During the work day, Maria Torero is a nurse, caring for sick humans in Lima, Peru. But when she comes home at night, Torero lavishes her love and care onto 175 felines who are sick with feline leukemia.
Torero, 45, turned her 2-story, 8-room apartment into a hospital of sorts for cats suffering from feline leukemia — most of whom were rescued from the streets. She has been caring for cats for five years, feeding them and providing them with comfort before they die. In photos, dozens of cats wander around on the floor, sleep in containers, or peek out from shelves. Some are dressed in small shirts, each a different color to help her identify their unique personalities.
Cats suffering from the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) are infected with a common and fatal retrovirus, which produces an enzyme that allows viruses to insert their genetic material into infected cells. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, about 2 to 3 percent of felines in the U.S. are infected with the retrovirus, which is spread through saliva, urine, feces, and milk. Cats can infect one another through mutual grooming, sharing litter boxes, and feeding dishes.
Torero is something like a Mother Theresa for cats. She goes out into the streets of Lima and picks up stray cats, then gets them tested for the disease. Nearly all of the street cats she finds are infected, and also suffer from fleas, parasites, and malnutrition. In her cat hospital, she provides them with medication, sterilizes them, and treats them for parasites. This all costs her about $1,785 a month — half of which is provided by donations, and the other half which is taken from her own paycheck as a nurse.
Feline leukemia is not transmittable to humans, so Torero isn’t worried about having her three children live in the apartment with the myriad of kitties. But she also is happy that she can provide these marginalized kitties with some love and respect at the end of their lives.
When people point out that she should be taking care of healthy cats instead, she told the AP: “That’s not my role. I’m a nurse. My duty is to the cats that nobody cares about.” She added, “people don’t adopt adult cats, especially if they are terminally ill.”