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A Tribute To Marco
April 1, 2005 - June 1, 2006
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We are sad to report the passing of our furry friend, Marco. He and his brother, Polo came to us over Memorial Weekend 2005 after being rescued from a neighbor's attic. The two of them were constant pals, even sleeping together on the same shelf much of the time. The only time they spent apart was the occasional quick (and you knew this was coming...) cat nap.

I had never raised a kitten before, let alone two of them -- and brothers to boot. I have to say it's been quite the experience: they have been a constant source of entertainment. They went everywhere together (in the house, that is; we've kept them indoors), played constantly, and took turns leading each other into all manner of mischief.

When they were still very small, one of their favorite places to nap was on the nearest lap -- both of them at the same time, which became a challenge as they grew. Over time, they stopped trying to get on our laps at the same time, but Marco continued to be our resident lap kitty even once he was full grown (he decided that my lap was his favorite spot during all our favorite TV shows).

But in February we discovered that Marco suffered from Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). The exact cause of this disease is unknown (though there is strong evidence that the cause is genetic), and it can appear at almost any age, as well as in varying degrees. The median survival of cats with symptomatic HCM is roughly two years, but depending upon the severity of the symptoms, survival can be anywhere from 3 months to many years.

We discovered Marco's problem when we noticed that his breathing was somewhat labored. A trip to the vet confirmed that this was more than what we had initially suspected, which was a case of feline asthma. Our vet, Dr. Paul Ghumman at the Alta View Animal Hospital informed us that Marco may actually have been in the early stages of heart failure when we brought him in (apparently cats are indeed sturdy beasts, and a little thing like heart failure isn't necessarily all that big a deal!). Since Marco was very young at this point, Dr. Ghumman had high hopes for his recovery and relatively long survival (as HCM patients go), and worked closely with us to treat Marco's symptoms and try to extend his life. However, the disease hit Marco harder than any of us initially realized. Despite daily medication, additional booster shots of the diuretic Lasix® (to reduce the fluid in his lungs brought on by the inefficiency of his heart), and almost constant attention from us and those around him, Marco lost his fight to this disease on June 1, 2006.

If you're not a pet owner -- or perhaps even if you are -- you may think this little memorial to Marco is a bit "much" for one small kitty. However, we became more attached to this little guy (and his brother, who was still trying to figure out where Marco went a week later) than we ever would have thought possible.

It was so sad to watch his struggle over the last several months. In the early stages, Marco received daily doses of both the diuretic and a heart medication. (By the way, we had great success with Pill Pockets when we needed to give Marco his medicine.) With the medication, he was ok most of the time. But then from time to time he would reach points where his chest would heave just to allow him to breathe, and a trip to Dr. Ghumman's office was needed for a booster shot of the diuretic. But even when he was struggling, he would still curl up on your lap, purring loudly (between gasps) and want to be scratched behind the ears. The very act of purring made his breathing worse, but he refused to stop.

As the disease progressed over weeks and months, the need for diuretic shots became more frequent, which Dr. Ghumman told us would eventually lead to other problems. And on one such visit, it was discovered that he not only had fluid in the lungs, but also in the chest cavity. Not good.

During this period, his brother would chase him around the house, and sometimes it would even be Marco chasing Polo. But Marco would get winded pretty quickly, and he gradually lost the energy to play with his brother altogether. So he would sit on one of the bar stools we had in the dining room and watch Polo race from the dining room to the living room, up the stairs and down again, and all around. You could see the intensity on Marco's face, and an eagerness in his eyes that said, "I'm going to go get him!"... but he just no longer had the energy to join in.

In the last few weeks, he began to lose weight. And on the morning that he passed, he reached the point of gasping for air in open-mouthed heaves. That lasted less than an hour, and then he was gone.

Our compassion for Marco is, in part, because of the helplessness we felt in trying to get him through all of this. Unlike friends and family members that get ill, little Marco couldn't tell us what was wrong or what he thought we should do to help him feel better. He would just continue to purr relentlessly when you paid attention to him at all -- he even purred whenever Dr. Ghumman examined, poked and prodded him! It is that spirit, that unimaginably heartwarming affection, that causes us to dedicate this web page to a once-ferile kitten named Marco.

We want to express our immeasurable gratitude to Dr. Ghumman (or "Dr. Paul", as his employees call him) for his expert care, sincere compasion for Marco's condition, and his patience with us -- we were calling him several times a day for advice near the end (we no doubt drove the poor doctor crazy at times).

We will miss this little furball more than most people can imagine. And poor Polo wandered the house (meowing incessantly) looking for his brother for more than a week after Marco's departure. It's amazing to me just how much of an impact a pet (and, especially, the loss of a pet) can have on a household.

Update: The world is an amazing place, and you just never know what might happen. A month or so after Marco passed away, we took a trip to the Santa Clara County Humane Society. We decided that Polo really needed a companion, and we figured the distraction wouldn't be too bad for us either. So, after looking at dozens of cats and considering a few very seriously, we came home with a cute little 8-week old kitten that we named Leo. (There is, of course, a story behind the name. "Leo" is a combination of "Marco" -- for the obvious reason that he is virtually Marco's twin -- and "Leon", which was the Tuxedo cat with the Evenrude purr that my wife owned when I met her. Leo is so named because he looks like Marco and purrs like only Leon could!)

Our new addition has an uncanny resemblance to Marco. We didn't set out to find a Marco-lookalike, but we certainly ended up with one. And Polo and Leo became fast friends, so he's filling in well in that area as well.

As if that's not enough, I figured it would be just about impossible to find a cat that enjoyed laps as much as Marco. Not so. Leo has taken over Marco's responsibilities as my TV companion with gusto!

It's uncanny, really. And almost a bit scary. Leo looks and acts so much like Marco that it makes you start to wonder about reincarnation. Well, whether there's truly any of Marco in Leo, there is no doubt that Leo has filled in as our lap warmer and Polo's playmate in style.

And I suspect that Marco is sitting on a bar stool somewhere, watching all the action. :-)

Marco Leo

Update Two (2018): As luck would have it, we also had to say goodbye to Leo... long before we expected to do so. On Thursday, March 15, 2018, Leo succumbed to what we believe to have been intestinal cancer. His battle was hard fought, and he exhibited a lot of the same spirit that Marco did during his illness. He went from being a 17 pounder to just 8 pounds, all the while still loving to be on the nearest lap, especially if you were watching TV. We still wonder if perhaps Leo not only looked like Marco, but had a bit of Marco in him somehow. (Silly notion perhaps, but you still wonder.)

Polo is still going strong, and is gradually getting used to being an only cat. Even a month after Leo was gone, Polo would occasionally look for him by going room to room and checking to see if Leo was there.

But in some ways, Polo is actually coming out of his shell a bit since Leo's passing. Although they got along most of the time, Leo used to sometimes get quite jealous of Polo, and would bite him in the neck and just hold on for an extended period. He never seemed to actually hurt Polo, but he was definitely stating his displeasure... this despite the fact that Polo was always much less demanding of our attention than Leo.

However, now that Polo is the lone cat in the house, he's starting to express himself more, and he's demanding more of our attention than he used to. I guess in the past he just didn't feel it was worth it to compete for our attention. But now he wants to play, likes being brushed more than ever, and will even just sit on the couch with us and let us pet him (he's still not a lap cat, but he never has been).

So we're just going to be a one cat family for a while. Polo was originally happy to welcome Leo initially, but he's definitely happy at the moment, so we're going to run with that. If we knew we could find a second cat that Polo would truly get along with, we'd almost certainly bring that cat home, but since we can't guarantee that compatibiity, we'll let Polo run the household for a while. (And he does indeed... because, as all cat owners know, dogs have owners but cats have staff!)

With any luck, we'll have Polo around for quite a few years yet. Fingers crossed.


Last updated on Tuesday January 19, 2021 at 3:39 PM CST.