Community rallies to set cat on road to recovery

Marvin the cat in a carrier with a person lying on the floor beside it with a cat on her back
Marvin was alone, underweight, and in very bad shape — but with help, he’s getting better and finding the “spice” of life once again.
By Sarah Thornton

Marvin is not what you’d call a snuggly lap cat. In fact, he’d much rather stay in his high-up hidey-holes and observe any visiting humans from a healthy distance, thank you very much. And he’s not afraid to let you know if he thinks you’re getting too close. But Marvin’s grumbles and hisses, as much as another cat’s purrs, are still something to celebrate. They mean he’s feeling well enough to be a little spicy, which wasn’t always the case.

The gray-and-white tabby had originally been spotted around a Milwaukee neighborhood by several people, and he didn’t look well. He’d be huddled up next to a car or tucked under a dumpster — a skinny, scraggly little silhouette with a face tight from discomfort. No one could get near him, but people left food for him and posted on the neighborhood Facebook group looking for his people or someone who could catch him.

[Rock star volunteer helps hundreds of cats]

Whether he knew it or not, Marvin had picked a good community. He was quickly running out of energy, but everyone was keeping an eye out for him, reporting sightings and organizing to get him help. Finally, a group was able to usher him into a carrier right as local Best Friends staff member and dedicated cat foster person Emilie Rackovan pulled up in response to a post about the Marvin sighting. He was in even worse condition than anyone could have imagined, but things were finally about to start turning around.

That’s one of the most important ways communities across the country are achieving no-kill — by working together to save pets who need extra time or care.

Emergency care for a cat in need

As soon as Marvin was loaded up in Emilie’s car — the neighbors who had caught him agreed she was just the person to help the fragile feline recover — she rushed him directly to an emergency vet. He was dirty, skinny, anemic, and hypothermic, and his face was crusted from a severe upper respiratory infection.

Veterinarians got him into an oxygen chamber and warmed him up while they started running a series of tests to figure out how best to help him. That was when they discovered he was positive for feline leukemia virus (FeLV), a contagious virus that weakens cats’ immune systems and makes them more susceptible to other illnesses and secondary infections.

“I was not majorly optimistic,” Emilie admits. “When they’re that sick and they also are immunocompromised … I wanted to give him a couple of nights to see if he could possibly recover. But honestly, more than anything, I kind of thought I was taking him home to give him a safe place to pass on.”

That didn’t mean she wasn’t about to do her best to bring Marvin back from the brink. At home, Emilie got him set up in a safe, warm spot with a humidifier going to help him breathe easier. He needed antibiotics for his upper respiratory infection, nebulizer treatments to help clear his sinuses, subcutaneous fluids to rehydrate, and lots and lots of rest with good, quality food in his belly.

His mouth, Emilie says, was a mess. There were painful lesions on his tongue from calicivirus, one of the upper respiratory illnesses he was fighting, and his teeth and gums were in bad shape. But that didn’t stop him from chowing down. Whether Emilie syringe-fed him or left a plate of wet food out for him, Marvin didn’t miss a single lick of it. “I think a lot of (his condition) was not having food,” Emilie explains. “How is your body supposed to recover when you don’t have access to food?”

[Feeding Your Cat]

As Marvin got more and more food in his belly, and Emilie gave him his quiet space to recover, he started looking better. He gained weight and within a week was strong enough for a bath — surely a relief for both parties, as Marvin’s caked fur came clean and the smell that had clung to him washed down the drain.

And with his body feeling better every day, Marvin’s spicy personality started coming through. He was not the biggest fan of people in his space, and when he found his hiss, he let Emilie know it. He’d likely lived his whole life outside and wasn’t socialized to people. But while, normally, after he’d recovered and been neutered, he could have been returned to where he’d been found to live his life the way he was used to, Marvin’s FeLV diagnosis meant this wasn’t an option.

He needed somewhere safe to go where he’d have the care he needed to stay healthy and the time to warm up to the humans around him at his own pace. Of course, Emilie knew just the place: At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, there’s an area specially designed for cats with FeLV, where Marvin was welcomed with open arms (metaphorically, of course, because literally would have made him uncomfortable).

A well-deserved rest, safe and sound

Hitching a ride with Emilie’s friend, Madison, Marvin made his way from Milwaukee to the Sanctuary in southern Utah in style — and without all the stress and chaos of airports and noisy planes. He was far and away healthier than he had been for that first important car ride to the emergency vet, but the road to recovery was longer still.

At the Sanctuary, veterinary staff checked him out and got him scheduled for dental surgery; he needed to have some teeth pulled, and a prescription for pain meds helped as his body healed.

Caregivers made sure Marvin’s introduction to his new home-between-homes went as smoothly as possible, first setting him up in a tower in his new room so he and his roommates could get to know one another safely. One friendly feline, Scooby, took over as the official welcome wagon, instantly taking a liking to the shy newcomer. And when Marvin took his first steps out of his tower into the room, Scooby was right there with him.

Marvin found a good spot to hide and settled in — often with his new feline friend cuddled up on top of or next to him — and caregivers let him have his space as he got comfortable, only disturbing his rest for meals and medications.

And, slowly, Marvin is starting to come around to the people he sees every day. Visitors and volunteers are encouraged to speak softly to him, and caregivers have started sitting with him while he eats.

He gets to enjoy the sun and breeze while lounging in the shared catio and has the opportunity to spend time in an outdoor playpen, where he can roll in the sand and gnaw on cat-safe plants. He spends time with the other cats in his room, enjoys his meals, and has a warm place to sleep at night.

“I do think, in a way, he was asking for help,” Emilie says. “Because a lot of cats will just go away and let themselves die. But Marvin came out into public, which is the opposite of what you usually see.” And while he’s still a little grumbly about all the people around him, there’s a softness creeping into Marvin’s hisses these days. Now, Marvin’s human friends are working on matching him with a home where he can come out of his shell in his own time.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

You can help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

Saving lives around the country

Together, we're creating compassionate no-kill communities nationwide for pets and the people who care for them.

Let’s be friends! 

Connect with us on social media to stay in the loop about the lifesaving progress we’re making together.  

Facebook logo    Instagram logo    icon