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Inside The Catio:

   a forever home for cats with FIV



The Catio:

  A loving home for rescued cats with FIV


It's estimated that in Panama over 85 % of the free wandering cats ( street cats, feral cats and outdoor cats), have either FIV or Leukemia.  “FIV” stands for “feline immunodeficiency virus” just as “HIV” stands for “human immunodeficiency virus.” In fact, these two viruses are closely related and much of the general information that has become common knowledge for HIV also holds true for FIV. FIV is a virus that causes AIDS in cats; however, there is a long asymptomatic period before AIDS occurs and our job is to prolong this asymptomatic period.

The major route of virus transmission is by the deep bite wounds that occur during fighting, which occurs more frequently in cats that have not been neutered or spayed.  There are other means of spreading the virus but they are less common. Mother cats cannot readily infect their kittens (except in the initial stages of infection). FIV can be transmitted sexually and via improperly screened blood transfusions. Casual contact such as sharing food bowls, or snuggling is very unlikely to be associated with transmission. 

Cats with FIV can live normal and happy lives. In 18 % of the cases the cats life expectancy is shortened and cats will eventually succumb to infections of any kind.

As caretakers of three guys with FIV, we keep them separated from the other 10 rescued cats who are not infected, to avoid spreading the virus. Also. all our rescues have been spayed and neutered, and the three cats with FIV that share their lives together in the Catio, are playing, not fighting :) Of course occasional hissing is to be expected lol.

To assure a good life and especially a safe life for all of our cats, we have build a Catio: an indoor/outdoor space where the cats have enough playing room to express themselves without getting bored, as well as indoor room to withdraw to. The outdoor part of the Catio has many toys and even chairs and a hammock for visiting humans.

We spend a couple of hours each day with our precious boys Tom, Garfield and Shapiro, and the Catio has become one of the nicest places to relax in the afternoon, or have coffee with cats in the mornings. 


Keep reading and meet our three rescued cats with FIV living a happy life in their Catio.


Meet Tommy, Garfield and Shapi

The Story of Tommy

A happy ending for Tommy; from a life on the streets to a family and a loving home

I met Tommy almost a year ago when having a drink at a local restaurant in David, Panama, after coming back from a slaughterhouse Vigil with my fellow activist friends. We are as you know, animal rights activists and a large part of the animal rights movement in Panama is localized in Chiriqui Province. We also run an animal rescue service, and we come across many many animals in need.

Tommy came to visit with us at our table and was so very sweet and obviously hungry. He looked the worse for wear with a ruffled up ear, open sores on his skin and hugely swollen lymph nodes. I promised I would come back for him as soon as I could ( I wasn’t carrying a cat transporter that day), and I  kept my promise.

A few days later I went back to the restaurant with my dear friend Hanny, and this time we came prepared with a carrier and a can of cat food to lure Tommy inside the carrier with.

According to the waitresses, Tommy had been around forever, belonged to nobody, lived on the street and survived on food-scraps the customers would toss him, and on the scraps that the kind restaurant workers would give him .

Tom was very eager to get into the carrier; of course the cat food helped. Without further ado, inside he went!

We went straight to the vets office for a quick check up and of course do a blood check to see how his health was. And not to our surprise, Tom tested positive for FIV. No wonder he had such hugely swollen lymph nodes!

The open sores he had I would be treating with a special cream and with Aloe Vera (which is great for treating wounds), and his skinny body would get better with a good balanced cat food. The rest would be easy: love and a safe home. Of course cats with FIV need a  bit of extra care, but I was very happy to give Tommy all that he would need!

In our home the cats rule and there are many of them :) At any given time 10 healthy rescued cats can be seen playing or lying around, and we couldn’t run the risk of putting Tommy together with the healthy cats. He had also not been spayed yet, so the risk of a fight and possible infection of the other cats had to avoided at all cost.

So Tom spend the first 5 months of his time with us in my daughter’s old room, with a couple of comfy chairs, and a toilet for his personal use, and plenty of toys and a cat bed.

Tommy and I became good friends in these first months, and my daily (long) visits to the room where he lived would be filled with cuddles. What an old sweetheart he is!

We decide that since in Panama there are so many cats with FIV that need a home, we would start a (very) small project and so we build a Catio in the garden at only 2 meters from the French doors that open from my bedroom into the back yard.

We used an existing tool shed build from blocks for the interior part of the new Catio, and added 2 windows to create air and natural light.

Around the closed area, we build the Catio: first a short wall and then cyclone fence all the way up to a red roof. Two weeks later, the Catio was ready and Voila: we had a new home for Tommy!

 I had a couple of nice shelves connected to the walls of the Catio both inside and out the inner building, so he could sit inside while watching the outside and getting used to his new home. We have a huge yard with mature trees, a lot of birds, and a bunch of dogs. Tommy would never be bored.

Inside I also added a tiny sofa, cat hammocks and toys, and even a flowery carpet .

Outside we planted a large forked piece of wood into the earth, stabilized with concrete, and added platforms to jump on, as well as many many toys to play with.

I hung up my favorite hammock as well. Now the Catio is my favorite place to be in the mornings and in the afternoons.

After cleaning the bathrooms for the cats (now 3), and sweeping and feeding and changing the water, I give myself half an hour each morning to enjoy the peace of my backyard and the company of Tommy, and now also Garfield and Sjapi Shapiro . And guess where I spend my end of the day relax time: in the Catio with my fur balls. 😊


Garfield is a beautiful red striped tomcat. He is pretty furry, and I love how his tiger design is sort of pastel: I had never seen a red cat that had this soft yellowy orange color, almost faded in the sun sort of.. Really pretty!

Garfield has quite a story.


I don’t know all the details, but as far as I understood he was living with an American lady who had adopted way too many animals over time, and who was an alcoholic. Living with a largish group of animals , while her mental health was deteriorating, pretty soon she couldn’t cope any more, both physically and mentally.

One day she passed out and left the door open, and a neighbour came and stole Garfield. Then a volunteer tracked him down and Garfield was adopted by someone who only kept him for a few weeks. He was returned because the adopter said the other cats in the house did not like him. This adopter regretfully was not willing to work on the social cat dynamics.

Poor Garfield.


Another couple of months passed, and he was once again adopted, this time by a lady in David.


He seemed very happy there, and in the beginning she send pictures of Garfield and he looked great. Then one day she called the rescue service Saldea saying Garfield had run away for the weekend and had come back with a face full of open wounds, ulcerated boils actually.

That was of course a made up story, as this kind of ulcerations don't happen within such a short time span!

My friends at Saldea immediately went and confiscated Garfield and took him to the vet, where the blood test turned out he was FIV positive and had a major skin infection. His treatment took months and cost hundreds of dollars!

Now, normally with rescued cats that don't have FIV, we bring them to our bi-weekly Adoption Fair at Novey Hardware store in David.  Garfield’s case was a bit different of course, because he was diagnosed with FIV. And as you know, cats with FIV should not live together with cats without FIV, for fear of contagion.

At a certain moment it was decided to bring him to Novey and he see if anyone would be willing to adopt an FIV positive beautiful cat. And we were all so happy when a gentleman said he would adopt Garfield that same day. 

The adoption never happened. I think the people decided to adopt a kitten instead, and of course I made up my mind right then and there: I already had my Tommy safely in the new Catio: now was the perfect time to add another cat to the family and give Tommy a new brother!

It took awhile before the boys first started to tolerate each other, and after several months, they are now friends -or frenemies lol- because sometimes one of the guys hisses at the other and there was some boxing going on there for a couple of days. Very entertaining, and nothing nasty at all. Just boys being boys.

Now it's all cool: they get along fine. They enjoy the morning sun together and take turns receiving cuddles. Garfield is amazing, and I love his character. He is a cat with a "Cattitude", and sometimes: a “Baditude”.  I can’t even remember what it was like before he joined the family!

If you have the chance to offer a forever home to a cat with FIV, Leukemia, or a disability, please do!

Cats are ALL amazing, mysterious, mischievous, fun, snooty, comical, and adorable fur balls! They ALL deserve a loving home!

When you adopt cats such as Tommy, Garfield and Shapiro you get back the love and energy you invest in them a thousand fold!

Special cats: all of them!

Of course not everybody is in the position to adopt an animal into their homes: but you can still help by “adopting” one of our rescued cats long distance: help by donating a few dollars for food, cat litter and medical care, if you are able to!

Or help us with our rescues, and with our sponsoring of spay/neuter clinics!


We need you, and so do the animals!


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And .... Shapi

Meet the adorable baby of the group: Shapi Shapiro. He is the youngest of the "Catio Cats" with only 11 months of age, and he keeps Tommy and Garfield on their toes, and playful. His favorite toy is his "tunnel", but he loves messing with plants as well.

And of course teasing Garfield is super fun!

While feeding the dogs, my friend and fellow rescuer Beatriz saw a skinny little black cat walking across the street in Boquete.


Afraid for his life with so many dogs roaming the streets, she took Shapi in, and fostered him until his spay/neuter day. However, when the blood test pointed out that Shapi had FIV, Beatriz was faced with a huge problem, as she is rescue- and foster mum of 9 or 10 healthy cats as well as a bunch of dogs, and has limited space (as we all do) .


Shapi spent a little while with a temporary foster, but as soon as it was possible to cross the border again with the CoVid19 situation,  the young man left for Costa Rica.


Shapi was back with Beatriz!


Luckily timing was perfect again for my Catio Cats and myself. Tommy and newcomer Garfield had finally buried the hatchet and where becoming friends, and the situation in the Catio was pretty relaxed.


So when Beatriz called me with the request to take Shapi in, I didn't hesitate! And Shapi came with bells and whistles: when I picked him up in Boquete, there were his private toilet and toys, his food and cat litter. The toys are now communal toys of course: Shapi and Garfield are starting to play every day and share the toys, while the much older Tommy lies close to them either on one of the shelves or on the ground, chilling, watching the youngsters at play.


It feels like we have now found a great balance between these three uniquely different cat personalities. In the mornings when I call their names all three of them sit by the door of the Catio waiting for me to come cuddle and change their water and cat litter. They always sit together!


Things are great in the Catio!


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