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Meet Murdock, the Marvelous

Murdock the Marvelous is an orange tabby like no other. The one-time stray kitten with a mountain of medical issues is now a superhero, a bona fide celebrity cat with hundreds of thousands of fans. Most importantly, he’s a beloved family pet.

Despite his popularity, the laid-back cat from Santa Rosa takes it all in stride. He’s as happy sitting on a sunny windowsill at home as he is posing for selfies with adoring cat lovers who line up to meet him at cat shows and charity events.

When he was brought to the Humane Society of Sonoma County as a tiny kitten, scraggly and with eyes that had ruptured from a chronic infection, no one knew if Murdock would survive.

“He was a sick little guy,” said Anna Hill, a registered veterinary technician who helped treat Murdock when he arrived at the Santa Rosa shelter. “He had a hard start at life. Life can be hard, but it gets better.”

Even though he’s blind, confident Murdock — named for Marvel Comics’ blind Daredevil superhero Matt Murdock — does everything cats with vision can do, including leaping on furniture. “He doesn’t even realize he’s blind. He can catch flies. He jumps up and eats one better than cats with eyes,” Hill said. “He’s really graceful and hardly ever runs into things.

“I don’t think he’s ever been able to see. It’s normal to him and I think that’s why he’s been able to adapt. He’s a good boy.”

His impressive abilities have earned Murdock, now 7, the professional moniker “Murdock the Marvelous, the Magical Blind Cat.” That’s how he’s known to more than 300,000 followers on Facebook, who watch online for his every move.

He also has fans who play Nom Cat, a mobile video game, where there’s a pixel art version of Murdock that players can purchase to feed an endless wave of fish in the challenging Lucky Kat Studios release.

Still other fans wear T-shirts emblazoned with a cute Murdock likeness with a heart-shaped nose and a sweet smile; 100 were sold after a friend of Hill’s created the design.

Hill, who’s in her 40s, never intended for Murdock to become a star. She didn’t even plan to adopt him. Because he needed round-the-clock care initially, she fostered and bottle-fed Murdock at her home, where her bathroom is often outfitted with IVs and other medical equipment to provide care to particularly frail animals.

Murdock was 2 weeks old when he arrived at the Humane Society. Even through illnesses and recoveries from his surgeries, he was sweet and affectionate. He and Hill developed a bond from the start. Within a month, Hill knew he’d be a permanent member of her family.

“He has the best personality,” she said. “I’ve never had a cat like him. He’s friendly and the funniest sweet little boy.” From the start, Murdock had a will to survive. “Ever since he was a kitten he’s been content. He’s a happy cat. He’s a fighter.”

Hill opened a Facebook page in the fall of 2013 for friends and relatives to follow Murdock’s progress. When she posted a “casual picture” of her son, Waylon, then a toddler, in a Superman costume on the porch with Murdock in a matching outfit, cat lovers everywhere took notice. The Huffington Post shared the photo, starting off a maelstrom of Murdock mania. Hill and Murdock also appeared in a video posted by the Huffington Post, streamed from the Humane Society in Santa Rosa.

The cat’s Facebook page exploded with fans across the country, posting comments and clicking “loves” and “likes” of approval every time Hill shared a new photo or video of Murdock, often with his best friend, Waylon, now 10.

“I’m not even a professional photographer. These are photos from my iPhone,” Hill said.

Murdock can’t wait to be able to do more fundraisers and meet & greets! He loves seeing all of his friends and misses them.

Posted by Murdock The Marvelous onTuesday, December 29, 2020

Images of Murdock smiling or yawning, outstretched on his back, playing with Waylon, or posing with other family pets often were accompanied by catchy phrases or affirmations like “Broken crayons still color” and “Life is a one-time offer. Use it well.”

The Facebook fame helped bring numerous people to fundraising events for Sonoma County nonprofits assisting animals, including the Humane Society, Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County and Santa Rosa-based Compassion without Borders, a rescue program Hill works with regularly.

“All of a sudden there were lines of people waiting to meet him,” she said. “A lot of people gave money and donations.”

Additionally, staff from the veterinary technician program at Santa Rosa Junior College and schools for the blind reached out and shared Murdock’s inspiring story with students.

Although Hill has slowed down on her Facebook posts and Murdock has mostly retired from the spotlight, she still takes him to local events that support animal welfare. While the coronavirus pandemic has halted public events, it’s provided Hill with much-needed time to start updating Murdock’s Facebook page. “I feel bad that he’s sort of disappeared,” she said.

Murdock isn’t the only special-needs pet in Hill’s household. Waylon, Hill and her husband, R.W. Hessler, have three other blind or visually impaired cats. Hill fosters sick animals through her job with the Humane Society, and takes in rescue animals needing extra care and attention. Waylon is especially kind to all animals, his mother said, with an understanding of their unique circumstances and attributes.

Wendy Welling, executive director of the Humane Society of Sonoma County, credits Hill with saving numerous animals. Hill, she said in an email, “is amazing. She has rescued a number of blind kitties as well as senior chihuahuas. (She) has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve met, and her son has definitely inherited that from her.”

Hill is grateful Murdock inspires people. “All animals deserve a chance,” she said. “(Special-needs animals) make fantastic pets. You don’t have to be a vet tech or a crazy animal lady. I love special-needs animals. I feel like they’re the ones who need a home.”

She’s thankful a cat litter company saw the value and beauty in Murdock and twice included him in a national online “Give Litter” charity campaign that donated a total of 50,000 pounds of cat litter between four animal shelters.

World’s Best Cat Litter selected Murdock and three other famous cats that were once strays or shelter cats, including megastar Lil Bub, a big-eyed cat with dwarfism and a protruding tongue who had about 3 million online fans before her death in 2019.

The campaign highlighted the importance of supporting shelter cats and adopting felines from shelters. Through Hill’s dedicated campaigning and Murdock’s loyal fan base, Murdock won first place his second year in the voting competition.

He placed fourth his first year, in 2014, earning 5,000 pounds of cat litter for the local Humane Society. By the following year when Murdock placed first, World’s Best Cat Litter had chosen the partnering shelters, with Murdock earning 20,000 pounds of cat litter for a shelter in Brooklyn, New York, known for caring for animals with difficult medical cases.

Hill appreciates everyone who voted for Murdock — and all those who continue to care about him.

At the height of Murdock’s popularity, Hill shared a post office box address with his fans. She picked up stacks of mail addressed to the cat: cards and letters expressing love and admiration for overcoming his challenges, plus stories and photos of beloved pets across the country. People painted portraits of Murdock and brought toys and other gifts to him at public appearances. One woman even made a Daredevil-themed quilt for him.

“There are hard-core cat fans. They’re out there,” Hill said. “I still think it’s strange, but I get it. I love cats, too. Once they see (Murdock) in real life, they really like him.”

She’s encouraged that people look beyond the fact Murdock has no eyes. Instead, they see a cat who’s overcome setbacks, is thriving and living a happy life in a loving home.

As a longtime vet tech and lifelong animal lover, Hill isn’t surprised by the positive response Murdock gets online and in person. She’s discovered that for every neglected or abused animal, or special-needs animal awaiting adoption, there are countless people ready to help them. “There are more good people than bad people, for sure,” she said. “The good outweighs the bad a lot.”

For Hill and her family, Murdock is more than a celebrity cat. He’s a beloved companion who just happens to help homeless pets by raising awareness and funds for their care.

Plus, Hill said, “He’s definitely the coolest cat we have.”

Sonoma County kitties to adopt

Sushi is a 9-year-old tortoiseshell cat who’s friendly and affectionate but suffers from kidney disease. She’s available from the Humane Society’s Santa Rosa shelter. (Humane Society of Sonoma County)
Sushi is a 9-year-old tortoiseshell cat who’s friendly and affectionate but suffers from kidney disease. She’s available from the Humane Society’s Santa Rosa shelter. (Humane Society of Sonoma County)

For those considering adopting a cat through the Humane Society of Sonoma County, registered veterinary technician Anna Hill suggests two who’ve touched her heart. Both are looking for a loving home:

Sushi is a 9-year-old tortie with kidney disease. She’s very friendly and affectionate and loves to be around people. Sushi has a loud purr and loves being petted. She’s available at the Santa Rosa shelter.

Brigitte is a 2-year-old brown tabby and is at the Humane Society’s Healdsburg shelter. (Humane Society of Sonoma County)
Brigitte is a 2-year-old brown tabby and is at the Humane Society’s Healdsburg shelter. (Humane Society of Sonoma County)

Brigitte is a 2-year-old brown tabby who’s shy with new people but is very sweet, and also sassy. She loves purring but prefers to initiate affection. She enjoys company, but is content hanging out by herself, too. Brigitte is available at the Healdsburg shelter.

For more information, call the Santa Rosa shelter at 707-542-0882 or the Healdsburg shelter at 707-431-3386 or visit humanesocietysoco.org.

More Murdock

To learn more about Murdock or watch his videos, visit his Facebook page or online merchandise shop.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lil Bub was a female cat. This story has been updated to correct her gender.

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