthen their human-animal bond by spending quality time with their pets, and that encompasses a few things, not the least of which is being present in the moment. When spending time with your pet, be engaged with your pet, not absent-mindedly scratching your pet’s ears while talking on the telephone. Communication is key to building any relationship including the one with your pet. Learn your pet’s body language and vocalizations, schedule daily playtime, training, grooming and individual snuggle or quiet time. Make your time together positive, something you both look forward to every day and over time your relationship will solidify into a deep, loving, trustful bond.
In “The Strength of the Human-Animal Bond”, you mention the health benefits of owning a pet. Have you noticed any health benefits from your pets in your own life? If so, explain.
Our pets enrich our lives and play a significant role in our physical health, mental and emotional wellness and enhance our social skills. The benefits are a one-size-fits-all for children to the elderly. Pets in the home have a positive effect on such conditions as diabetes, cancer, autism spectrum disorder, and cardiovascular diseases including stroke. The health benefits are reciprocal, our pets have improved health benefits from positive human interaction.
For me, when the world gets chaotic and stressful, quiet time with Ivan and Natasha purring next to me quiets the noise and tamps the stress. I’m a bit of an introvert; Ivan’s the more extroverted personality! Speaking with people is easier for me when talking about Ivan and Natasha, someone else’s pet or animals in general.
Not only do you write about pets, you write about a number of other topics including women’s health, ponds and water gardens, and retail jewelry. Where do you get your inspiration for these topics?
Inspiration comes from my own life experiences, a natural curiosity and a desire to learn. Sometimes I get writing assignments that encourage me to explore different topics or angles than I’m familiar with and I appreciate the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. I always learn something from each writing assignment and meet some of the nicest people along the way.
You are a former director of the Cat Writers’ Association and have been a member since 2007. What do you believe is the biggest benefit to membership and prospective members?
I have been a professional member of the Cat Writers’ Association since 2007 and volunteered in several different roles. I think the biggest benefit to members and prospective members is the informal mentoring and the structured mentoring program. CWA members are supportive, helpful and encouraging of other members assisting with professional growth and development in many areas of expertise. Over the years I have become friends with many members and have been fortunate to have seasoned professionals share their knowledge, expertise and experience with me. I am grateful for their help, friendship and opportunities they’ve shared and one way I can express my gratitude is by “paying it forward” to help other writers in their careers. The Mentoring Program offers informal mentoring and pairs an individual looking for help in a specific area in a one-to-one arrangement with a member who has expertise in that particular area. For writers considering joining CWA, it’s a wonderful organization comprised of people in a variety communication modes plus we get to talk about cats; how fun is that!
According to your website, you serve as Cultural Affairs Officer (CAO, feline)™ at the Feline Embassy headquartered in your heart and imagination. Can you explain what you mean by this?
Writing about pets is serious business ensuring accurate information reaches pet owners because pet lives depend on it. I decided to approach my role as a cat writer with a lighthearted personality as a cultural exchange experience. Embassies have cultural affairs officers (CAOs) whose role is to educate people in foreign countries about their own home country which hopefully leads to better understanding of each other, reduces tensions from bias, and fosters cooperation and open communication between the host country and the home country. CAOs must interact with an interesting and diverse group of people in the community including scholars, artists, and political officials.
In this case, I’m the (CAO, feline)™ at the Feline Embassy headquartered in my heart and imagination and the cats who’ve graced my life are the ambassadors of the embassy. I work with a variety of people including veterinarians, professors and animal behavior experts to bridge the the cultural differences, if you will, between felines and humans to reach a better understanding of each other based on fact instead of misinformation.
You recently wrote a book, Cats for the GENIUS: The complete guide to being the best cat parent you can be!, that will be available to purchase this week. Can you tell us a little about the book?
My goal is to help cat owners build a better relationship with their cats right from the start, strengthen the human-animal bond, and to keep more cats out of shelters and in their homes. Cats for the GENIUS is a comprehensive owner’s guide to everything feline written in an easy-to-read conversational style. The book is divided into four progressive parts of eighteen chapters that may be read consecutively or individually. As an overview, Part 1 discusses meeting your responsibilities to your cat, picking a compatible personality, and preparing your home for your feline family member’s arrival; Part 2 covers feline nutrition, feline communication and aspects of basic care and grooming; Part 3 focuses on feline health, choosing a veterinarian, vaccinations, common feline diseases and fascinating feline anatomy; Part 4 discusses how to say good-bye to our cherished friend when the time comes. Sprinkled in are extra tidbits of information and, of course, cat photos!
Is there anything you would like to add?
I want to express my sincere gratitude to the 2015 Cat Writers’ Association writing contest for selecting my article, “The Strength of the Human-Animal Bond” to receive the GoodNewsForPets.com Human-Animal Bond Award. I felt a rush of emotions when I learned that I was the recipient of your prestigious award. I am surprised, deeply honored and over the moon with joy. Writing about pets and our profound relationship with them is a passion for me. Again, my heartfelt thanks.
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