In Pets

It was an unusually cold December day in Atlanta—18F degrees (without factoring in the wind chill) when I left my car to enter a friend’s office where a group of us gathered every week. I immediately spotted a light-colored kitty who was doing his best to warm himself in the sun. I asked him to come inside and he eagerly followed. After a little convincing, my friend agreed he could stay for a while. I realized that I recognized this cat, having seen him the previous summer. I was shocked at how he now looked—skinny, drooling copiously,  and obviously once long, beautiful fur now horribly matted. He also stank. Badly.

There were just three of us that day and this kitty did his best to charm us all. For more than an hour, he leapt from lap to lap to lap and back again, purring and kneading and drooling. Despite his appearance, he held his long, once very fluffy tail high and proud. About the only thing left of his once good looks were his ice blue eyes.

I was shocked to find that this kitty had owners! I was devastated to see that such a sweet and personable cat could have been so neglected. I soon made the decision to ask his owners if they would relinquish him to me, despite the fact that I already had a dog and two other cats.

Getting him away from his owners was surprisingly easy. Sadly, they were quite ignorant about pet care, even though they had a purebred Sharpei and a kitten. The husband said he had rescued “Snowman” from a construction site in a very wealthy part of town about a year earlier. The owners indicated that he had been depressed—he wasn’t eating and when he was indoors, he wanted out; when he was outdoors he wanted in. The wife tried to groom him but was afraid she would hurt him. It never occurred to take Snowman to the vet. In tears, the wife admitted that he would be better off with someone who could afford to love and care for him properly. So off I went with Snowman, indicating that I would have him tested on the way home for Feline Leukemia and Feline AIDS, and would have to bring him back if he tested positive for either.

The clinic was very busy and Snowman and I waited endlessly for the test results. Finally, the results were in, “Sorry, Ms. Weisberg, he has Leukemia,” the vet tech confirmed.

I must have sat in shock for an hour, not knowing what to do. The clinic was getting ready to close and everyone was quite busy; there wasn’t a single person available to ask what I should do. I did decide that he wasn’t going back to his old home.

As a relief to the clinic staff, I finally picked up Snowman and left, figuring I would keep him in my guest room until I could find an appropriate home. I already felt so oddly bonded to Snowman (a name which would have to be changed), that the thought of not keeping him was devastating.

My first call was to Chris, a good friend and veterinarian. He indicated that this virus was not that easy to transmit as it lives in the air for less than 45 seconds. Additionally, there was a chance Snowman could clear the virus on his own. Chris felt that if the cats weren’t fighting and my other two cats, Andy and Abbie were properly vaccinated, there was every chance in the world that they would be safe from this disease. In the morning, I confirmed this with my regular veterinarian, and Snowman was off to be bathed and examined.

Aside from ear mites, being four pounds underweight (this cat was extremely big boned and only weighed 9 pounds), a sore in his mouth and a cut on his tongue, my vet felt that he was not in too bad of shape.

Once safely back at home, bathed and with a shaved tummy—the rest of him was quite interesting with half of his fur having been hacked off by me to get rid of the mats—he began to eat. And eat. And eat. And purr a lot.

My sister and nieces came over to meet the newest family member and help me give him a new name. I had told them over the phone how beautiful this cat would eventually be, but having finally seen him, they were not convinced. Snowman was still drooling a bit and he did indeed look pretty goofy. I got out my large book of pet names and we went to work. Name after name the “As” through the “Ss,” Snowman rejected them all. After we got through the “Ts” I was growing concerned that nothing would please him! Finally, “Victor” popped out from the page! That had to be it! Such a good, strong name—a harbinger of things to come—he would be victorious over his Leukemia! And he liked it, too! As soon as I spoke it, Victor responded immediately and has ever since. (He also likes “Vic.”)

Victor had to be confined for six weeks while Andy and Abbie (always indoor cats—unnecessary vaccination is a whole other topic) got their vaccinations, but all three were quite curious about each other—often trying to play with each other’s paws under the door.

I suppose because the cats had been aware of each other for almost two months, the formal introduction went smoothly and quietly (aside from Andy and Abbie being surprised at how big Victor was). A few small hisses between Andy and Victor and that was that. Abbie took to Victor immediately and began cuddling with him!

More time passed, and one day I looked at “Vic” and realized that he was stunningly beautiful. His fur had all grown out and he had gained a considerably amount of weight. In fact, it earned him the nicknames—“Victor Round Boy” and “The Big Puff.” (Before you judge him for getting plumper than necessary, how much do you think you would weigh if you were confined to a room for almost two months with nothing else to do but sleep and eat all the delicious food you wanted?) Victor’s long soft, silky fur and his large chubby body made him perfectly suited to cuddling. Which he got a lot of.

I realized he was some kind of breed, but wasn’t sure exactly what. Searching the internet I found that Victor, with his cream colored body, long fur, peach-colored Siamese “points” and ice blue eyes, was identical in every way to a Red Point Ragdoll—a wonderful laid back and affectionate breed. The site also called them “floor cats” which was sadly made obvious by a serious lack of grace on his part. His playing and racing around the house with my other two feline maniacs earned him yet another nickname—“Thunder Paws.”

For almost two years, Victor thrived and I thought I could finally relax. But sadly, he began a quick, fateful decline, finally succumbing to Feline Leukemia. My heart was broken—truly shattered—and it took many, many months to grieve him. (I still miss him years later.)

Even though his loss was devastating, I don’t regret a minute of it. Victor was truly a special cat—an angel in feline form. That I was able to give him two years of a safe, happy, loving and 95% healthy life gave me joy and satisfaction beyond measure.

I know not all of my readers will agree with me, but this is one of the reasons my cats are not allowed outside. Feline Leukemia (FeLV )and Feline AIDS can be highly contagious under the right circumstances Although there effective vaccines for FeLV,

The same cannot be said for Feline AIDS.

One of these days (not too soon), I will share another heartbreaking story of Oliver, a kitty I rescued with Feline AIDS, who I rescued a few years after Victor’s passing.

What I have learned from all of this, is that no cat should have to suffer the way Victor and Oliver did, when their diseases could have easily been prevented. Period.

©2018 Rhonda Weisberg

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