Shapoloh 2002-2010Rescued by me, handed over to a local animal welfare organisation for rehoming … and rehomed with me three weeks later, Shapoloh was an unintended addition to my family. And one of my first lessons in the abuse and neglect animals in Ireland are subject to.

No digital camera in those days, so no cyewt kitten pics.

Shapoloh was euthanased, peacefully at home on Thursday 19th August 2010. She is sorely missed.

Click on the headings below to read Shapoloh’s story.


I was back at my old house in 2002, redecorating my room before moving out, when my landlords called me over to their house, next door. A tiny kitten was under their porch, miaowing for her mum, but terrified of us humans. I put food beside the porch and for the next few hours popped over every so often, in between brush strokes, to see if I could catch the tiny, terrified thing. I can’t remember how I got her at the end of the day (a trap would have been nice, but I didn’t know anything about them then). But get her I did. And she was livid!

Eyes almost blinded by mucus, skinny, neglected and, I realise now, seldom if ever handled by humans, we reckoned this kitten was only about five weeks old. She couldn’t possibly have made it to our houses on her own – someone had dumped her by the edge of the N71. Lucky to avoid being killed on the road she was a clever wee thing to have found the porch to hide under.

So I took her off to the house I was sitting and left her loose in my bedroom. Lights out – and the loudest racket started.

‘Muuuuuum, muuuuum, where aaaaaaaare yooooouuuuu? I’m lost and alone and scared. Muuuuuuuuum!!!!!!’

This tiny kitten had the biggest cry imaginable! The phrase She Has A Pair Of Lungs On Her (a Scottish phrase meaning LOUD) sprang to mind and Shapoloh was named from the initial letters of the sentence.

(I’d no digital camera in those days so no cyewt kitten photos.)


I was off to Scotland for three weeks a few days later and, not knowing the feline situation in Ireland, got in touch with a local animal welfare organisation thinking they would take Shapoloh in and rehome her. When I came back three weeks later she was still there. Imagine my surprise! I’d been sure an adorable wee thing like her would be gone in a flash. And that was my introduction to animal welfare in Ireland. Too many cats, not enough homes.

So I took Shapoloh home with me and introduced her to Crusty Reilly, my only resident puss at the time. She lurved her uncle Crusty! Though I would discover later she’d no time at all for other cats.


 And Crusty remained Shapoloh’s only feline friend. She took a shine to Tommy in later years, but he only had eyes for Duchess. Apart from that Shapoloh had no time for other animals. Crusty was God, I was a faithful slave and everything else could go jump as far as she was concerned.

So when I started fostering in earnest, with kittens running round the house in numbers, Shapoloh was not well pleased! I tried to explain that these wee felines needed rescued and rehomed, just as she once had. That she should have sympathy and respect. But she was having none of it. She’d shoo them away from the food bowls, shoo them away from me, plomp herself in my lap with serious ownership attitude and glare at any furred body that chanced her way. She’d have been much happier in a household with me and Crusty and no-one else!

And maybe she was right.

Feline Leukaemia

In 2007 we unknowingly took in a foster kitten, Filament, with Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). At the time we didn’t have the set up to keep the kittens isolated and had them all loose in the house. We’d started fostering with only one or two kittens, or a family, and when it snowballed into twenty five kittens in 2007 we’d neither the time, nor the expert advice, to realise we needed to do it differently.

When we found out Filament was FeLV positive we tested all the cats in the house. Shapoloh tested positive for both FeLV and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). She could well have had FIV her whole life, but I never got her tested earlier, so I’ll never know. The FeLV was obviously recently contracted.

Focus also tested positive for FeLV. But everyone else was clear. We read up on the disease (not having come across it before) and found it’s not as prevalent as some would have you believe:

  • 30% of cats who are exposed to the virus never pick it up at all;
  • 30% pick it up and throw it off within three months;
  • another 30% will contract the disease permanently;
  • and the final 10% will carry FeLV but not show symptoms.

FeLV is more infectious than FIV, however. It’s primarily spread through infected saliva – and while bite wounds would be a main source of infection (like FIV), sadly (unlike FIV) it’s also spread through affection (eg. cleaning each other and touching noses). Also like FIV, the virus only survives for a few hours outside the body. And, despite it’s ease of transmission, FeLV only affects 2-3% of cats in America (I can’t find stats for Ireland but it’s reasonable to suppose it’s similar). Sick and young cats are more prone to infection than healthy adults. And humans are not at risk from the disease.

FeLV causes immunosuppression in all cases, cancers in about 50% and severe anaemia in about 1%. There is no cure for FeLV. The prognosis varies considerably but 50% of cats diagnosed with the disease will die within two years. Secondary infections, contracted because of the lowered immune system, are often the death of the animal. Which is why it’s important to catch illnesses early in FeLV and FIV positive cats.

Incidentally, vets advised me not to bother testing Shapoloh when I first got her – not worth the expense, they said, don’t worry about it, they said. I’d now highly recommend getting your feline companions tested for these diseases – if you know they’ve got them you can make sure they stay alive and healthy as long as possible by being forewarned to keep on top of any illnesses they present. Kittens should be tested after sixteen weeks of age (as they may carry their mother’s antigens until then). Note also that FeLV tests can result in false positives and remember that one third of those exposed to it will develop immunity after initial infection. So any animal that tests positive must be retested after three months before a final diagnosis is given.

So we vaccinated Duchess against FeLV (we only use this vaccination in high risk situations as studies show that cancer at the site of injection is associated with long term use), renovated the top floor to accommodate three fostering rooms, one being an isolation unit for new and sick felines, and started to keep a special eye on Shapoloh.

I have to live with the fact that Shapoloh contracted FeLV through my fostering. Shapoloh has to die with it.

No 1 Puss

Shapoloh has been No 1 Puss in the household since Crusty moved to Suzanne’s in 2006 (we have a first come first served seniority plan here). As I’ve said, she’d prefer to be the only puss in the house and her mood swings between bossy and grumpy as a result. When I’d the shop she hung out with me all day and kept a distrustul eye on the customers. She’s sharp as a knife, the smartest puss I’ve hung out with. And she’ll vocally let me know how she’s feeling in no uncertain terms (her voice matches her mood these days).

Healthwise she’s doing not bad. She’s always had bad eyes, the tear ducts damaged by the untreated infection before I found her. Always a small cat, her body has shrunk since she got the FeLV, though she’s slim rather than skinny at this stage. Her coat’s still lush and shiney, though she has skin problems from time to time. She’s vulnerable to infections so I keep a close eye on her and rush her to the vet at the first sign of anything – the earlier an infection’s is caught, the more chance she has of getting over it.

Today there’s no sign of her – beautiful and sunny outside, she’s off appreciating the summer. But she’ll be back in tonight, demanding to see her write up and pointing out all the bits I’ve missed out or got wrong.

In Memoriam

Shapoloh was euthanased, peacefully at home today. We saw the vet again last Friday and were told that nothing specific was wrong with her. There was nothing to treat. My little shadow’s immune system had finally given up.

Deciding a day and time is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can understand why people are reluctant to help their friends on to the Rainbow Bridge. But I couldn’t risk a painful death for her. So I spent as much time with her as I could, and she used what little strength she had to follow me about, like she always has. I offered her tasty treats of tuna and chicken and white fish and cheese (dairy’s not good for her but she loved it). And she barely touched any of it. So I let her go on today. It’s so hard.

But I can see her at the Rainbow Bridge already, grumping and hissing at the other cats (she never understood why she had to share me and her space with other rescues). With any luck she’ll meet Crusty, the only cat she ever had time for. And she’ll sit in the sunshine she loved, and feel healthy and whole again. And eat as much dairy as she wants.

And I’ll stay here for a while longer, and miss her.


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Posted in In Loving Memory, In Memoriam.

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