At her job, Maria Torero cares for sick human beings. At home, she lavishes love on slowly dying cats — 175 of them at last count.
The 45-year-old nurse has turned her two-story, eight-room apartment into a hospice for cats with feline leukemia, scattering it with scores of feeding dishes and at least two dozen boxes litter boxes.
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Some have suggested she shelter healthy cats instead. "That's not my role," she told The Associated Press.
"I'm a nurse. My duty is to the cats that nobody cares about."
She said that "people don't adopt adult cats, especially if they are terminally ill."
For five years, Torero has ministered to animals as they slowly succumb to the common, fatal retrovirus, which is not contagious to humans or other species.
In this Aug. 2, 2014 photo, a group of sick cats rest in Maria Torero's hospice for felines suffering from Leukemia, at her home in Lima, Peru. Photo By Martin Mejia/AP
It usually is transmitted through direct contact, mutual grooming and the sharing of litter boxes, food and water bowls, according to the website of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
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She finds the cats in Lima's streets and markets and has them tested for leukemia. Nearly all of the street cats turn out to have the disease, as well as fleas, parasites and malnutrition. She takes in only adult cats to avoid spreading the disease to new generations.
"Bringing a kitten here is condemning it to death," she said.
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In this Aug. 15, 2014 photo, Maria Torero, talks on her mobile phone, surrounded by several of the 175 cats with leukemia she cares for at her home in Lima, Peru. Photo By Martin Mejia/AP
Torero names the cats — Fellini, Peppa, Dolly, Misterio among them — and dresses many in small shirts. "Each one has a distinct personality," she said.
She said she doses out medicine, sterilises the animals and treats them for parasites every two months. Her arms bear the scratches of cats that resist the injections.
She estimated she spends about R19 000 ($1,78) a month to care for the cats, half of that from donations and the other half from her job as a private nurse.
Her three children, ages 16, 14, and 6, share the apartment and often play or cuddle with the cats, many of which sleep in plastic organser bins and sprawl across seemingly every chair and shelf.
In this Aug. 2, 2014 photo, a sick cat sits on a ladder in Maria Torero's hospice for cats with leukemia, at her home in Lima, Peru. Photo By Martin Mejia/AP
The cat boxes and heavy use of deodorants don't quite mask the powerful odour of urine, but Torero said her neighbours haven't complained.
Cats with leukemia can survive for several years, though their lifespan is usually much shorter than that of an unaffected cat.
They eventually die naturally; Torero hasn't the resources to have them put down. There are no special ceremonies.
"My best gift of love and respect I give them in life," she said.
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Image at top: Maria Torero, plays with a group of 175 cats with leukemia in her home in Lima. Photo By Martin Mejia/AP
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