Olivia: Or Loving A Cat With FeLeuk

I volunteer with a local cat rescue. In addition to fostering cats, I spend Fridays at the rescue office helping folks adopt, scooping poop, and making sure all these lovely four legged furballs are fed and watered and loved on.

My rescue currently has a cat in the office named Olivia. Olivia is the sweetest, friendliest, most affectionate cat I’ve ever met. She’s often riding on my shoulders while I clean her room, and I often spend extra time just sitting there with her sleeping in my arms. Trying to leave the room is heartbreaking — Olivia hates being alone, but she has to be.

Olivia has Feline Leukemia. It’s a highly contagious infectious disease that doesn’t affect humans, but can lead to death within three years in about 85% of infected cats.

Initially cats show no signs. They seem healthy and fine, but as the disease progresses, they eventually lose their appetite, lose weight, develop a persistent fever and pale gums.

It makes cats like Olivia, who are so loving, so playful, and so kind virtually unadoptable. They can only go to single cat homes. They can only go to families who understand that these cats likely won’t survive the 15-20 years your average pet cat does.

People who adopt FeLeuk cats are rare. They’re an exceptional breed of humans who cares more about the cat’s quality of life than they do. They adopt knowing they may only have a few years with their new buddy, but committed to making sure that those few years are going to be the best years of that cat’s life. People who adopt FeLeuk cats do it knowing the heartbreak, and the difficult decision they’re going to one day have to make, and deciding that it’s worth it, so that cats like Olivia can have a few years of stretching out in sunbeams, of riding shoulders, of purrs and pats and snuggles.

Our rescue doesn’t adopt out FeLeuk cats lightly. They can only go to homes that don’t currently have any cats that are negative for FeLeuk, to adopters who understand the very serious reality of adopting a cat who is positive.

Olivia is going to be at the rescue for a while, I’m sure. And I’m going to be there every Friday loving on her until she finds her home.

If you would like to adopt Olivia or another special needs cat or dog in the Kalamazoo, MI area, check out Kalamazoo Animal Rescue’s Special Needs Pets adoption page. You can also donate to the rescue’s continuing costs by clicking here

Rose and Halim

Let me tell you about my grandparents, Tata Rose and Jiddo Halim. They grew up in Haifa as neighbors. Jiddo’s family were Christians, and Tata’s were Jewish.

It didn’t matter then. They both thought of themselves as Palestinians. Jiddo was always in Tata’s kitchen, rifling through the pantry. Their parents were friends. Jiddo called Tata’s mother Khalto Nada: Auntie Nada.

Jiddo’s mother, Zamileh and Nada were best friends. The families ate together nearly every week, and Zamileh went out of her way to make sure that she had kosher recipes for when Nada ate with them. The two women spent nearly as much time together as my Jiddo and Tata.

Tata and Jiddo were always running through the streets of Haifa. Where one was, the other could always be found, whether they were sitting under the fig trees in Jiddo’s yard, or soaking their feet in the salty water of the Mediterranean. You could find them by their laughter.

This was before the war.

My grandparents were only 16 when they fled the violence. Jiddo’s family ran away to Lebanon for safety. Tata’s family joined. They wanted their children to be safe and happy, and that wasn’t much of an option in Haifa anymore. They gave up their homes and their belongings, ran for the beach, and followed the coast line into Lebanon, hoping for safety.

They lost everything but each other. It wasn’t long after they made it to Lebanon that my grandparents married. Tata moved into Jiddo’s home, and together they eked out a small living raising seven children together. They made Beirut their home, never once forgetting the beautiful streets of Haifa where they held hands, chasing frogs like Palestinian children of every faith used to, back before your faith defined you.

My Name Is Aila

One of the most frustrating things about existing as a person of color in our society is the subtle ways in which you are not considered a person.

I’m Arab. I’m Palestinian by way of Lebanon. I’m olive skinned, dark-haired, and I bellydance. I do a mean dabke. I wear a keffiyeh. I walk into grocery stores speaking Arabic and hunting through the meagre international aisles for a tiny taste of home. And people ask to take their photos with me. People ask me where my hijab is.

“How long have you been in this country?”

“Where are you from?”

“Wow you speak good English!”

I’ve had people explain to me that in This country we speak English, not “Muslim”…while I was speaking Dutch. Because any language that comes out of my mouth must be “Muslim.” Like I’m not an atheist born to Christian/agnostic parents.

It’s the people who start crying and talking about how difficult it must have been for me to leave my home behind, how happy I must be that that I live in a civilized country now.

I dunno lady, I was born in Germany.

It’s the people who stop their bicycles while I’m walking down the street to talk to me.

Do they have bicycles where you’re from?

Where I’m from? You mean Canada?

It’s the women in grocery stores who tell me I’m wearing a pretty scarf, like my keffiyeh is just a scarf, and not an important cultural symbol, like it doesn’t carry meaning. Like it isn’t my single most prized possession.

All the small ways we are made into novelties. Shiny caricatures of strongly held stereotypes, and no amount of correction seems to break their delusions of who we are.

My name is Aila. I foster cats. I like knitting, aquariums, and cooking. When I’m really excited about something, I jump up and down and I clap. I love punk music. I sing “You are my sunshine” to my children every night. I love deeply. I always do my best to be kind. I’m more than an object for you to make yourself feel good. Won’t you see me?

On Community

I’ve had a pretty rough couple of weeks lately. Things have been exceptionally difficult with expense after expense piling up, friendships ending, responsibilities overtaking me, and the loss of both a foster cat, and one of my pets.

It’s been overwhelming, but I’ve been okay. My community has stepped in to back me up wherever it can.

My friend Malorie has been helping me pick my youngest, Bug, up from school. Andy leaves work on his lunch break to drive Bug to his preschool class, and makes sure I have a key to his house so I can find somewhere quiet to catch up on work. Nathan makes me a lunch and leaves it in the fridge so I don’t have to spend time making my own. Mara drove an hour with her father in law to help me take care of some roommate business. Julia went and picked up my cat’s ashes so that I wouldn’t have to.

Multiple friends send me reassuring messages and reminders to eat and stay hydrated throughout the day.

I haven’t had community for most of my life, and having one now is a genuine feeling of ease and comfort. I don’t have to worry as much. I can help my friends, and they can help me. We weren’t built to live solitary lives, we were built to love, and to work and fight together to survive.

We can’t survive without a community, and the single most powerful act of compassion we have at our disposal is our willingness to risk everything to keep each other afloat. In a society where we often find ourselves subjugated, alone, and struggling, our most powerful tool is our willingness to love each other.