Austin program saving cats with leukemia that are euthanized elsewhere

Cats with Feline Leukemia getting a second chance thanks to Austin Pets Alive!

Cats with FeLV are housed at Austin Pets Alive! until a caring home is found for them. (KXAN Photo)
Cats with FeLV are housed at Austin Pets Alive! until a caring home is found for them. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A special program in Austin is saving hundreds of potential pets that would be euthanized anywhere else. The Austin Pets Alive! FeLV Adoption Center keeps cats diagnosed with Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) alive and helps place them in caring homes.

Generally when cats are diagnosed with the virus, they’re euthanized. The Austin Pets Alive! program is setting a precedent for other rescue groups and is saving cats that test positive across the country.

“One of the most common things we hear about feline leukemia is, ‘oh these cats are sick and suffering, they should be euthanized,'” said Monica Frenden, Austin Pets Alive! cat program manager.

Frenden says that’s a common misconception. The virus does weaken the cats’ immune systems, but many that test positive go on to live for several more years. In some cases, they even beat the virus, testing negative for it later on.

Frenden says around 2 percent of the feline population has the virus. “It is a sizable number of cats and they’re all being destroyed across the country, needlessly,” she said.

Austin Pets Alive! saves nearly 100 percent of cats with the virus in Central Texas. Its program also pulls in cats that test positive from across the country and even Mexico.

“Because Austin Pets Alive takes in so many of these cats and we don’t euthanize them, we have a unique set of data available that most places in the country don’t” Frenden said.

That’s created a research partnership between the Austin non-profit and the University of Florida. They’re studying the group of cats housed in Austin, hoping to eventually find a cure for the virus.

But for now, Frenden says, the main purpose of the program is to give the cats a life no different than they’d have without the virus.

“To see them go home with adopters and live an amazing quality of life and be so happy, it makes everything worthwhile,” she said.

Austin Pets Alive! works to make the process of adopting a cat with Feline Leukemia as easy as possible. The non-profit doesn’t charge for the adoptions. It also provides lifelong, free medical care for anything relating to the virus.

Cats with Feline Leukemia are available for adoption at both its Town Lake and Tarrytown locations. Cats that test positive for the virus can’t be mixed with cats that don’t have it.

Austin Pets Alive! also accepts donations for its FeLV Adoption Center. It houses around 100 cats with Feline Leukemia at any given time, and so far this year, nearly 100 cats with the virus have been adopted thanks to the program.

On Saturday, Aug. 19, be a part of KXAN and NBC’s Clear the Shelters. Nearly 700 shelters across the country are teaming up for Clear the Shelters, a nationwide pet adoption drive that helps find loving homes for animals in need. 

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