We Can All Learn a Thing or Two from Marv

I was first introduced to Marv via text. I was visiting family, and my then-boyfriend Sean was watching my cats Gabby and Iris. He’d stopped by the pet store to pick up some food, as theirs was getting low.

“I need you to talk me out of getting a cat,” he wrote.

“You’re talking to the wrong person,” I replied.

He went on to describe this sweet shy male tabby, about a year old, who was up for adoption. His name card said “Gavin.” He had giant paws that looked like boxing gloves and one of his beautiful green eyes was partially obscured by a pearly cataract. He had a little lump on one of his ears. Gavin was hiding near the back of his cage, cautiously observing people as they passed. All the other cats were very outgoing, begging for attention, but Gavin wasn’t. He seemed content to keep his distance. Sean was worried that nobody would want him, that since he wasn’t perfect Gavin would be overlooked. Who would want a partially blind stand-offish cat with lumpy ears and enormous paws that, by the size of them, indicated he would be huge when he stopped growing.

Of course, Sean got the cat.

The first thing Sean did with Gavin was rename him. He named him Marv, after a character from “Sin City,” a big-bruiser-with-a-heart-of-gold-type played by Mickey Rourke. It suited him, because he did wind up being a very large cat, but his sweetness and mild temperament remained unchanged.

Marv was a very intelligent cat, one of those that seem to understand things on a deeper level. He wasn’t needy or neurotic, he was never a pest, he was always just happy to be. Marv loved life. Sean would sometimes pick him up with one hand under Marv’s ribcage and lift him toward the ceiling, saying “Fly, Marv! Fly!” and Marv would look around with interest at this new perspective, completely trusting and at ease.

Even when he wanted something, Marv was always polite. Marv usually only needed one of two things: food or love. He would sit and stare at you with his expressive eyes, unblinking, until you noticed him. Then it was simply a matter of finding out what he needed. If you were particularly inattentive, he would resort to gently patting your arm with his paw to get your attention.

Marv most of all loved love. He was always happy for a hug or a cuddle. He spooned with me on the couch, and he would gaze with interest over Sean’s shoulder whenever he was scooped up for a hug. When he sat on your lap, Marv would stretch his arms up to your shoulders like he was flying, and then bury his head in the hollow of your neck. He particularly loved Sean’s beard.

Marv was a very polite cat. He never jumped on the counter, scratched the furniture, or peed outside the litter-box. He knew the meaning of the word “no” and would actually listen. He would even come when called, hurrying across the room while replying with a trilling prrrreow? as if to say “Yes, I’m here! What did you need?” He loved his people and wanted them to be happy.

When Sean and I eventually moved in together, we combined not only households, but cats as well. Sadly, my two older girls wanted nothing to do with Marv, even though he was endlessly curious about them. Iris would hiss and hide, while Gabby would glare and stubbornly refuse to acknowledge his existence. We watched these interactions sadly, and joked that we needed to get Marv a pet, because he had so much love to give. We weren’t really serious, but soon after we’d moved in we were at the same pet store where Marv had been adopted, and found another group of rescue kitties looking for homes. Emma was tiny, squirmy and precocious. She was mostly white with very soft medium-length fur, and the longest gray tail you’ve ever seen. A matching gray splotch covered one side of her face and one ear, giving her a Veronica Lake mystique. There was nothing in particular about her that suggested she’d be a good companion for our sweet boy, but it just felt right, and as soon as we brought her home he was in love.

Marv and Emma adored each other instantly. They would snuggle for hours, Marv meticulously grooming her, sometimes placing one of his gigantic paws on top of her head to keep her from squirming. He’d use the same move when she became too rough while they were playing, keeping her at bay with a paw on her forehead while she batted at him in vain.

He was so patient with her, and no matter how many times she attacked him with her kittenish ferocity, he never used his size to put her in her place. Instead, he patiently bore her cuffs and bites, then pinned her down for a good grooming when she became too much. His patience was boundless, and she adored him right back in her way, when she wasn’t tormenting him. She was never far away from her big brother and best friend. She’d seek him out for snuggles when she was sleepy, and was always ready for a game of chase.

Even our friends noticed and commented on their obvious love for one another, and we would happily share anecdote after anecdote, all of which were eventually shortened into two simple statements of fact: Marv loves, and, we can all learn a thing or two from Marv.
Over the years Marv’s sweet temperament never changed. We slowly learned the things that he loved and tried to give them to him.

He had a particular fondness for plush, fleecy blankets, and would blissfully knead them with his paws, amazed by the texture. He loved pillows, and sleeping where he could look out the windows. He loved being with people. He loved playing with a knotted length of rope, which he’d drag around the house for hours, meowing happily to himself. Whenever we’d speak to him, we had a special way of saying his name, and he’d always reply with his little trilling prrrrrtt? When we wanted kisses, we just had to lean forward and make a kissy noise, and he would bump noses with us, blinking a happy, slow blink, his whiskers pointed forward, as if he was puckering up himself.

Sean and I eventually married, and when we decided to move cross country, Marv and Emma came with us. My two older girls we left in the loving care of friends, as we were not sure they could handle the stress of the fourteen-hour trip between Alaska and New York.

Marv loved the new, wide windows in our brownstone apartment, and the abundance of birds and squirrels that lived in the proliferation of trees and vines in our landlady’s back yard. Both cats had a little trouble adjusting to the new doorbell, and would run and hide whenever it rang, but they usually came out just as quickly.

Marv continued to charm visitors with his sweet, curious demeanor, in contrast to Emma’s prima-donna antics. When he decided he liked someone, he would touch them gently on the arm or leg before settling himself into a cozy ball on their lap.

As expressive as Marv was with his love and affection, he was just like other cats in how well he hid his pain. As time passed, he started to become less patient with Emma. He still would never lash out at her, but sometimes when she flopped down next to him to snuggle he would voice his displeasure with a low growl before stalking off to sleep in a different location. He also didn’t seem to enjoy being picked up as much, and would struggle uncomfortably if we lifted him up a certain way. He started sleeping by our heads at night, which was unusual. He had always put us to bed, staying with us for a half hour or so until we were settled, and then he would go out to the living room or the cat tree to spend the rest of the night. We were puzzled by this new behavior, but charmed to have him reach out during the night periodically to touch first my cheek, then Sean’s, as if to make sure we were still there.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was likely when his illness began. The subtle change in mood was eventually joined by a cough that wouldn’t go away, and then a chronically runny nose, and decreased appetite. We had a house-call vet come by, and she drew blood for testing. Her tech said we could help soothe him through the process by talking and distracting him, but warned me not to get too close in case he lashed out. But because it was Marv, I never worried. I put my face very close to his and whispered to him that it would be over soon, kissing his nose, and he looked back into my eyes with love. By the time we found out what was wrong, that a fast-growing tumor had invaded his digestive tract, his kidneys were failing and he didn’t have long at all.

His last few months went far too quickly. He patiently tolerated the twice-daily regimen of multiple pills: anti-inflammatories, anti-nausea meds and an appetite stimulant. He didn’t like them, and he’d struggle a bit, but he never bit or scratched or even hid from me. He got his favorite food, Fancy Feast, because that was the only thing he seemed to really enjoy eating. I followed him around relentlessly with his bowl, encouraging him to take a few small bites, and he would oblige me, just because I asked. He even tolerated the subcutaneous fluids I had to administer every other day, only flinching a little when the needle went into the soft, loose skin between his shoulder-blades. He never swiped or hissed at me or Sean, he just patiently waited until it was over, and then he would climb into his soft bed to sleep. He spent less time on our laps; I think it was uncomfortable for him, but he loved that we turned our coffee table into a cozy space for him with his favorite soft blanket and bed and he spent most of his days there, when he wasn’t sleeping by my legs in the chair where I worked.

We knew it was getting close to time to say goodbye when he started hiding more. He made himself a nest in the plastic bags beneath the kitchen sink, a place that had been verboten before. Now, we couldn’t deny him anything, but we agonized over if and when we should put him to sleep. We found a checklist online with scales to help assess his quality of life, but how do you measure something so subjective? He still seemed happy, he still loved having us around. He still even tolerated Emma’s baths, when he was feeling up to it. Then one day he started missing the litter box, so I put puppy training pads around the box to catch his accidents. A few days later, blood started showing up in his urine. We struggled so much with the decision to let him go. We were unable to bear the thought of losing him, but also unable to bear the thought of him going through any more needless suffering.

When the vet came over that last night, Marv was lying on my chest, his arms stretched up to my neck, purring and full of love. He’d been taking turns sitting on each of our laps that afternoon. We wanted to spend as much time with him as we could before we had to let him go. The vet came in and started explaining the process, sitting next to me on the couch as she did so. Marv immediately got up from my lap and went to sit on hers, happy that another person was there to love. It was as if he knew she was there to help him. A few minutes of preparation and a few last kisses goodbye, and we let him go, holding his boxing glove paws in our own hands. It really did look like he was sleeping as his body relaxed and he closed his eyes for the last time, and that’s how we said goodbye to Marv.

We could all learn a thing or two from Marv.

Marv loved.

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