Having more money or material things, beyond a modest level of income and good security doesn’t generally change how happy we are. We can make more money, buy bright and new shiny things (hello there Apple Watch), and once the novelty wears off, we quickly return to our previous emotional state. There is no change in our relationships. There is no permanent gain in happiness. And although I love Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happiness”, if happiness was something we could “catch” by pursuit, we all would have caught it by now, right?

There’s some sort of catch. Do you throw them back where they came from, or do you go for a swim in the murky waters, hoping that things will all work out?

For the first two months, Allison wasn't sure it would work out. The orange tabby she adopted was a barn cat. He didn't snuggle. He didn't act like those kittens at petsmart, head butting the cage and chirping, practically begging to be taken home. He would allow limited amounts of petting. And then she discovered he was Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) positive. FIV is like HIV in people. It's a virus that attacks the immune system. FIV is like pac-man in an alternate universe where the ghosts are your allies (yes I know, weird analogy - see the video to know why).

Pac-man as FIV...

And without a strong immune system, you are more likely to be affected by diseases. FIV doesn't change their personality or make them act differently in any way. It’s below the surface. A potential problem for the future.  

This orange tabby was truly an underdog. And Allison could feel that he just did not trust her yet. But then he began to move closer to her on the couch. And closer on the bed. And started to follow her to every room, even if still keeping a distance.

Then one night, he crept up and slept across the top of her pillow. Allison says from then on it became the most amazing relationship she’s ever had with a cat. When Allison talks about her orange tabby, you can tell that something happened to both of them. They made each other happier. And this is a unique thing in the world. A type of relationship that gives us something that is normally elusive.

His name is Pishak. And Pishak is gaelic for “young boy cat”. And his positive FIV status had no effect on their happiness together, either then or now. Because the world is not made of absolutes, and many of the best relationships come with baggage and a hitch.

For some of you, there exists a cat that happens to be positive for FIV. And if you knew the relationship that you could have with this particular cat, you wouldn't want to be without them. But these cats are often euthanized upon discovery that they have FIV. Even if they are well.

This happens because just like with people positive for HIV, there is a stigma towards cats with FIV. Where do most of us get our information from these days? Google. And there isn't anything wrong with that. But what does the first page of google have to say when you search Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV? It is technical, intimidating, and so much of the information is a rehash of what came before it. You will feel like your cat could die from FIV at any moment in a dramatic fashion, like on a 1980's episode of General Hospital. You will think, “what am I getting myself into”?

And this is a shame, because in a 2010 Canadian study, Ravi et al. demonstrated that the lifespan of cats infected with the FIV virus can be just as long as cats without the FIV virus.

Waiting for adoption at Furkids.org, a no-kill shelter that adopts both non-FIV and FIV cats.

How do they achieve such longevity? You influence that by taking care of their teeth (they probably will need dental cleaning and assessments), and have wellness exams done every year. You are a person who won’t wait till the absolute last minute to address any normal illness that might pop up. You know what? All of that is true for the majority of the cats I see anyway. Those who are not FIV positive. So their routine care is not that different. A secure home with attention to internal details - this is a requirement for any cat that is expected to live a long life.

The traditional advice is that these cats should never live with other non-infected cats. There is merit to that opinion. But it’s not the full story. Think about how society has progressed with how we perceive people with HIV. You can’t get HIV from a person by casual contact or even kissing. You can share the same glass.  

Two very happy, pampered FIV cats. See them in the video!

Similarly, the FIV virus is not spread by casual contact, but by DEEP bite wounds. In the video, we talk about "Big Daddy". He has FIV. His housemates don't. He cleans them, grooms them and cares for the group. They don't fight and they are behaviourally compatible. It is very rare for me to see a pair of cats, admitted to the hospital, because one took a chunk out of the other. I can count it on one hand and not use all fingers. So the choice of who these cats should live with should probably exist on a spectrum, instead of using hard and fast rules that always err on the side of placing these guys in less adoptable situations. Be comfortable with the fact that you will hear different opinions about this and there is no one size fits all.

What makes a life worth living? What makes us happy? I'm still trying to figure all that out. But I do see it every day on the face of people when they help those who can't help themselves. An FIV cat can be worth your time. Because you have the knowledge that you have cared for someone that the world will easily discard. That you've been that one agent of change. That someone lived because of you.

So would you adopt an FIV cat or do you have one? Share your thoughts in the comments below! If you think this post or video could help any person or cat, please share it! Organizations like Furkids (http://furkids.org/) are trying to change the perception of FIV, and are building one of the first FIV cat houses in order to increase adoption rates. I recently traveled there, and got to see both their FIV and non-FIV positive cats. Along with some amazing people. Thanks to Nicole from Furkids.org for being a gracious host in Atlanta!

cathy's FIV cat

Dr. K

Ravi et al 2010. Naturally acquired feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection in cats from western Canada: Prevalence, disease associations, and survival analysis. Can Vet J. 2010; 51(3):271-6.