Miss Bean was adopted along with her sister Vanilla in the summer of 2016. From the beginning, she seemed quieter than her sister but soon we realized that she wasn’t simply a more subdued kitten, there was something was wrong. When we received the FIP diagnosis we made plans to help her cross the Rainbow Bridge because we understood there was no treatment and no hope. But just the day before we were going to let her go, we found out about the first drug trial at the University of California-Davis using antivirals to treat FIP. We reached out right away to see if she would qualify and Dr. Niels Pedersen, the primary investigator in the drug trial, responded immediately. He told us if we could get her there the next day and she met the necessary criteria, there was room for her in the trial. We drove the 8-hour trip to Davis that day, and the next morning she was accepted into the drug trial.
Over the next 4 weeks Miss Bean’s condition would improve only to deteriorate once again. The entire month was a difficult roller coaster ride of both hope and despair. And while Miss Bean beat death several times during treatment, in the end her tiny body could not rally. Dr. Pedersen helped us make the painful decision to let her go her after finding that she’d had a seizure during the night. While it was painful to watch her slowly lose her fight, we found some small comfort in knowing that the researchers learned a great deal from her case and they believed, right up until the end, that she could win her battle.
But fate has a way of balancing the scales. A week after we lost Miss Bean, I was contacted by someone in a rescue who had just found out their cat, Smokey, had also been accepted into the trial but that it would be extremely difficult for them to get him to UC Davis, and on top of that, since they were a rescue organization, California law does not allow cats from shelters/rescues to be used in drug trials. We didn’t hesitate and within an hour we had worked out a plan. We drove to Los Angeles, met Smokey’s humans in a parking lot and signed adoption papers making Smokey legally my kitten. We made plans to drive Smokey to UC Davis the next morning.
In the morning, just as I was getting Smokey into the car for the trip to Davis, I received an email from Dr. Pedersen informing me that Smokey’s prior “owners” had shared our plan online and because Smokey was technically a shelter cat, they could not legally treat him under California law. Dr. Pedersen was also concerned that it might appear we were getting preferential treatment, having yet another cat in the trial so soon after Miss Bean. I felt a deep sense of helplessness and despair at the thought of losing yet another kitten to this disease. Here I was with this tiny kitten, sick with wet FIP having his only chance at life taken away. With no other option, I wrote back to Dr. Pedersen and told him that I was still going to bring Smokey to him and begged him to at least evaluate him for the trial. I argued that I had in fact legally adopted him after he had already been accepted into the trial, so I was not getting special treatment. The 8-hour drive north was long and filled with anxiety. There were only 2 options. Either Smokey would be allowed into the program, or he would be euthanized. When we arrived at the vet school with Smokey, Dr. Pedersen met with us immediately and said that, while he was upset at the way things had happened, Smokey was not to blame, and if he met the criteria, he could enter the trial.
Smokey went on to become one of the very first cats ever cured of FIP. Since then, we have told his story at every chance to help raise awareness and funding for FIP research, paying it forward for the gift of life he received. Today, Smokey is the face of ZenByCat®, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to raise awareness and provide on-going funding for FIP research.
Watching Miss Bean lose her battle with FIP was so painful and I would have given anything to save her. But the truth is, if Miss Bean had survived, there wouldn’t have been room in the drug trial for Smokey. Every time I look at Smokey, and see him enjoying life, or at any of the thousands of other FIP Survivors that came after him, I think of Miss Bean and the small but important part she played in making FIP a treatable disease. I am sad she never got to live her life, but she is remembered, and she made a difference in this world. She was the inspiration for ZenByCat®, which gives her death meaning and helps me grieve her loss.
Please consider joining the ZenByCat® FIP Warriors Club with a small monthly donation to help honor all FIP Warriors, both the Survivors and the Angels. We can end this horrific disease!
~Peter Cohen, Founder, ZenByCat®
Peter Cohen adopted his first kitten in 1988 and has been adopting cats from shelters ever since. FIP first touched Peter’s life in 2014 when he lost a beloved cat named Peanut, and then again in 2016 when Miss Bean was diagnosed but lucky enough to be accepted into the first anti-viral drug trial at UC Davis. Despite losing her battle, Smokey, another of Peter’s cats, was also accepted into the trial and went on to become one of the first five cats cured of FIP. Peter started ZenByCat (ZBC), a non-profit organization, to help raise money and awareness to end FIP for all cats. While unregulated forms of anti-viral drugs are saving tens of thousands of FIP cats all over the world, ZBC remains committed to supporting FIP research that is still needed to develop newer and better drugs, a definitive FIP test, and potentially, even a vaccine. Through ZBC’s monthly FIP Warriors Club, 90% of the proceeds are donated to EveryCat Health Foundation’s Bria Fund in support of further research into FIP. The remaining funds are used to help current feline warriors with their fight against the disease.
Photo- Top left: Peter Cohen and Miss Bean, Bottom left: Dr. Niels Pedersen and Smokey, Right: Smokey with Miss Bean’s Memorial.
*Photos courtesy of Peter Cohen