At the back of the AIDS pen is a smaller one where a group of five cats live together.
The enclosure is known as the Prince of Wales pen – it was built about 9 years ago with a generous donation from fundraising by students from Prince of Wales school in Vancouver. Initially it housed a group of feral cats that had come to us from the Interior; they were not FIV-positive, and as the older ones passed, it was decided to combine the remaining colony with the feral cats in Pen 3.
Our population of AIDS cats was growing. Cats who are feral, or who have lived wild for a time, are more likely to become infected with the virus in the course of battles over territory or potential mates. And many of them have decided that humans are to be feared – no matter how kindly they are treated. Cats like Tiberius and Zimmer have made the transition to toleration – they will move from cabin to pen easily, and though they don’t like touch, they will accept it. But there are also cats in the back of the AIDS pen who don’t even like to be looked at; they prefer to hide when visitors are around and are stressed by too much movement. For some of those we have made a sanctuary within the pen; for others the move to the Prince of Wales pen was the answer.
Five cats make up the POW colony. Many of our AIDS cats have come from other shelters around the province where there are no facilities to keep FIV or FeLV cats separate from the general population. Big blocky Malcolm is usually the greeter at the gate. He may hiss a bit, but allows gentle petting and can be quite chatty. He loves his chicken and catnip treats. He’s almost a twin to Harold, who was an AIDS cat we lost about a year ago – similar colouring and build. I wonder if they came from the same colony…
Also fairly comfortable with himself is tabby Frontier. He’s obviously lived a tough life, with a harsh coat and a few scars, but he now knows he’s in a safe place and is more relaxed.
Mr Moochie is a long-haired dark-brown boy who likes to lounge in a box. Actually, given half a chance, they ALL like to lounge together if they can find a big enough bed. When he came to us, he was determined to find an escape route, and the relocation to POW was our move to foil that – in a smaller pen, it was easier to ensure that all the possible cracks that might lead to a breakout were secured.
We never want our cats to escape – life outside the pens is too dangerous. But especially, we wouldn’t want any of the AIDS cats to escape, to be a possible danger to other cats.
The remaining two in the pen are tuxedos – Walter has an all-white nose, and Harvey has a white blaze. Both are definitely feral; Walter is brave enough to turn and hiss as he takes cover; Harvey just hides, though if he’s cuddling with his buddies he does well as long as we don’t get too close.
When Walter first came in, and was in a cage, he was pettable (bum-in-the air!) but now he has his “freedom” he has decided that he doesn’t much like us.
These five don’t get outside visitors; the latter will sometimes visit the AIDS cats at the weekend when there is a guide available, but we don’t allow access to these shy boys. They get regular attention from the staff and volunteers who are more familiar to them, and the Kitty Comforters team members spend quite a bit of time with them.
As with all our feral cats, we will be delighted if they decide they would like a closer friendship with humans, but if that never happens, they will just be allowed to continue in their small colony, with the furry friends with whom they know they can snuggle.