Woman Creates Paradise for Cats With Feline Leukemia
Three special needs cats have found one extra-special home in Texas.
It was early in the summer when Janet Bushey, who has a heart nearly as big as her home state, first heard about the plight of Ranger, a 7-year-old cat at Best Friends Animal Society. Ranger was not only blind but also FeLV-positive — and needed a forever home.
FeLV, or feline leukemia, is a viral infection that can suppress a cat’s immune system. Although some infected cats can clear the virus from their bodies, those that don't will be infected for life. Cats who have it can pass it to other cats they have close contact with.
That meant Bushey, who’d already adopted two healthy senior cats from the Utah animal sanctuary, would have to create a separate space in her home for a FeLV-positive pet to live.
“I was starting to think that it would be a nice thing to adopt an FeLV-positive kitty — it just hadn’t been the right time,” says Bushey.
“Then when I saw Ranger, poor little blind guy,” she says, her voice softening. “I’m just a sucker for a sad story,” she says, laughing.
But she didn’t want Ranger to be lonely, since he’d have to be isolated from her other cats. So she asked the cat adoption manager whether Ranger had a friend with FeLV.
“Well, she sent me two pictures and I said, how could I choose?” says Bushey, who has also rescued a white dove and a 13-year-old Chihuahua.
Just like that, Ranger, Mango and Chuck became the three amigos.
They were introduced at the shelter to make sure they all got along, and they hit it off.
Bushey’s original cats — both girls — lived in the master suite of her home, so she decided to create another cat room for her FeLV friends. The "kitty paradise" is filled with cat trees and toys for “the boys,” as she calls them.
The boys caught a 13-hour ride to Amarillo, Texas, with Best Friends volunteer Colleen Hart and her husband.
“They all sat in the back perfectly in foldout cloth crates with screens so they could see and support each other during the trip,” Hart says. “It was love at first sight” when Bushey was finally introduced to the kitties in a hotel room in June.
“Chuck went right up to Janet and started rubbing all over her. She held Ranger for a while, and he seemed very relaxed. Meanwhile, Mango was watching everything from across the room,” Hart says.
The next day, Bushey and the trio made the eight-hour drive to her home in Austin.
Best Friends was thrilled to find such a great home for three FeLV kitties at once.
"Because feline leukemia is contagious to other cats, it is usually difficult to find homes that don't already have other cats and want to adopt a cat,” says adoption manager Kristi Littrell. “Also, FeLV-positive cats don't 'typically' have the life span of the average cat as they [may] have a weaker immune system and that can be daunting to folks thinking about future vet bills as well. So to find a home that wants to adopt three of them is amazing for us!”
Nearly three months later, Ranger, Mango, who's 3, and Chuck, 4, are settled in to their new digs. Bushey describes them as “extremely sweet and loving.”
“They all seem to be quite happy, but healthwise we’ve had a lot of issues,” Bushey says. “The vet says they’re just the nicest cats, what a shame that they have this awful disease.”
Mango is recovering from surgery to remove his teeth due to stomatitis and had a tumor removed recently, and Ranger is doing better now after a dip in his white blood cell count.
Cats with FeLV can be vulnerable to conditions such as inflammation of the mouth tissues, upper respiratory infections and lymphoma. Both Bushey and Littrell caution that potential adopters have to be financially prepared for this reality.
Bushey offered her advice for those who might consider adopting a cat with FeLV.
“It’s very rewarding, but make sure that you’re up for the challenge and that you have the resources to give them all of the veterinary care that they need,” she says. “It’s been expensive, but they’re worth every penny of it — but I realize that some people aren’t in a position where they can do that.”