They say cats have nine lives. If true, Flora has used up a few, but hopefully has enough left to last twenty years or so.
Our story with Flora starts long before she was born when we were trying to plan out a vacation destination. After having a wonderful time in Uruguay, we decided that all foreseeable vacations would be to South America, mainly because it's cheaper than Europe, yet still differing cultures and histories, and it has the tremendous advantage of being the same time zone to avoid jet lag. I know some people from Peru and read about a cat park in Lima. So Lima it was, for ten days in March 2016. With opposite seasons, it was great to have the warm weather after the cold winter in DC.
As it turned out, we stayed just a few blocks from the cat park in the heart of the Miraflores area of Lima, Parque Kennedy, named after JFK. http://gatosparquekennedy.org/
As magical as Peru was, the highlight was all the cats in the park, which serves as a de facto rescue organization in lieu of organizations like the many in the USA. People drop off unwanted cats and kittens. Some cats don't do so well as there is no governmental support, reportedly just the opposite, leaving the burden on a small volunteer group.
There were kittens in the park too young to be away from their mothers, with the numbers of cats and kittens overwhelming the capacity of the volunteer organization. We went almost every day and fed them once or twice a day.
The thought of bringing one home was always in the back of my mind. On the last full day in Lima, I bought a carrier in preparation for the inevitable. ( my mother says I'm one adoption fair away from an intervention.) There were so many wonderful cats. A decision would have been tough until Flora wandered up the day before we left. She came up after all the food was gone, plopped in my lap and started purring.
I read the US customs requirements. For cats, they just have to look healthy and customs can require a veterinary exam at the traveler's expense. There were few requirements for a carry on pet with American Airlines.
I got up to walk around, confer and contemplate.
Flora decided to wait for me on the carrier. The decision was made; she chose wisely. We named her after the area and park: Miraflores Kennedy Mathis Morris, calling her Flo or Flora
We bought what we thought we would need, food, litter, wipes and diapers
We checked with the American Airlines office, conveniently located between the park and our rental condo, and paid the carry-on pet fee.
After an hour of her snuggling next to me in the condo bathroom, I was definitely hooked.
The biggest challenge would come when the AA agents at check in tried to enforce checked pet requirements, wanting us to sign a form that said just that. After insisting that it was different for carry-on pets, showing them the website, and demanding that they check with someone else, we waited. We called local vets to make an appointment just in case we had to meet the checked pet requirements. I vowed to stay if she could not board. After almost an hour of hand wringing and hair pulling, we got word that they had checked with someone and I was right; we were good to go. From there it was smooth sailing.
I worried that she might claw me and try to get away when I had to take her out of the carrier to go thru security. I worried for nothing. She clung to me and behaved like a little lady.
After security, we went in to one of the family/assisted bathrooms to put out a litter pan and food. We backed away to give her space. She trotted over to my leg, lifted her paw and cried to be held. My heart melted and then solidified in the shape of Flora.
We went to a waiting area for boarding and took turns eating. Flora was fine as long as she had a hand in the carrier with her.
She started crying when we boarded the plane. I would find out why just after takeoff.
The cabin crew said she had to be under the seat for takeoff, which she didn't like. The roar of engines at take off seemed to scare her, and she clawed at the carrier's screen. We were maybe five feet off the ground when I picked her up, put the carrier in my lap and my hand in the carrier. She promptly peed with a good bit absorbed by the diaper, but also on my leg. We waited until they turned off the seatbelt sign. I took her into the bathroom to clean us both up and change my pants. She adorably huddled in the sink, alas no camera with us.
The remainder of the flight, customs and connecting flight were a breeze. She charmed TSA, travelers and airline employees.
Once we got home, we kept her separated from the other cats at first. She slept on top of me.
We took her to the vet the next day to get a clean bill of health, no FIV, no FELV, and first round of shots. I had though she was two to three months old. The vet said four months. I asked if there were any reason to keep her separated, none given.
She was instant friends with Iris and Gwen, who both tried to mother Flora. April was a little slower to come around, but plays with her and usually sleeps by her at night.
Flora was a joy from the start, just a perfect cat. She is a polite little lady with an endearing coquettish sheepishness at times. My connection to her strengthened quickly as she reminded me of my Jonesey, a/k/a Baby Girl, who lived to be about 23 years old. They look nothing alike, but have the same silky coat, same temperament, the same big beautiful eyes and smelled alike.
After about a month of health, happiness, and some growth, I try not to notice that Flora is a little bony with a bit of a belly. It’s the start of the week, and i have too much going on at work. I tell myself that this could be normal for her since i never saw her family, thinking that this could be normal for Peruvian cats. The pain of the alternate thought was too much to consider, having lost a kitten to wet FIP just two years before.
By Saturday, i can no longer ignore it. We go to the 24/7 vet nearby and get a probably diagnosis of FIP. We make an appointment with a specialist on Monday, and
I freak out and start reading online. I find the promising new study, just published 3/30. http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1005531
I start emailing the addresses of the researchers, and find phone numbers to call on Monday for those without email addresses listed.
On Tuesday, May 10, I got a call from Yunjeong Kim at Kansas State University. She had answered my email, but i had missed it before leaving a voicemail. She was very gracious, told me about the complications of the clinical trial, that it was taking more medication for longer periods of time and there was no room in the trial. Then we got a voicemail from UC Davis saying that we should email Dr. Pedersen. I forwarded her email response to Dr Pedersen along with an explanation of events, apologizing for the duplication and didn’t want to waste his time, but would do anything to save Flora. I went home early to spend time with her, and let her outside to explore in her final days. We had just gone outside when i got a text from Dr Kim telling me to check my email. Dr. Pedersen said that a spot opened up and they could help us. He gave me the name and phone number to make an appointment in Davis, CA, the next day. SHE’S GOING TO LIVE!!
It felt like winning the lottery.
I hyperventilated for the first and only time in my life. It was about twenty minutes before I could breathe normally. I would have flown that night, but could not find a good connecting flight. So i booked one the next morning and scrambled to put everything together.
Again, Flora was a perfect traveler and charmed everyone. This time we had a harness, and i could let her out of the carrier without fear of her getting away. Like before, she only wanted to cling to me.
During the flight, I reflected on the fact that the odds were better for winning the lottery. After all there were many lottery winners in the world, but there were no cats cured from wet FIP. The odds of getting into a trial during the narrow window after diagnosis when it could do any good were astronomical. I also felt guilty that perhaps it was the stress of plane flights that allowed her to succumb.
We got to UC Davis Wednesday afternoon. Flora had lost weight from Monday and had a fever of 103.5F
She didn’t like the first injection, but directed her anger to the syringe, not the people.
As promised, her fever broke overnight. But she was obviously in bad shape, and one of the sicker cats in the trial. She scared us all by being very sick and sluggish Thursday and Friday. I sat with her most of both days; she had no interest in anything but being in my lap. The research team said that she might have missed essential growth while fighting FIP and might be smaller than she would have been without FIP. I said i could live with anything as long as she lived and was happy and healthy.
I had made plans to go to a wine festival on Saturday, but was worried about her. I went to see her when they gave her the morning injection. She was active and playful. I cried tears of joy and promised to come back to see her for the evening injection.
On Sunday, she was still doing better, but Monday morning was a little slow again. The belly fluid, ascites, was unchanged, but accumulating in her chest, making her breathing rapid and shallow. After examination by specialists, she was cleared of any other problems. Tuesday morning, she was doing well again and they cleared us to go home.
Flora was again the perfect traveler. To keep on schedule, i gave her the evening shot while still in the DCA airport. To my surprise it was fairly easy.
Flora tolerated the shots fairly well. It took me a while to learn how to do it properly without leaking. It seemed to make her itch, and she would scratch aggressively if the medication oozed out and stayed in her fur. The instructions were to use different sites, and occasionally i chose a site that really irritated her. Other than that, everything was up and up.
She had a better appetite and gained weight. She started growing again.
The belly fluid was gone within two weeks. And she kept growing.
While on the treatment, she went thru heat and lost interest in eating, which was normal.
Then finally came the nerve wracking part of the end of medication. She was doing well, and actually got much more active and playful. In retrospect, the medication made her a bit sluggish.
After a few weeks off the medication, she went thru heat again. This time she lost weight, which scared me. We devised a plan with the vet experts to have her spayed in the best way possible.
Again, we worried for nothing, after a week of heat, she was back to normal and started gaining weight again.
Here we are, almost two months after the last injection, and she is considered cured. This does not preclude the possibility of developing FIP again if exposed to the Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV/FCoV). But I am certain that will not happen. She has defied too many odds to get to this point.
It seems that the developers in Miraflores, Lima, Peru, the local government and some residents want the cats to be gone. Many cats disappeared behind construction barriers never to be seen again. There were a few mass poisonings.
Flora beat that by hitching a ride to the US.
Flora beat FIP by a combination of luck and some wonderful people.
It has been a rough journey at times, but well worth it. I got to meet some wonderful people from all over the world, and have confidence that effective treatment for FIP available to the public is within sight, and the best people are working on it. They are my heroes. This goes beyond the professional for them. They genuinely care about cats in general, the study cats in particular, and all the people affected be this cruel disease.
If you are able, please donate to help end FIP.