WHEN PETER COHEN ADOPTED TWO HOMELESS CATS 33 YEARS AGO, HE NEVER IMAGINED THE IMPACT THEY WOULD HAVE ON HIS LIFE!
Excerpt from the Forgotten Ones Cat Rescue Fall 2021 Mewsletter (A link to the entire issue is at the bottom of this blog.)
The stray pair, named The Black One and The Grey One, provided the impetus for Peter's future feline-inspired undertakings: the adoption of 46 cats; the creation of an exquisite cat-inspired home; and the for-mation of ZenByCat, a charity dedicated to Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) research.
Becoming a Cat Person
Peter had always been a dog person, but that all changed when he purchased a home in Santa Barbara, California, in 1988. The property came with the unexpected inclusion of two cats, who had been left behind by the previous owners and were living in the yard. Peter adopted the cats as his own and, as the felines had known only an outdoor lifestyle, they continued to live outside. Shortly after they were adopted by Peter, both were hit by cars in separate incidents. The Black One unfortunately succumbed to injuries; The Grey One survived after extensive surgery. She made a complete physical recovery, but she was suffering from loneliness, which led Peter to adopt two kittens to be her cat companions.
House of Nekko
As Peter's love of cats grew, so did the number he adopted. He currently has 24 felines sharing his home. Initially, many of the cats Peter adopted came from different shelters and were cats that were often overlooked and had been deemed unadoptable. “For the past 10 years, we have been adopting all our cats from a local Santa Barbara shelter called RESQCATS,” Peter explains. “We support the shelter because the founder Jeffyne Telson does whatever it takes to save cats, including spending a great deal of money on their medical care.”
“Living with so many cats is work,” he adds, “but we get so much more from them than we give. The cats bring the house alive.” Peter believes these rescued cats deserve to be loved, and his home provides the perfect environment in which they can flourish.
His home is known as House of Nekko—the word nekko means “cat” in Japanese—paying homage to the time Peter spent in Japan.
None of the cats that reside in House of Nekko venture outside, as Peter is painfully aware of the risks free-roaming pets face. “Simply put, outdoor cats have a life expectancy of less than four years in a city environment,” Cohen says. “When we adopt cats from shelters, they require the cats to be indoor-only as a condition for adoption.”
Happily, Cohen’s cats are content to remain indoors, and it’s not surprising, as Peter has created an interesting and stimulating environment that keeps them engaged. His initial inspiration to refit his home to be cat-friendly came from Bob Walker’s book The Cats’ House, which highlights the catwalks the author constructed for his cat companions.
Cohen decided to add similar elevated catwalks to his own home and used his background as a builder/contractor to fulfill his vision. “The first catwalks were installed in the upstairs master bedroom around 1997,” says Peter. “From then on, it just kind of grew into a hobby. The finish carpenters I work with would build new walks when I had money and they had time. As we added more catwalks, we could add more cats.”
The interior design appeals to both people and pets. Cohen appreciates the visual architectural details and colors, and the cats enjoy the physical features as they literally climb the walls from bottom to top.
“Cats like to go high.” Peter says. “They love shelves up near skylights or just high up in a room. We try to incorporate climbing/scratching posts because cats like them. We also make sure to allow for human access to all areas. That is, we won't build a tunnel or area that cannot be reached in case one needs to grab the cat, clean, etc.”
Over the years, Peter has outfitted his 3000-square-foot home with 300 feet of catwalks, 15 feet of tunnels, and 8 bridges, and every room is connected in multiple ways, creating an environment that is both practical and appealing for his feline family.
“By giving them lots of walks, bridges, tunnels, etc. to explore and live in, we provide an interesting world for them,” he says. “Cats are like any sentient being, they need an interesting environment to live and prosper in.”
Miss Bean, a kitten Peter adopted in 2016, affected his life in a way he could not have envisioned. Miss Bean was diagnosed with FIP shortly after she was adopted. Peter was heartbroken at the news, as he knew the prognosis was fatal. Hoping to beat the odds, he enrolled the kitten in an FIP clinical drug trial through the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Sadly, Miss Bean succumbed to the virus. In her honour, Peter started the organization ZenByCat to raise money and awareness for FIP research.
FIP has long been considered an untreat-able disease. It affects up to two percent of kittens, and was one hundred percent fatal until recent antiviral drugs were introduced to help treat it. Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Niels Pedersen and the UC Davis staff overseeing the FIP drug trials, Peter's cat Smokey was one of the first FIP survivors.
While a great deal of work still needs to be done, the results are encouraging and provide hope for the possibility of a viable treatment for this dreadful disease. ZenByCat believes that the key to affordable treatment lies in funding for continued research.
“For the past five years, we have worked very hard to raise both money and awareness about FIP and it has become one of my life's passions,” says Peter. “When we first started, all FIP cats died. Today, because of the research that saved Smokey, we are able to save thousands of cats around the world. Dr Pedersen and others are working on better, faster-working drugs, as well as looking for a vaccine to prevent FIP in the first place.
“ZenByCat continues to help connect people with FIP cats to treatments, but our focus remains getting humans touched by this horrific disease to sign up for small monthly donations to help the researchers end FIP for all cats.”
Solving Problems One Cat at a Time
Peter Cohen has used his creativity and compassion to provide a paradise home for many unadoptable cats and, in addition, has made great efforts to champion cats with FIP. “We humans cannot solve so many big problems,” Cohen says, “but we can solve little ones. Each cat we adopt from a shelter is one more sentient being that now has a home and love and care. It is that simple.”
To learn more about Peter's animal advocacy efforts, visit: