by Diane Buccheri

I had a little friend. You’ve probably had one too. Unfortunately, life was rough on my friend. First, he was alone in the wide, wide world when very, very young. My neighbor found him and brought him home to take care of him and raise him just because he was so beautiful with shiny white hair and big golden green eyes.

He walked along the beaches and looked like a true islander. The smell of the place, the wind, water, sand, and bushes were all a big part of his life. He’d never been anywhere else but I could tell he was wary when first I laid my eyes upon him.

My initial glimpse of him startled me. Just after moving into my new home by the beach I looked out the window and saw him making his way across the back yard into the mass of bushes which protects the house from Pamlico Sound. He took my breath away with his beautiful whiteness – mystery surrounded him. Was he afraid? Every move was taken with caution. Was he hunting? Was he being hunted, in a sense?

You Can Trust Me
After thus glimpsing him a few times I opened the window and said hello in a soft whisper. He darted off. Disappeared. My heart went out to him and next time I whispered from a distance as he kept to his stealthy path, “I’ll be your friend. You can trust me.” The beauty turned his head in my direction then disappeared into the thicket of bushes.

For a while when our paths crossed he silently sat and stared at me, maybe beginning to trust a little. One day after a long day at work, I sat at the edge of the beach which meets the thickets, getting ready to go for an early evening’s swim.

“Oh! Hello . . .” There he was! Out of the thicket he silently came with hesitant stealth to me. I slowly reached out and touched him and that was it. We were friends forever. That evening he watched me swim. Waited for me, in fact, to come back to him. From then, it all changed.

At first, he was a bit of a menace. While I walked the beach with not only my (big) dog but another (big) dog, he would always appear from the thickets and come after us. And after us he came! Eagerly, he swiped at our ankles as we walked, meaning, “hey! What about me? I’m here too.” And I had thought he was a timid loner . . .

Instead of me looking out the window at him, he took to looking in the window at me. And he looked really hard and concentrated all his energy. That didn’t get him into the house, though.

The dogs and I walked several times a day and he kept “hassling” us. It got cold and I wondered where he went at night. The cold seemed to make him skinny and I noticed, before long, he seemed to be crying blood.

The pure white, sleek cat had blood dripping out of his eyes. His ears were all torn to pieces and bleeding and his nose bled, day and night. Even sometimes saliva drooled out of his mouth. Poor thing – I wondered what was wrong. Certainly he had let me know he wanted attention and care and that he decided I was the one to help him. My heart went out to him fully.

So, I took him to the vet who looked at me sympathetically and said, he’s got “FIV”. That’s Feline HIV and he and I knew I would have a lot to deal with. Probably, my heart would be broken, someday by this sick little white beauty, something inside told me. But he sat there so quietly and contentedly on the vet’s counter as if saying, “I’m happy now. Go ahead and take care of me. I know I can trust you.”

Indeed, it seemed, all those days and months he chased me and the dogs walking with me on the beach that he was really saying, Hey! I need you! Take care of me.”

I couldn’t resist though I had inner and outer warnings to do so.

His owners down the street told me he was one of many household cats and that the other cats picked fights with him due to his affection to the owners and his unusual ears. Yes – his ears were elfin – flipped out at the tips! The other cats were jealous, I was told. Therefore, he was always hurt by them and he suffered, badly.

That’s how the Feline HIV or FIV came about. When an FIV infected cat fights with another cat, he or she passes the virus to the other through wounds. FIV is restricted to felines only. No other species can possibly become infected. Cats can live a rather normal and almost long life with FIV as long as they are kept inside away from stressful elements such as weather and other cats willing to fight, I was told by the veterinarian. However, the island where I live is filled with cats struggling to survive on their own and fighting for their territory. Many places have the same situation and FIV is rampant in those places as well.

He needed a new home where he was taken in to be safe and loved. Being sick, who would take him? I knew my landlady who lived next door would be angry and upset but I had to do it.

With a sigh, I brought Lovey home from the vet with the new information and doubted I could get him to stay inside. He loved the wild freedom but needed to heal, get well, maintain wellness. Hopefully, I could help him. Exposure to outdoor stress could weaken him, lead to illness, and allow the FIV to overcome his immune system.

Slowly Getting Better
More and more, as he grew to enjoy my company and the dogs, and depend on me, he spent time with us. He got along fine with the dogs. At times, other cats came around to his “safe” hiding places and attacked Lovey cruelly. If I were home, I broke the fight up instantly and grabbed my white beauty, holding his racing heart to me and medicated his bleeding ears.

One day I found him sitting in a puddle of blood. Shocked, I noticed he had been hurt again by the other cats and the turned out the tip of one ear was mostly chewed off. That ear bled quite a bit on and off but with my care it healed and eventually the scabs were gone from both ears. At one time, both ears were mostly fur-less but with healing and prevention of fights, the fur grew and his ears were soft and white instead of raw and red.

My little friend appreciated my care and attention and let me know. He followed me wherever I went. He even ventured out on the slippery rock jetty to the very last rock, testing his last possible steps before water, as my dog and I swam daily away from the beach. “Can I do it?” No. He couldn’t quite swim to join us. But he waited, patiently, he and his white beauty, on the beach for us to return.

As summer came around, my dog became very sick. Lovey, named by my neighbors because he was so loving, one night extended his paw out onto my dog’s paw, with the gesture, “I know you feel bad. You’ll be all right. We love you.”

The dogs had gotten used to Lovey and even showed him some affection long before summer as we took him in as friends and cared for him. Life was no longer such a struggle. The other cats stopped coming around to beat him up and even his ears started to heal . . .

Staying In
Hurricanes approached, then arrived, and I worried. What to do about my little friend who likes to go outside? The wind blew with Dennis and rain poured down. I brought him to the front porch in my arms and showed him the treacherous rain and wind, “time to stay in.” In he stayed, happily, and went through the rest of the hurricane season with me, purring and following my every move.

Hurricane Floyd threatened to be so dangerous that I scooped up Lovey and said, “let’s take your first long trip.” The fifteen hour car ride was a terribly laborious and worrisome one for me. Besides the stop and go traffic, the pouring rain and high winds, my old dog was still sick and I worried about his welfare as the trip became extended. Lovey kept going to the back of the car to sit with him as if to say, “hi. You’re all right. Isn’t this fun?” Then he sat next to me on the armrest, enjoying the adventure, just the three of us.

Indeed, he was very happy. Every occasion he had he let me know how he appreciated my caring, that he loved me and would stay right next to me. And he loved my dog too just because the dog was mine and was nice to him.

In return, I was really pleased to have his company and got a lot of pleasure sharing things with him, seeing him thrive, and having his devotion. He was a gift who found me and I enjoyed giving back to him.

All day Lovey drank water and ate, increasingly more, it seemed but I wasn’t sure. Maybe he was just developing new habits as he got used to being with me inside. I didn’t think much of his drinking and eating – only that I was happy to keep him supplied. Seemingly, he thanked me as his affection increased steadily.

When I was awake during the night, the white beauty always woke up and came to my side, keeping me company, letting me know I wasn’t alone. In the mornings he welcomed the new day with enthusiasm which perked up my tired spirits and helped get me awake and moving.

Not Okay
One day I missed his morning greeting. He just kept sleeping and didn’t bother to drink or eat his usual breakfast that he so eagerly looked forward to every other morning. Hmmm . . . maybe he’s gotten really lazy by hanging around and being cared for. He’s more comfortable now and not so anxious as to where and when and how he’s getting his next meal, I rationalized.

For the next two days Lovey slept a lot and ate and drank some, but not much compared to his usual intake. He did enjoy the milk and tuna I offered him but neglected to finish the whole portion. That was okay because the dog finished it for him so they shared the treat.

Well, not okay. Lovey looked skinny and was not following me and when I held him he clung to me. Never did he cling to me before. He always let me hold him, briefly, then he needed his space and freedom. So I knew something was wrong. Through the night I petted and petted him then let him rest.

By morning, my white beauty was still beautiful but in a horrible state. Immediately, I drove him to the vet with much anxiety. Already, very sadly, he was way past purring and opening his eyes. I was shocked and distressed at his condition.

Instantly, the vet looked at him and tested him, discovering my little friend was extremely diabetic and needed to be hydrated and given sugar carefully, with the right amount – not too much, not too little – and with no delay.

His survival chance was 50/50 the vet explained and if he survived, his insulin level would be carefully regulated and I would give him insulin shots daily and take special attention with what he ate and drank.

Signs of diabetes are excessive eating and drinking, I then learned. The cells cannot receive the food’s sugar so the food is quickly passed through the digestive system, mostly unused, wasted. The body tries to make up for its lack of nourishment by eating and drinking more but continued efforts prove futile. Instead, the body takes stored fat for energy and, with time and diabetes, the body gets thinner and weaker. This can happen quickly. So although I noticed Lovey eating and drinking a lot for two months or so, I was unaware of its physical meaning at the time. Now I know what it is all about.

I was happy to do whatever I could to help Lovey, one who loved me and depended on me. That was my last chance, though. I never had the chance to help him with insulin shots. He didn’t make it back home. He didn’t even make it to lunch time. My poor little friend was so inflicted that he would never need me again.

Lovey was very special with very special needs and brought to me a very special friendship. I will cherish and remember what he meant to me and miss his beautiful, white silent appearance by my side.