I had been hoping that there would be an opportunity to start a FeLV adoption program at Humane Society Naples since July of 2017 when I took home a litter of FeLV+ kittens to foster. At that time, HSN did not adopt out FeLVs and so we were actively looking for a sanctuary that would be willing to take all four of my fosters. They were put on numerous waiting lists, as all nearby sanctuaries were full to capacity. Knowing how hard it is to find lifetime sanctuary placement for these cats, it is not hard to imagine how many are euthanized nationwide every year.
In July of 2018, we did our first and accidental FeLV adoption of a cat that ended up at the shelter and tested positive upon intake. We had kept her in a manager’s office until we could figure out what to do with her. As fate had it, she was accidentally listed as “Available” and appeared on our website. Since Tia was a beautiful Bengal cat, she had several potential adopters show up the next day to meet her. One of the applicants had no other cats and was not deterred by her FeLV status, and so our adoption program began!
In August of 2018, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to attend the Maddie’s Fund Feline Master Lifesaving Class at Austin Pets Alive. It was inspiring to see the FeLV adoption center and how enthusiastic the APA staff and volunteers were about promoting the cats as adoptable and worthy of our dedication to starting adoption programs and finding them great homes.
The class gave me the medical information, supportive resources, and enthusiasm to propose an adoption program to HSN leadership, who were completely on board with it! It was a few months before we could dedicate a room, albeit a small one, to two new FeLV cats that arrived. I was then able to bring my four fosters in to go up for adoption.
Recently, we were able to move the group to a larger, sunny room with a screened area for fresh air access. We do staff training to help the animal care team feel comfortable and enthusiastic about showing the cats to potential adopters. Our goal is to dispel myths and fears about FeLV, by educating the public and exposing them to these wonderful cats. With a productive flow of adoptions, we will be able to pull FeLV cats from shelters where they may be in danger of immediate euthanasia. We now have seven cats in our FeLV room that are available for adoption and have started a waiting list for FeLV+ cats in our community that need placement.
We have a program called Cozy Care that provides a certificate with varying financial amounts for cats with medical issues, to prevent those issues from becoming adoption deterrents. The certificates are to be used at our HSN Veterinary Clinic, unless it is for a service that we don’t provide, such as cardiac workups. The FeLV cats receive a certificate worth $500 to assist with any FeLV related medical issues that may come up within three years of adoption.
The challenge at first was to carve out space in the shelter for these cats. Now that we have that, the challenge will be finding people that will look past their viral status and take a chance on adoption.
The largest benefit is having an outlet to save the lives of cats at risk of euthanasia, simply because of exposure to the leukaemia virus. Any opportunity to educate and open minds about FeLV cats is a big win. The best part will definitely be seeing them get adopted into loving homes.
What is FeLV?
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus that infects cats. FeLV can be transmitted from infected cats when the transfer of saliva or nasal secretions is involved. If not defeated by the animal’s immune system, the virus can cause diseases which can be lethal.
In the US, approximately 3% of cats are estimated to be infected. In many shelters, a feline leukemia diagnosis is a death sentence, but #ThanksToMaddie and guidance from Austin Pets Alive!, Humane Society Naples now has the education and ability to find FeLV+ cats the forever homes they deserve.