Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Second Hand Purrs gives sick cats a second chance at life

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Second Hand Purrs gives sick cats a second chance at life

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Cat owners are likely familiar with the virus called "FIP", or Feline Infectious Periontitis.

It's a version of the Coronavirus that is usually fatal in cats.

It's hard to detect and there is no FDA approved cure.

But a small shelter in Milwaukee is on the front lines of helping to research a treatment.

"Hi, babies! Here you go, are you hungry," Lisa Wytrykus Kleppek asked a new litter of hungry kittens.

The work of feeding hungry mouths never stops at Second Hand Purrs, on Milwaukee's south side.

"Can I put this bowl in here?" she asked, while expertly keeping the kittens contained. 

New kittens and cats are always finding their way here to get a second chance at love.

"That's what keeps me going, is our mission of helping these cats," said Second Hand Purrs President, Rhonda Kimmel.

For Kimmel and all of the others working here, it is a labor of love.

"These guys, they just came in today, so they'll be quarantined for a few days," Wytrykus Kleppek said of the new kittens.

The entire non-profit is run by volunteers.

"At any given time, we probably have a really good core of about 50," Kimmel said of the volunteers.

Kimmel has been involved since 2007 -- when she started fostering. Since then, she's taken in 650 cats and kittens.

"I foster a lot of kittens. Pregnant moms and moms with babies. And that type of thing. That's how my numbers go up. I have litters of kittens and not individual adults," she explained with a small laugh.

The dedicated volunteers make sure these kitties are safe, and healthy, and find a forever home.

"They're getting adopted very quickly. So, we can go from -- three weeks ago, we had 40 cats and kittens in residence and now we're probably down to 20," Kimmel said.

Each kitten, just as cute and curious as the next. For most of the cats here, the goal is to make sure they go on to a good life. But for some of the cats, like orange brothers Chip and Murdock, Second Hand Purrs is giving them a chance at life.

"Originally, FIP was considered a death sentence for cats," said wellness coordinator Roxanne Smith.

Both were diagnosed with FIP as kittens.

"FIP is Feline Infectious Periontitis. It is a strain that is caused from the Coronavirus that is in cats," she explained.

Smith fosters a lot of the shelter's sick and elderly cats.

"I like, to be honest, to help the underdog. I like taking in the hospice and palliative care animals," she said.

Smith knows all too well the FIP virus is hard to diagnose and can be fatal in weeks. There's also no FDA approved cure.

"Prior to this when I did have FIP kittens in foster care, at that time, it really was an automatic euthanasia, because they would suffer," Smith said.

But she says a new drug is showing promise.

"Myself, and Second Hand Purrs, we are taking care of four cats or kittens that have been diagnosed with FIP," she said.

Smith took a chance on the injection, called Maxpaw, that she said saved their lives.

"All four of mine so far have passed their 84 days of injections and all of them are pretty much at the end of their 84 days of observations," Smith said.

The treatment is rigorous and expensive.

Second Hand Purrs is part of the Facebook group FIP Warriors, which is an online community helping connect cats with the treatment. Smith has also connected with researchers at UW-Madison and UC Davis in California, which started clinical trials last summer.

"For them, it gave them the gift of life," Smith said, pointing at Chip and Murdock.

A small shelter making a big difference to improve care for all cats.

"Since we got into this program, it has made a world of difference," Smith said.

For more information on Second Hand Purrs, just visit their website.

If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at [email protected].  

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