FeLV-positive cats get royal treatment

Six special felines who are positive for the feline leukemia virus, a disease that affects a cat's immune system, celebrate birthdays in Cat World.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

In a room full of streamers and balloons, a petite brown tabby cat perches on a box of chocolate cupcakes. Annette, thoroughly unimpressed with these human treats, is clearly interested in the aroma of soon-to-be-ready cat delicacies wafting through the air. Her nose and whiskers twitch, and she licks her lips.

Annette is one of six cats in Calmar’s (one of the buildings in Cat World) with a July birthday. With hundreds of cats living at the Sanctuary, celebrating birthdays is a fun and easy way to make each one feel special. And the cats at Calmar’s are extra special. They have feline leukemia (FeLV), a virus that affects their immune systems and makes them more susceptible to secondary infections. Because of this, their life spans may be shorter than cats without the virus. But Annette and her friends aren’t counting their days. They’re currently healthy and about to get the royal treatment. Life is good.

Feline leukemia-positive cats Omar, Lollie and Lois

Lewie, an FeLV-positive cat, enjoys some birthday funThe first celebration takes place in the community room, which is home for Omar, Lollie and Lois. Omar, a former shelter cat, and Lois are five years old and Lollie is two. Caregivers spread a colorful tablecloth on the floor of their outdoor cattery. The birthday cats each get a full plate of delights, along with a smiley-face napkin to wipe their whiskers.

Roommates are invited to join the party and to share a cupcake liner filled with tiny treats. Once everyone is gathered around the “table,” and “Happy Birthday to You” has been sung, it’s time to open gifts. Omar, who loves to roll over for belly rubs, gets a special blanket to plop down on. Playful Lois gets some new toys and Lollie, the wallflower, ventures down from the rafters to inspect not only her birthday meal, but also her birthday package of treats.

Puffin and Princess Di, two more cats with FeLV

FeLV-positive cat Puffin enjoys a birthday treatThe party train moves to the next room, where Puffin, a former community (feral) cat, is celebrating her third birthday. Puffin suffers from hearing loss and chronic upper respiratory issues, but there’s nothing wrong with her appetite.

The pretty Siamese mix steps onto the red tablecloth and wolfs down her food. Though she’s happy to have her roommates join the party, she decides to be a bit of a diva and steal a piece of everyone else’s food. As the party moves on again, Puffin amuses herself with her fancy new feather toy.

Now it’s Diana’s turn. The three-year-old Princess Di, as her caregivers call her, was found as a stray kitten and spent some time in a California shelter. Unlike Puffin, Diana waits for all of her friends to eat their fill before joining her own party.

A grand feline birthday celebration

Now it’s back to the lobby for the big finale. Once Annette figures out she’s the center of attention, she decides to be coy. She takes a few treats, delicately, and then goes back to guarding the cupcakes.

While all the July birthday cats come from different walks of life, they have one thing in common. Until next year’s birthday, each will enjoy a cushy lifestyle at the Sanctuary — that is, unless they get the ultimate gift, a home, before then.

Read about a cat with FeLV who celebrated her 20th birthday.

Photos by Molly Wald