Pictured: Larrikin, our first known FIV+ cat, soaking up the sun earlier this year.
By December 2007 we suffered from delusions of grandeur. Our project was to trap, neuter and return several stray cats to the factory grounds of the company that John was working for. It was agreed the cats could return in the guise of ratters. Staff would look after them and the company would pay.
Our experience with trapping had previously been utilised in the immediate vicinity of our close neigborhood. We knew how to do this!
On December 23rd we finished work to begin a two week holiday and on the 24th while Christmas shopping, the call came through that my father had been admitted to hospital.
During the small hours of Christmas morning, another call came in from the factory security guard that a trap we had set up had caught a cat and said cat was going berserk.
Our enthusiasm knew no bounds.
Christmas Day 2007 was an odd day. We brought the trapped cat home and went to visit my father who appeared to be in a very deep sleep.
Next day he was conscious and the day after that he was returned to the nursing home. He died two days later. It was just four days after Christmas.
By that time we had trapped more cats and were ferrying them about to be desexed, picking them up to recover, arranging for a funeral, taking calls from family and distant relations and coming home after the wake to face the reality of caged cats in the lounge room and none of it felt good anymore.
it was hot. In early January the Christmas Day cat appeared to be depressed so we decided to take him back. And that's when we saw the massive swelling on the side of his neck. I spent long sweaty hours well into the night trying to bathe that abscess to get it to burst and next morning, having failed, we lined up at the crowded surgery to be told he needed it lanced and it was going to cost. Us. Other vet work was not part of the agreement.
I was given instructions on how to flush the wound out. I felt a little sick at the idea. The responsibility was not something I had visualised and it felt oppressive. We soldiered on though and he seemed to improve.
As soon as the Christmas cat felt better he started to pace up and down near the front door. It was obvious that he wanted to get out to return to his tom catting. I didn't have the heart to tell him. The hormones were still high and would take a while to settle. Another male in a low cage hissed at him so he challenged him to a fight. They were going at it through the wire when I said in exasperation 'that cat is just a larrikin!'
There was also a head injury from bashing around in the trap. That eventually needed to be stitched too but the scary part was when the stitches came out of the neck and we arrived home, the wound just fell apart. Positive that I was the cause of all these failures we rushed him back and were told that the wound would have to heal from the inside out. It didn't.
The neck wound would explode with muck. Each morning there would be a struggle to corner him. I would have to dive under the table to scruff him. Similar to a football tackle. I had to bathe it, apply a soft bandage, dose him with the current antibiotic and hope to keep my hand intact before rushing to catch a train for work, which I missed far too often. There were supplements and vitamins and lots of research but I probably knew all along that he had to be positive to the Feline Immune Deficiency Virus.
Put to sleep was suggested if he was. Our answer an emphatic no.
We became so accustomed to traipsing off to the vet with him that we would park at the shops and have takeaway in the car on the way back.
I battled for nearly two years with this. Supplements, alternative treatments, sharing his story to ask for advice. The wound was in a very awkward place so a bandage didn't quite cover it. The offer of an Elizabethan collar was made. I had never seen one and I was filled with despondency when I did. Surprisingly he adjusted to wearing it and it helped enormously to stop him scratching. I have fond memories of him running down the hallway after teasing some other cat and 'chortling' to himself while the 'bonnet' went this way and that.
Larrikin became a bit of a legend with us. The memories crowd in, Larrikin stealing a Christmas ball from the bedroom and becoming a juggler, the velcro sticking to his paws as he tried to throw it in the air, his smug expression as it rolled and he caught it knowing all the time that Mickey was watching through the partly open door.
Mickey being separated all that time to protect him from Larrikin and FIV and finding out later that he had been positive all along. Mickey and Larrikin becoming friends.
Larrikin resting in his rabbit hutch on the front porch before we could offer him an enclosed courtyard. Larrikin seeking our laps or lying on my stomach when I rested.
Larrikin 'talking' to us, Larrikin a role model for the other cats, never defensive, never reactive. Humans could learn a lot from a cat like this.
There is a certain mindset among some of the shelters and some vets that FIV+ cats should be euthanised to stop the spread of the virus. We feel this to be an uneducated and archaic viewpoint. The Feline Immune Deficiency Virus is not Bubonic Plague. Over the years it can come against the cat in other ways but they can have years and years of a good life before that happens, not unlike any other cat. They can be more prone to Cancer but we have lost FIV negative cats to that too. Their immune system can be disengaged as they age but there are ways to support this. Larrikin was estimated to be fourteen and his illnesses were few.
Over the years Larrikin had his cheek teeth removed, surgery for nose cancer and that was all.
Recently a blood test revealed liver failure. He was being treated but died a week ago.
Until the second last day he loved to go into the courtyard during the day and be first at the door at feed time at night.
Those are the things that are hard to contend with. The absence.