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Hey, Rescues: Practice What You Preach with FIV+ Cats

FIV+ cats can live safely with others, but if shelters keep them apart, the public believes otherwise.

 |  May 24th 2013  |   28 Contributions


I may be making a crazy statement here, but I had a thought last week: If rescues want people to adopt more FIV+ cats and really and truly want to educate the public that an FIV+ diagnosis is not the end of the world, then I think they should start practicing what they preach.

In the rescue world, everyone is working hard lately to educate potential adopters about FIV+ cats -- and this is a great thing! It’s not big deal, we say. FIV+ cats can mix and mingle with other cats, and as long as neither is super aggressive, there is very little risk of them passing it on. They can live long, happy lives, and they're pretty much otherwise perfect.

And yet, most rescues will not accept FIV+ cats, and the ones that do (thank you for that much, at least!), keep them separated in an “FIV room” with other positive kitties.

Me super-cuddling Berger, a sweet FIV+ kitty.

So how in the world are assumedly uneducated adopters supposed to accept these cats into their homes if rescues segregate them from other cats? It’s a touchy situation, and one that might initially be hard to accept -- and even harder to put into practice.

The fact is that FIV is not easily transmittable. I say this when describing the risk factor: “Unless both cats are wild lions and tigers and get into a violent fur-flying skin-shredding attacks, you’ll most likely be okay.” Rescues know this, too.

I won’t go into the specifics about feline immunodeficiency virus (but you can read all about it here), but I will say that there is a lot of misconceptions about it. If cats test positive in an animal control shelter, for instance, they will most likely be euthanized on the spot. It’s not because they are “sick,” but because they are harder to adopt because of these misconceptions.

We can be friends, right? Big orange cat and little orange kitten by Shutterstock.com.

FIV+ cats can be adopted into homes with negative cats. It’s all about temperament, really. For instance, one of my cats is the calmest, sweetest boy ever. I know he’d be a great match for a calm FIV cat. Neither one of them would present any danger of scratching or biting the other. 

So here’s my point: If rescues want people to believe this (because it is true!), then maybe that’s where the example-setting should start. Perhaps someone might be more inclined to adopt an FIV+ cat if they see how well he is interacting with other cats and everything is fine. Maybe if they weren’t so segregated at rescues or shunned at shelters, they’d have more a chance of being more widely accepted.

Imagine if you see a super-sweet kitty at the rescue. He’s the best one. He rubs your hand and rubs the cat scratcher and rubs his buddies and decides he wants you to take him home. It’s love at first sight, and you tell them you’d like to adopt him. And then they tell you he’s FIV+.

Dreaming of a day when FIV kitties always get to live the good life... Little girl with pet cat by Shutterstock.com.

Normally, a person might say no after hearing that, but maybe if you see how well this kitty does with other kitties, then you might not be so scared of dealing with it. Maybe seeing the cat as a “normal” cat will help you understand how normal FIV cats truly are. Maybe, just maybe, it would help more of them get the forever homes they deserve.

Think of how it is now. A rescue might take in FIV cats, but if they are kept in a separate room, doesn’t that give the impression that that’s how they should be kept? That there is something wrong with them or that they need to be in isolation? Almost like it’s a sick room?

It’s just a thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way bashing the rescues that take in FIV+ cats. I applaud them! Not all rescues do this, and these kitties deserve a place to be safe if they are not adopted right from the shelter. There is no reason for them to be euthanized, and rescues that take them in save their lives.

But what if we take that one step farther and let them be normal cats, like they can be. 

Best friends forever, FIV or not. Furry brothers by Shutterstock.com.

It’s a scary thought, because who wants to do something first? It’s not common practice, so there might be backlash or outrage from overcautious or undereducated people.

Or maybe it might start a new trend. A revolution of sorts in the rescue world. Imagine a world one day down the line where FIV+ cats aren’t ostracized. Imagine how many more would be accepted into loving homes!

Of course, this would all have to be done with an abundance of caution. FIV is transmittable, but only under serious circumstances with serious wounds or scratches or bites. If a cat is aggressive, he should not be put with FIV+ cats, or he runs the risk of becoming infected through the passing of bodily fluids. We have to be smart, of course, but I think it could be a super smart way of helping remove the negative stigma that currently hovers over these cats.

I challenge rescues to give it a shot. Maybe try it in a foster home or two. Assess the personality of your cats. If you have some calm FIV-negative and FIV-positive cats, let them be friends. We tell potential adopters that it would be okay, so why can't we show them?

Seeing is believing. And believing is a big step toward FIV+ acceptance and understanding.

What do you think? Should rescues let FIV+ cats out of their special rooms to mingle with others? Or is it just too dangerous? Let us know in the comments.

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