Over the next couple of days, I saw her off and on. I didn’t really think much of it. Because of her demeanor, I figured she probably belonged to someone. It is pretty unusual for a stray feral cat to approach people, and especially to try to come inside. Bobby and I continued to feed her some, and then she disappeared. I thought she had probably gone home, wherever that might be. Neither one of us saw her for about a week. Then she started coming around again. She began sleeping on our back porch, making herself a bed out of a flower pot, and still trying to come inside whenever the apartment door would open. I put up “Found Cat” signs around the apartment complex and talked to the apartment manager. Nobody called to claim this sweet girl, and the apartment manager told me that the cat had been living around the complex for a couple of months and didn’t belong to anyone as far as she knew. I waited it out a little bit longer, hoping that someone would claim their cat. Meanwhile, we continued to feed her, she continued to sleep on our porch, and she worked her way into our hearts. Bobby and I would go onto the back porch to visit with Sassy (I had named her by this point), and she would jump up into our laps, purring and drooling.
With winter approaching, I couldn’t bear the thought of this sweet girl living outside in the cold. Bobby and I made the decision to take Sassy to the vet to get tested and to get a rabies shot so we could bring her inside. We wanted to be sure she was safe to bring in to meet our other cats. I made an appointment with a vet down the street that is known for working with animal rescues and being inexpensive. Our usual vet is a 30 minute drive away, and I didn’t have the time to make the trip. Since all we needed was a simple test and shot, I figured it wouldn’t matter much to see this other vet.
Getting Sassy into a kitty carrier proved to be a far easier task than I expected. She pretty much walked right into it. She didn’t enjoy the car ride, but once we got to the vet, she was fine. She was very sweet, and as the vet gave her a rabies shot and took a blood sample for the FIV/FeLV test, she didn’t put up a fight at all. She even purred. While we were waiting on the results from the blood test, the vet shaved her belly to check for a spay scar. He said that it’s difficult to tell if what he was seeing was a scar or not, but that he was about 80% sure that she had been spayed already – confirming my thoughts that she must have belonged to someone at some point. Then he looked at the blood test and nonchalantly said, “Oh, she has AIDS.”
My heart sunk, and I felt a pit in my stomach. AIDS?!? The thought of her testing positive for some sort of disease hadn’t crossed my mind. I was merely doing it as a precautionary measure. I was so excited for clean test results so that I could bring my sweet new cat inside to meet her brother and sisters. And here I was, hearing that Sassy has AIDS – something that I’ve never even heard of before in cats.
I looked at him, confused, and asked him what that meant exactly. What do I do? Is there medicine I can give her? What do I do if I have other cats? All of these questions and more were swirling around in my mind. The vet explained that there is no medicine, that there’s nothing that I can do about it. He said that she could live a few normal years and would be best kept as an outside cat so as not to expose AIDS to my other cats. He told me that if she were to lick my other cats that she could pass it on to them. He also told me that it’s quite common for pets that test positive for diseases like this to be abandoned or dumped somewhere, and that that is probably what happened with Sassy.
I took Sassy home to her flower pot bed and immediately hit my computer, searching the internet for anything and everything I could find about feline AIDS. What I found was quite enlightening and made me realize that the majority of the things the vet had told me were untrue. First of all, Sassy has FIV, not AIDS. Just like people can test positive for HIV and that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will turn into AIDS. In fact, it is rare that a cat with FIV will ever reach the AIDS stage. An FIV cat, as long as they maintain proper nutrition and are well taken care of, can live a perfectly normal, unshortened life. FIV cats shouldn’t be kept as outside cats either for two main reasons – the risk that they may pass it on to another cat, and the fact that they will be exposed to more bacterias and viruses outside, which is not good for a cat with a weakened immune system. Also, the virus can not be transmitted by simply licking another cat. The main mode of transmission is fighting. If an FIV+ cat bites an uninfected cat and causes a deep puncture wound and blood to be drawn, then the virus may be passed. Though the virus does live in the saliva of an infected cat, the virus dies pretty quickly once hitting the air, so licking and play fighting are okay. That night Bobby and I went to PetsSmart to get Sassy a collar with an ID tag, a bed, and some toys to put on the back porch to make her more comfortable. I realized that keeping Sassy outside on the back porch was not a permanent solution to the situation, but it was the best I could offer at the time. Bobby and I agreed that Sassy came to us for a reason, and that we are going to do everything we can to make sure she lives a comfortable and normal life.
The next day, I called our actual vet and made an appointment for Sassy. I wanted to talk to him and hear his outlook and perspective on FIV. When I took Sassy in to see Dr. Caldwell, the experience we had was so much more positive that the one I had had earlier in the week with the other vet. Dr. Caldwell reiterated a lot of the information I had found online and agreed wholeheartedly that an FIV cat can live a normal life, that one might not ever even notice any symptoms from the virus. Apparently FIV is not as strong of a virus as HIV is. He also agreed that it is possible to have an FIV+ cat living in the same household as FIV- cats. He said that he did recommend vaccinating our other cats against FIV before bringing Sassy in to meet them. Yes, there is an FIV vaccine, but there are some risks associated with it, which is why it is not included in the “common core” vaccines. More on that later! Dr. Caldwell said that he admired what Bobby and I were doing for Sassy and that he was happy to do everything he can to help us make the integration possible and easier.
I left the visit feeling much better about everything. There is such a strong and negative stigma surrounding FIV+ cats, and it’s hard to find vet or a rescue group who knows what they’re talking about or who does not think that FIV+ cats should be euthanized. Knowing that Dr. Caldwell does not feel that way is a huge relief. I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Since then, we have brought Sassy inside a little bit every day. We do keep the other three cats separated from her right now though. She has spent the past two nights inside with us because it has gotten so cold. She has taken up in our guest bedroom. She seems to have mixed emotions about the whole inside thing though. She cuddles with us and purrs, but then she will cry and hiss at the door, wanting to go back out. I think the smell of our other cats is what is upsetting her. Also, who knows how long she spent living as an outside cat on her own? Each time we bring her in though, she seems to grow more and more accustomed to it. It is just going to have to be a slow transition.
In the meantime, I will be weighing the pros and cons of the FIV vaccine, and awaiting Dr. Caldwell’s call about the cost and process of the vaccinations. And Sassy seems to be getting along just fine…
http://www.v63.net/catsanctuary/fivbook.html <– this couple in the UK runs a rescue for FIV+ cats and has had 80+ over the span of time they have been in operation. They emailed me a PDF of their booklet, which I read cover to cover. It is extremely enlightening and helpful.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/194118151806 <– this is a support group on Facebook for owners of FIV+ cats. People share successful and positive stories about their FIV+ cats daily. It’s a great place.
https://www.facebook.com/FIVCatRescue.CatsInNeed <–Another Facebook page for FIV+ cats and owners
I would also love to hear about anyone else’s experience with FIV! Please share your story with me, as well as any thoughts about the FIV vaccination.