For the next instalment of Who are the Cat Writers’ Association, my guest is animal advocate and author Tracy Ahrens from Momence, Illinois. I have yet to meet Tracy face to face, so I was excited to read about all the things she’s done and is doing in the world of cats, dogs, and a few bunnies as well.
Tracy, tell us a bit about your writing career.
I have been a journalist and editor for newspapers, magazines and websites since 1992. Currently, my stories about raising my pets can be seen through websites and print publications, including: dogster.com, catster.com, Simply Pets magazine, wagthedogUK.com, American Pet Magazine, Russell Publications and Momence Progress Reporter.As of 2020, I had earned 66 writing awards statewide, locally and nationally. I’ve earned more since then but haven’t had time to update my website with how many. I am a member of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, National Federation of Press Women, and the Cat Writers’ Association.
For years I’ve volunteered for animal rescue groups. I am also an artist, creating graphite pet portraits and chalk illustrations. My illustrations have been showcased on note cards for the Kankakee County Animal Foundation in Kankakee, Ill. I have donated portraits for fundraising events at Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, the University of Illinois Wildlife Veterinary Clinic in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; Critter Corral guinea pig rescue in Steger, Ill.; Hospice Hearts rescue in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. and Crossroads Shih Tzu rescue based in Joliet, Ill. In the past I offered pet portraits through the University of Illinois Small Animal Veterinary Teaching Hospital to help raise funds for their Humane Connection Fund.
My portrait of a cat titled Jackson Brown is on display at the Cat Fanciers’ Association Foundation cat museum in Alliance, Ohio. My portrait of a rabbit named Bosley is on display in the House Rabbit Society’s Rabbit Center in Richmond, Calif.
I have also written four children’s books: Cloud Jumpers, What if the Moon, Sammy Sparrow’s First Flight and Come with Me. Aside from my children’s books, I have written two non-fiction books titled Giant Hero and Raising My Furry Children. Raising My Furry Children features a guest story by pet expert, Steve Dale. Proceeds from Sammy Sparrow’s First Flight assist several humane organizations within Illinois. Come with Me supports the Kate Amato Foundation for children’s cancer research based in Florida. I have also published two books of poetry through Finishing Line Press titled Nature will heal and I am.
Photos I have taken of my cats and dog have appeared in several calendars by Workman Publishing.
Since I currently have a full-time job outside of the writing profession, I have limited time to write. In my spare time, I have focused solely on writing about raising my pets, writing poetry and writing/illustrating children’s books.
Do cats inspire your creativity?
My cat, Forest and my dog, Angel will be 16 this spring. Their antics and my observations of them inspire me with story ideas quite often. I jot down notes and save photographs I take of them. I have many files on my computer with future stories about them.
Sadly, I lost two of my cats last year within 30 hours. Jack Sparrow and Joan of Arc were 17 and nearly 21. They too inspired me, and my house is much quieter without them. One day when things settle down in my life a bit more, I do want to adopt another kitty in need.
If anyone visits my little home, they will see pet-themed art, photos and more in every room. My house revolves around my pets. The atmosphere brings me peace. At Christmas I display a tree with pet-themed ornaments on it, many which were given to me by fellow animal lovers.
Now for three extremely arbitrary questions.
- What crosses your mind when someone tells you they don’t like cats?
If someone tells me they do not like cats, I feel sorry for them. Believe me, being a single woman, when I meet a man and he tells me he “hates” cats, I quickly cut ties. My pets are my inspiration and passion. They are a part of me and need to be loved the same by someone close to me. I have learned to ask people who say that they “hate” cats, why they feel this way. It is interesting to learn that most people have had an experience from years ago that wasn’t the “cat’s fault” for scratching or scaring them. Some trauma along the way usually causes this dislike. I try to tell them this, and explain that it isn’t the cat’s fault, that cats are amazing creatures and are loyal, loving and fun like dogs.
- What famous cat or cat person have you met?
One famous cat person I knew was author Ray Bradbury. He wrote a book jacket quote for my book Raising My Furry Children. Ray and I spoke at an event where I graduated from college (Eureka College in Eureka, Ill.). We kept in touch over the years. He loved all creatures, especially cats. I drew a portrait of one of his cats, Tater. He told me that he displayed it in his home office.
- Did you grow up with cats?
My first childhood pet was a long-haired white cat named Fluffy. I grew up with a passion for saving all creatures. My parents and brother also love all creatures. My mom, Linda Ahrens, has nine cats and one stray that may soon stay permanently. My mom has created over 1,600 24-inch-square flannel quilts for cats and dogs since 2005. She has donated all proceeds to local humane rescue organizations and to the University of Illinois Small Animal Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in an effort to raise money for their Humane Connection Fund. She’s been featured in Catster and Quiltfolk magazine and other online and print news. I help her with the quilt project, and we’ve shipped quilts to cats around the world. See her Facebook page at @quiltsforcats
As a side note, my dog Angel received a stuffed duck toy anonymously from a social media acquaintance shortly after I adopted her. She fell in love with that duck and brought it upstairs to my bed and it has remained there since. Over the past four years I have given these same ducks (they come in multiple colors) to friends and strangers for their dogs. I have sent them around the world. I wrote a story about Angel’s love of the duckies, and I created a Facebook page for her duckie-love at @agirlandherduck
And finally, tell us about your cats (and dog)!
My current pet family consists of my cat Forest Horatio Maxwell Fluffy bottom, 15; and my dog, Angel, 15. Forest was adopted at 4 months of age. Angel was adopted at age 11. I lost two of my cats within 30 hours in 2021. Jack Sparrow and Joan of Arc were 17 and nearly 21. Both were rescues. Jack was found by a friend when he was 3 months old. Joan I found in a street at night when she was just 1 month old.
Other Facebook pages I run include:
@ForestBellyUp – featuring images of my cat Forest and his love of lying “belly up”
@goatangel – featuring my dog Angel and how she looks like a mountain goat
@agirlandherduck – featuring my dog Angel and her love of her stuffed duck toy
@sammyshelterproject – featuring posts about my children’s book Sammy Sparrow’s First Flight
@Come.With.Me.Book – featuring information about my book Come with Me
@RaisingMyFurryChildren – featuring content about my book Raising my Furry Children. This book is currently out of print because the publisher closed. I will be republishing it in the near future.