Mama’s on her way home from BlogPaws West, a gathering of people who blog about pets, so we’ll make our usual weekly advice post tomorrow. But we did want to convey a message from Mama about some of the things she learned.
Once again, she was amazed at the nationwide — and actually, worldwide — community of people who share their love of animals through their blogs, and through their actions in the “real world.”
While she was there, she also found her passion and her particular niche in the world of cat lovers. She has decided (with our approval, of course) that she could make a huge difference in the lives of cats by educating the community at large about the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and advocating for FIV-positive cats.
Why did she choose this particular passion? Well, the first cat that owned her was a gorgeous black tomcat named Castor (of the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux). In 1981, she adopted Castor from her local animal shelter, and he filled her teenage years with love and kindness.
But when he turned 10, he developed an infection in his mouth. Her mother took Castor to the vet, and he got antibiotics. The antibiotics relieved his infection and he began feeling better and eating more. But once the antibiotics were discontinued, he got sick again. This went on several times until the vet suggested that he get a blood test.
There was a recently discovered virus, the vet explained, that suppressed cats’ immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to any number of infections. A blood test would determine whether Castor had the disease.
When the results of the blood test came back, the vet said Castor had this infection, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
Because of the lack of knowledge about FIV at that time, there was little a vet could recommend to help Castor stay healthy, except for antibiotics to treat any infections.
Mama’s family went this course for a while, until finally poor Castor became so sick that he couldn’t recover and have a good quality of life. Mama came home from college in 1991 and saw how deeply Castor was suffering. He didn’t move from his place on the couch, even to go to the litterbox, and when Mama gave him a comforting pet, he growled at her.
With tears in her eyes, Mama knew it was time. She couldn’t stand to see him suffer anymore, so with her mother’s blessing, she called the vet and arranged for Castor’s final appointment.
She took him to that appointment and stayed with him in the last minutes of his life. She tried to stay cool, but she broke out in tears as soon as the vet began preparing the syringe with the euthanasia solution. With her tears dripping on Castor’s fur, she cried, “I love you, Castor,” as he drew his last breaths.
That was the first time she’d ever made the decision to put an animal to sleep, and the first time she’d ever watched an animal die.
She didn’t know it at the time, as she sat in the car and cried for half an hour, but 20 years later that moment would come back to her in a moment of inspiration at the BlogPaws West conference.
With Castor’s memory strong in her mind, and the memory of several other FIV-positive cats who had touched her life since then, she committed herself to educating about FIV. Her five-year-old commitment to adopt special-needs cats focused into a commitment to adopt FIV-positive cats and give them a loving forever home where they could receive the special care they needed to have the best and longest lives they could.
She knows that means there will be more moments like that sad afternoon at the vet’s office. She knows it means closer monitoring, special care, and most likely more financial outlay to maintain these cats’ quality of life.
But they deserve it. And the world deserves to know that FIV is not an instant death sentence. And Mama has a new mission: she is going to Be The Change for FIV-positive cats.