Lacey and Her Devoted Owner Wage a Lonely, Terrifying, and Grossly Underfunded Battle Against Feline Infectious Peritonitis but in the End the Deadly Malady Refused to Yield
"It breaks my heart seeing her (and) knowing she is dying slowly inside having her immune system being attacked. She's a strong Maine Coon fighter who means everything to me. I just want her to have a chance in life and to get back to being the lively kitty."
-- Sarah Addley
The number of unforeseen tragedies that seem to materialize out of the blue in order to destroy the lives of unsuspecting felines continues to both distress and sadden. With that being the case, it is not any small wonder that any cat even so much as manages to survive. Long lives, good health, and loving guardians are in even shorter supply.
For instance, in February of this year Sarah Addley adopted from either a shelter or a cattery a beautiful six-month-old Maine Coon kitten with luxurious fur. She named her Lacey and, delighted with her good fortune, she took her home to live with her and her other resident felines on the island of Foulness, located off the east coast of Essex.
All went swimmingly at first but it was not long before her elation was replaced with concern when Lacey started to inexplicably lose weight. Toward the end of April, Addley took her to see a veterinarian who discovered a lump in her stomach.
Blood tests and a biopsy later confirmed her and the practitioner's worst suspicion: Lacey was suffering from the Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIPV) which, with the assistance of a cat's own antibodies, attacks the white blood cells thus enabling it to spread throughout the body. In addition to a loss of both weight and appetite, other common symptoms include depression, fever, and unkempt fur.
Severe inflammation of either the abdomen, kidneys, or brain soon follows. Most heartbreaking of all, the disease progresses rapidly and is almost always fatal.
The most common form of transmission is from a mother cat to her kittens but the disease also can be contracted in environments where large numbers of cats are forced to cohabitate, such as at shelters and breeding mills. Not surprisingly, it is precisely kittens, elderly cats, sufferers of Feline Leukemia (FeLV), and those with compromised immune systems that are most susceptible to contracting the disease.
To say that the veterinarian's dire diagnosis left Addley devastated would be an understatement. "It breaks my heart seeing her (and) knowing she is dying slowly inside having her immune system being attacked," she disclosed to the Echo of Basildon in Essex on August 11st. (See "Fundraising Campaign to Help Dying Kitten.") "She's a strong Maine Coon fighter who means everything to me. I just want her to have a chance in life and to get back to being the lively kitty."
Although many cat owners like to shout their fidelity to their charges from the rooftops, the sad fact of the matter is that relatively few of them are willing to go to either the bother or the expense of caring for them once they become ill. Rather, they fob them off on unscrupulous veterinarians to rub out.
Included in that annually high death toll are a large number of cats that have grown old, suffer from such minor ailments as common colds, and those whose presence is simply no longer wanted. (See Cat Defender post of October 18, 2014 entitled "Hamish McHamish's Derelict Owner Reenters His Life after Fourteen Years of Abject Neglect only to Have Him Killed Off after He Contracts a Preeminently Treatable Common Cold.")
Addley's heart, however, answers to the beat of an entirely different drummer in that she is a woman who not only cares deeply about her cats but one who was not about to give up on Lacey without a fight. She accordingly started looking around in order to determine what, if anything, there was that could be done for her dying kitten.
"It is attacking her inside causing her lymph nodes to be severely inflamed and sadly they say it is incurable but in the United States of America there's a drug called polyprenyl which had some very successful results in helping felines," she added to the Echo.
By that she was referring to Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI) that is manufactured and distributed by Sass and Sass of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Originally intended to treat common head colds (Feline Herpesvirus 1), it has had some rather limited success in treating cats suffering from the noneffusive, or dry, form of FIPV.
|Lacey Playing in a Box|
For example, Alfred M. Legendre and Joseph W. Bartages of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville treated three cats that were suffering from noneffusive FIPV with PI and two of them were alive and well two years later. The third one survived for fourteen months and perhaps would have lived longer if her owners had not prematurely discontinued treatment. (See the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, December 12, 2008, "Effect of Polyprenyl Immunostimulant on the Survival Times of Three Cats with the Dry Form of Feline Infectious Peritonitis," pages 624-626.)
In a 2010 trial study of one-hundred-two cats suffering from the noneffusive form of FIPV, the Winn Feline Foundation of Wyckoff, New Jersey, found that twenty-two per cent of them were still alive six months later and that five per cent of them lived for at least a year. (See Veterinary Practice News, August 15, 2012, "Progress in Treating FIP Reported," and an undated article entitled "Research on Feline Infectious Peritonitis, FAQ by Al Legendre at www.vet.utk.edu.)
Unfortunately as far as Lacey was concerned, PI is not readily available in England but that did not in any way dissuade her determined owner who kept right on searching until she was able to secure a provider. "I have finally found a specialist veterinarian...and she's American and has treated Maine Coon cats and others for this evil nasty disease," she rejoiced to the Echo.
That offer of eleventh-hour assistance came from oncologist Susan North of VRCC Veterinary Referrals of Laindon, thirty-nine kilometers south of Foulness in Essex. Even then Addley was forced into ponying up £36 for a special license so that VRCC could legally import the drug.
Then there was the staggering cost of it to take into consideration. "I have to find funds as the drug works out to an average of £600 for a two months' supply but she has to stay on it for life," is how that she summed up the depressing financial scenario to the Echo. "If the drug works well over time they (the veterinarians) can reduce how many days and dose per week she has."
In furtherance of that worthy objective, she established the Saving Lacey page at www.gofundme.com on June 19th but, sadly, she was able to raise only £620 of her initial goal of £4,000. That is because only twenty-three individuals could be prevailed upon to help Lacey and none of them was willing to commit to more than £100.
"She is a very special kitten which (sic) is my friend Sarah's world," Sheila Fordham beseeched readers of the Echo. "If you feel you can help prolong Lacey's life you can donate by going on her web site. It (PI) can enhance the quality of life and may add months even years to the feline patient's life span."
It is not entirely clear why the response from the usually generous international cat community was so measured but perhaps the lateness of the hour in which the appeal was issued coupled with the limited amount of news coverage that Lacey's desperate plight received outside of Essex were contributing factors. It additionally is conceivable that potential donors were put off by her dismal prospects.
If that indeed were the case, it is all the more lamentable because in this world it is not always a good idea for individuals to calmly sit back and rationally choose which cats that they are going to support with their compassion and financial largess. That is because the heart is often a far better guide than the mind under such circumstances.
Although it may have been considerably less heart-wrenching if cat lovers never had been apprised of Lacey's struggle, once they became cognizant of it their sole remaining consideration boiled down to what, if anything, they were going to do in order to help her. Moreover, procrastination and indecision were not viable options in that tomorrow was not guaranteed to either them or, especially, Lacey.
Ignoring her predicament also reeked too much of the blatant hypocrisy demonstrated so often by those well-known philanthropists who lavish their tears and shekels upon faceless and nameless strangers in foreign lands while simultaneously turning blind eyes and deaf ears to the moans and groans that emanate from the prostrate bodies in the street outside their palatial estates. Alleviating suffering in the here and now should, whenever feasible, always take precedent over the pursuit of either future objectives or ideology.
In practice, however, that is seldom the case as David Livesay found out on July 8, 2010 when he rescued a five-week-old, orange and white kitten that had been thrown from a speeding automobile on Interstate-24 in Chattanooga. "It's a life! It's a life!" he pleaded on its behalf. "Anything alive is worth saving."
He then devoted the next four hours in a futile search to find a veterinarian willing to treat it gratis. In frustration, he finally surrendered it to McKamey Animal Care and Adoption which, predictably, wasted no time in killing it. (See Cat Defender post of July 16, 2010 entitled "Tossed Out the Window of a Car Like an Empty Beer Can, Injured Chattanooga Kitten Is Left to Die after at Least Two Veterinarians Refused to Treat It.")
|Lacey with One of Her Playmates|
Regardless of either the historical epoch, the venue, or the circumstances, most individuals never have had much respect for the sanctity of life whether it be animal, plant, or human. In addition to just plain callousness and cheapness, man usually is far too busy exploiting his fellow creatures in order to care so much as one whit about preserving their lives.
Although woefully inadequate in respect to what was needed, the donations were sufficient in order to have gotten Lacey started on the drug sometimes during the middle of June. After that it became a tedious and terrifying game of watch and wait, hope, and pray.
It initially appeared that the drug was having the desired effect and the evidence of that was contained in an August 14th photograph of Lacey posted online wherein she appeared to be the very epitome of feline health and well-being. That impression turned out to be not only short-lived but totally erroneous, however, in that Addley announced two days later on Saving Lacey that she was suffering from the effusive, or wet, form of FIPV.
With that distressing revelation, all hope quickly evaporated only to be replaced with an inescapable and sickly sense of doom and gloom. That is because PI is only effective in treating the noneffusive variety of FIPV.
"Our experience in the treatment of wet form FIP with Polyprenyl Immunostimulant has been dismal probably because the rapid progression of the disease process does not allow time for an immune response to modify the course of the disease," Legendre and Bartages wrote in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery article cited supra.
That makes it curious as to why North and VRCC placed Lacey on PI in the first place. One possible explanation is that FIPV is so difficult to diagnose that cats suffering from it may at first exhibit symptoms commonly associated with the noneffusive variety when they actually are afflicted with the effusive form.
A second possibility is that Addley and North simply were grasping at straws and therefore willing to try almost anything in order to have kept Lacey alive. In that respect, even wagering all the gold in Fort Knox would have been a small price to have paid provided that it had kept her alive for just a little while longer.
Other than the disclosure that Lacey was suffering from a bloated abdomen, no other details of her condition have been divulged. Her stomach could have been periodically drained and that would have made breathing considerably easier for her but it is not known if that procedure was attempted.
In addition to PI, Lacey also likely was administered antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs as well as being placed on dietary supplements and vitamins. It also is possible that she was given intravenous fluids and blood transfusions.
Corticosteriods and cytotix drugs were two additional options at the disposal of North and VRCC. Above all, Addley sans doute was instructed to have maintained her in a stress-free environment at all times.
Although not totally unexpected, the heartbreaking announcement came on September 1st that Lacey had died fifteen days earlier on August 17th. Thus, all the hoping, praying, and ransacking of already sorely depleted coffers in search of a few spare bob in order to send to her had been in vain.
Since no other details have been disclosed, she could have died on her own or been killed off by North. Another possibility is that Addley simply ran out of money.
|Lacey Still Looked Well on August 14th|
In the September 1st posting on Saving Lacey, wherein she announced her death, Addley also renders a full accounting of the donations. In addition to the £36 that she paid for the license so that VRCC could import PI, she shelled out £404.08 for the drug itself plus £86.22 in taxes and that came to a whopping £526.30. The remaining £93.70 plus £63.30 out of Addley's own pocket were donated to the Winn Feline Foundation's Bria Fund which is working to find a cure for FIPV.
The latter total amounted to only £154 and, needless to say, it would not have sustained Lacey for much more than a fortnight even if PI had proven to be effective in treating her. Unless Addley should choose to be considerably more forthcoming on this matter in the future, the world never will know if Lacey's precious life could have been indefinitely extended if only donors had opened up their hearts and bit wider.
In spite of having been left in the financial lurch, Addley is not holding any grudges. "Many thanks to you all and I hope you never have to go through this with your kitties," she wrote September 1st on Saving Lacey. "It's cruel. Let's hope they find a cure as they have found drugs to help prolong life. I will be forever grateful to you all."
It additionally is highly commendable that in her hour of bereavement she was willing to pause long enough in order to make a public accounting to her donors. In that respect, her forthrightness stands in stark juxtaposition to the conduct of just about all shelters and animal rescue groups who never reciprocate in kind.
Instead, they cadge obscene amounts of money from the public allegedly in order to treat abused, sick, and injured animals which they then turn around and appropriate for all sorts of nefarious uses, such as pay raises and salary perks. Tant pis, some of these wretched organizations even use these donations in order to kill off the very animals whose lives they were intended to save.
Looking ahead, there does not appear to be much in the way of hope on the horizon for cats afflicted with the noneffusive variety of FIPV and absolutely none at all for cats like Lacey who suffer from the effusive form of the disease. The only good news is that those fighting the disease have not as of yet thrown in the towel.
Legendre continues to experiment with PI while other scientists are attempting to develop an antiviral that could be used in conjunction with it. Others, such as Niels Pederson of the University of California at Davis, are attempting to isolate genetic markers that indicate both greater susceptibility as well as resistance to the disease.
At the other end of the veterinary spectrum, there is yet to be developed any proven vaccine for the disease. Pfizer Incorporated touts Primucell FIP but it is regarded as being all but worthless. (See Cornell University, undated article entitled "Feline Infectious Peritonitis" at www.vet.cornell.edu.)
The world at large knew little or nothing concerning the life and death battle that was waged on the island of Foulness between April and the middle of August and even if it had known very few of its inhabitants would have cared one way or the other. The hoi polloi's callous indifference to suffering on the one hand and the loss of such exquisite beauty and elegance on the other hand does not in any way however diminish either Lacey's intrinsic value or the enormity of the heartbreak felt by those who know and appreciate cats of her caliber.
The only positive development to have come out of this tragic affair has been Addley's superlative behavior. She not only faithfully stood by Lacey but even went online in order to beg for her deliverance. That is not worth a whole lot, especially when measured against what she has lost, but at the very least she can now go forward in life with a clear conscience knowing in her heart that she did everything in her capacity to have saved Lacey.
As for the latter, it is always a sad occasion whenever any cat dies and the fact that she was a beautiful Maine Coon with her entire life ahead of her makes her premature passing all the more difficult to accept. Anyone who ever has enjoyed the love of any of these truly wonderful cats or merely sought out the warmth provided by their long fur on a cold winter's night will readily testify to the indelible impressions that they leave behind on their owners' hearts.
It has not been revealed what Addley did with her remains and although it would be comforting to think that they lie in a properly-attended grave in her garden with an appropriate marker on the top, that probably is just wishful thinking. If so, then all that is left of Lacey are the photographs and the memories and they are poor substitutes for what was and could have been if only The Fates could have been prevailed upon to have behaved in a kindlier fashion toward her.
Photos: the Echo (Lacey), Saving Lacey (Lacey in a box, with another cat, and on August 14th).