Meet my cat Atlas. He is 8 years old, weighs 9 pounds, has 1 eye, a scrunched up ear and bad breath, sometimes accompanied by a bad attitude. But for good reason.
Atlas is positive for FIV. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is one of the most common and consequential infectious diseases of cats around the world. In infected cats, FIV attacks the immune system, leaving the cat vulnerable to many other infections. Although cats infected with FIV may appear normal for years, they eventually suffer from immune deficiency, which allows normally harmless bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi found in the everyday environment to potentially cause severe illnesses. Though there is no cure for FIV, recent studies suggest that cats with FIV commonly live average life spans, as long as they are not also infected with feline leukemia virus.
That means the odds of him being adopted were low, because while he is not sick now, he could be and that can be expensive, never mind heartbreaking. That also means Atlas can never live with or be around other cats.
I first saw Atlas on Facebook in November 2020. A friend was fostering him for Alaqua, a local animal rescue agency in the Destin, Florida area that offers a wide menagerie of animals-big and small, from barnyard to exotic to domestic. I think Dr. Doolittle started Alaqua, but I’m not sure.
I fell in love with Atlas at first sight. He is so photogenic and just damn cute! And I knew we were meant to be together. But I did not adopt him for over a month after I first saw him. I was afraid of what I did not know about the FIV and what that would mean for him and for me. I wanted us to be together only if we were a match according to the universe and God.
Before Atlas, I spent all of October loving Miramar, a puppy that I bought on impulse because I wanted another heartbeat in the house besides mine. I spent that month falling in love, every morning feeling like a mother to her as she would slither out of her crate, warm and soft, right into my lap. Miramar is a Cadoodle, aka collie poodle mix, aka gonna be way bigger and need way more exercise than this mature adult living in a third floor apartment could give.
With a broken heart, I surrendered Miramar, who now goes by Mirabelle, to a dear friend in Alabama who welcomed her into a five acre wonderland with three loving humans, two other dogs and lots of mud on a good rainy day. And I can assure you that the rainy day I dropped her off, my waterworks gave the sky a run for the money.
Atlas had his first night home with me at Christmastime, when my daughter Abby was here visiting from Tulsa, OK. “He bites sometimes.” Words from my friend who passed this little bundle on to my care. The actual scoop was that he had been a little cantankerous with the people at Alaqua, “bity” and “scratchy” and “cranky” were on his rap sheet.
Abby and I sat on the couch, just watching Atlas as he became familiar with his new surroundings and eyed us like prey. Abby was sleeping on the couch. “You better look out. He’s gonna get you in your sleep.” Her words to me as we had both received his bitiness in response to our attempts to love on him. “Stop that!” I said, as I went to bed. That night, I slept with one eye open. I figured that would level the field if it came to blows in the dark of the night.
Now, after months of living together, Atlas has become quite the contributing member of my little society, here in my apartment. He helps me with my hygiene and has several hobbies and interests.
Atlas is a foodie. He has opened his own Catfe, where he serves both human and cat food.
His hobbies include reading, going to the museum (in my living room), dreaming of going to the beach and playing with his balls. And he has several of those. Four fuzzy sparkly ones that he likes for night time fun when the bar is open.
He likes to play with his other three balls while we do yoga together on the living room floor.
Atlas is pretty Zen. Although he was pissed to learn that the polka dots were not willing to come down from my shower curtain to play.
He is a part time contributor to my art business, as he studies me when I work and I gotta say, he has a keen eye. Fortunately, you only need one of those.
While actual travel is not in Atlas’ future, that doesn’t stop him from trying to stow away when I take little trips. What he lacks in a second eye, he makes up for in tenacity.
Recently, Atlas has decided to date online. But I think he is a catfisher because he can’t actually be around any other cats. He just chats them up on CatMatch.com. Leading them on. Leaving Fluffy and Snowball in tears from his abandonment after chatting them up with empty promises of caviar and lox. His profile reads, “Fuzzy in all the right places, strong jaw, living my best (third) life, seeking tabby or persian who likes catnip and tuna by the fire.”
The truth is, (well this is all true), but the other truth is I love Atlas. I did not know if I could form another attachment after Miramar, but happily I was wrong.
Atlas has breath that make me have to look to see which end the smell is coming from because if the FIV, still bites on occasion, and has an affinity for my once smooth and new leather couch, but I treat him with compassion. (The couch is now known as “The Velveteen Couch,” because Atlas has loved on it.) I can’t imagine what he has been through since he was just a newborn orange fur ball on February 23rd 2012. The years have clearly been hard to leave him with an eye missing, a messed up ear and a disease that forces him into social isolation.
I identify with Atlas. I was living in isolation when he came to me during a pandemic. And I have had some tough times since I was first a newborn fur ball. But thanks to Alaqua, and a universe and God that seemed to want us together, we are having a delightful time.
And if I didn’t have Atlas, I’d be catless.