When Apollo, a four-year old black, short-haired cat, was put up for adoption at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, his chances of being adopted seemed pretty slim. In his previous life as a stray cat, he had broken his leg, and while it had healed on its own, one of his legs was shorter than the others causing a slight limp. Upon closer review, he had the smile of a jack o’ lantern thanks to the removal of a fractured upper tooth. But these outward appearance issues may not matter to the right adopter. They may even be viewed as “charming character.” Even so, there was also one larger issue to consider. Apollo was FIV positive.
Apollo had probably contracted FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) during his days on the street through a bite from another homeless unaltered male cat, the likeliest of carriers. FIV is an incurable virus that progresses very slowly, gradually affecting a feline’s immune system. Former Humane Society policy was to euthanize FIV+ cats, however, Apollo now found himself as one of the lucky “test cats” in a new partnership between the Humane Society of Indianapolis and Indyferal, a non-profit organization that specializes in the trap, neuter, return (TNR) and the well-being of stray and feral cats. Through this partnership, FIV+ cats were being given a new chance at life.
No one knew how this new program would go when it started in January 2009. Or perhaps it should be stated that no one knew how successful this program would be! Since January, 8 FIV+ cats have been adopted and 2 are in foster care. Currently the Humane Society has only 2 cats in the FIV+ adoption area. They are working on a free-roaming FIV+ cat room which will showcase these kitties in a more appealing manner than cages, and will also help maintain their mental and physical well-being.
Throughout the adoption process of FIV+ cats, education about the disease is key. The biggest misconceptions about these cats are that they are doomed to a short life of suffering and that the disease can easily be spread to other cats, or even to humans. The truth is that FIV+ cats can live long, happy lives with proper care. The disease spreads only through blood transfusions or deep, penetrating bites from an infected cat; not through a simple sneeze or general contact, and there is absolutely no way humans can get it.
The Humane Society does have a few recommendations for those considering the adoption of a FIV+ cat. The first one is that these cats only go into homes where all cats are altered and friendly with one another. Secondly, FIV+ cats should be kept indoors and up to date on vaccinations. Since their immune systems are faulty, they shouldn’t be kept in areas where they would be susceptible to other feline diseases. One of the most important recommendations is to talk to your veterinarian before adopting a FIV+ cat. Unfortunately, some vets will not treat these creatures and may even suggest euthanization. And finally, a high-quality diet and lots of love and attention will keep a FIV+ cat around for many years.
So, you might ask, what happened to our little friend Apollo? He has a new name, Snowball, a new home, and an all-around new lease on life. He also has two FIV+ brothers that he likes to chase around, even though it took some getting used to running on tile and hardwood floors with his shortened leg. Snowball’s new owner, Scott says, “All three of my cats are wonderful and it just breaks my heart to think that these three boys would have been put down in the past just because they are FIV+ cats. I hope they feel as blessed by me as I do by them.”
The content of this story is reprinted with permission by Best Friends Animal Society.