When the Val Jones cabins were put in place, as a result of a bequest, they were originally intended just to be cat-residences like the Hill House and the Connor. Many cats (and we did have MANY cats at that stage) wandered in and out freely, some basing there, others just visiting. It also became a favourite quiet corner for humans to sit and visit with feline friends – a little sanctuary within the Sanctuary.
The composition of our cat family changes from time to time. As people have learned more about Feline Leukemia (FeLV) they are less quick to “euthanize” cats who carry the virus, and our feline leukemia population increased. Most of those cats were living in the adjacent area, in what we then called Old Aids, and it was decided that we needed to increase the space available to them. So a double-gate structure was built across the entry to the corner, the area was sanitized to the satisfaction of the med staff, and some of the leukemia cats moved in.
Feline Leukemia continues to need special care for cats who carry the virus; they are watched carefully for anything that might challenge their immune systems. But we often see that the virus appears to go dormant, and there have been several of the younger cats there that have been adopted out to people who understand what’s needed, and there are others – like Adria or Creston – that we would consider adopting out to the right homes.
Over time, the composition changed again; we had fewer FeLV cats, but were receiving more FIV (Feline AIDS) residents. FIV is a very different proposition from FeLV. Many of our AIDS cats will live fairly long lives in our care. We have to be careful about cleanliness, of course, but the virus is less aggressive to the immune system than FeLV. We also extended the internal Leukemia courtyard to give them more space, and once again the Val Jones was aggressively sanitized, and the pressure on the population of the New Aids colony was reduced by relocating some of them. It was decided that the cats moved to this new area would be the more social and friendly ones; with weekend visitors, we wanted them to have access to this sweet bunch.
More than ever, the Val Jones area has become a favourite retreat – cuddle-time with Magnus, Jerry, Jim and the others, is precious time. Cat-people now know that a cat with FIV is often perfectly adoptable. FIV is transmitted only through blood, and if you have well-socialized cats, and no fighting, it is quite possible to have both FIV-positive and negative cats living together (unlike FeLV cats, where the virus is transmitted in saliva and is therefore much more communicable). So some of these sweet cats have found new homes.
And now, VJ has a new function. We discovered that big Dango from New Aids had renal problems – there was blood in his pee, and he was diagnosed with crystals – this is a problem particularly for male cats, for whom the urethra is smaller than in females, and who are more susceptible to the condition. This is quite separate from the more common kidney failure which many cats can live with for some time. But the only way to deal with renal crystals is to control it with diet – and that’s really hard for a cat living as part of a colony – we didn’t want to keep Dango caged indefinitely.
But a similar problem emerged for tabby Merran, from the Single-Wide, and it was decided that we would transform VJ into a renal pen, taking advantage of the fact that most of these good-natured cats would tolerate a newcomer. Urinary diets have restricted amounts of minerals which can contribute to urinary crystal and stone formation. Weekend visitors are just asked not to bring treats in with them – and to substitute petting and grooming for food.
So now everyone in the VJ is on a special diet which will sustain them all, as well as protecting both Dango and Merran from further problems, and the two of them seem to be doing well in a new space. Dango is pretty laid-back about the whole thing.
FIV-negative Merran is gradually being assimilated into the FIV+ population, and appears to be very happy – it’s certainly an improvement for him on being so restricted in the SingleWide. He’s probably remembering his early days as an outdoor feral, and enjoying the combination of freedom and attention from both humans and other cats.
Featured image: Dango sunbathing by Karen Nicholson