A visit to the AIDS cats usually generates a certain amount of interest from the inhabitants.
The greeting committee is usually active – and usually food-motivated. Arnie and Norman tend to be anxiously hovering, and they used to be joined by Randy and Popeye – the latter two now happily adopted together. Other cats, like Boomer, are less interested in the food and more in the attention. Out in the courtyard there are usually suspicious eyes watching – Francis and his friends are not yet ready to be approached. And in the main cabin, there are always the more timid cats hiding on the upper levels.
If chicken is in fact on offer, there’s always one little tuxedo who dithers around on the catwalks until the lure of a treat becomes too much, and he ventures to accept a tidbit from arms-length, or to venture down the ramp to get a bit closer.
Tiberius has been with us for several years, arriving with a group of cats who had been found at Point Roberts, and trapped by VOKRA (Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association). Their excellent work is focused on rescuing and trapping young moms and kittens, and finding homes for them by means of fostering. They don’t have the facilities to deal with cats with long-term health concerns, and RAPS will often take from them the cats that need specialized care. Four of the five ferals from Point Roberts were AIDS-positive – the fifth was feral. Survival as a feral male cat inevitably involves some battles with other cats. And since the auto-immune virus is transmitted in blood, the cats who come to us from that background are more likely to carry it.
Many of those unneutered males come to us with the bulk and jowly heads of a classic tom-cat. Tiberius doesn’t fit that pattern. He may simply have been under-nourished to attain full growth, but he has a slight build, and he’s skittish rather than aggressive. He’s not been a cat that can easily be approached; the upper-level cat-walks were built to allow cats to get away from us, and he has usually taken full advantage of that. For some years he was an outdoor cat by preference, and frequently acquired the matted dreadlocks of a long-haired feral, which needed to be shaved under sedation.
In the last year or so, Tiberius has moved with more comfort between courtyard and cabin, and has now progressed to coming forward to accept tidbits from a human hand at floor-level. He is looking more relaxed and less skittish – a sudden movement will startle him, but he doesn’t go far, and with patience, he is approaching more and more easily. Inside the AIDS cabin, his preference is still for the upper shelving, but he no longer shies so quickly from the petting hand. He’s not ready to be a lap-cat like Boomer yet, but it’s very satisfying to see that he finally accepts that we’re friends and no longer to be seen as something to fear.