By Michiko Manalang
Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim
Upon entering Marc Nelson’s home, the first thing you’ll hear is a light tinkling sound—that’s Nala. Currently seven months old, she’s running around, trying to get outside while hoping to make sense of the strange lady and photographer she’s never seen before.
“I found her on the beach,” says Marc, while dangling a little feathery toy in front of the gray cat. Marc Nelson, television host, model, Amazing Race Asia contestant, and much more, confesses that he likely loves turtles more than anyone you know, and has two cats that he’s rescued and is currently madly in love with.
“Well, to be honest, I always considered myself a dog person,” he laughs when asked about it, “though I’ve always loved animals. Always. I had all sorts of pets growing up, [though I was] traveling and moving from place to place.”
This love of animals would naturally progress to his ambassadorial work for the World Wildlife Foundation, and his constant search for knowledge on how to help our fellow Earthlings. But before he can go on about himself, he pauses and grins. “We both know you’re not here for me. You’re here for my cat.”
Come on, she’s adorable—and Marc kicked off the interview with a quandary, as he watched Nala climb a chair, asking, “I don’t know why cats always want to get to the highest possible ledge in any given place. What is that about?!”
We tell him that perhaps it is an instinct, from when cats of old were messing around in trees.
“That makes sense!” he says. And we proceed to the heart of the interview.
Animal Scene (AS): Tell us about how you found her.
Marc: Well, you see, I was at the beach… I went over to visit my neighbors and they told me, ‘Our dog’s just killed some kittens down on the beach,’ and I thought, ‘Oh no,’ and got myself down there as quick as I could. I thought it was too late, because there were just two dead kittens, and no mother cat in sight; apparently, she’d been gone for a long time and it didn’t look like she was coming back. Then it was getting dark, and if this one (he pauses to pick Nala up) hadn’t given the littlest mew, I’d have left. She was so small, I could pick her up with one hand. And nights on the beach are cold. I knew if I didn’t take her, she’d either freeze or starve to death, or else another dog would find her. I couldn’t risk that.
AS: And you went straight into Dad Mode?
Marc: Absolutely. I called everyone I knew who’d taken in or fostered a kitten, including my best friend Joey (Mead King), who is basically a crazy cat lady. But that night I just made sure she was warm, then as soon as I could, I bought everything they said I needed to have. And you’re right, I don’t have kids, but—God, this is going to sound so sappy—these cats are my kids, you know? Nala is like my daughter. I can’t imagine coming home anymore and not hearing her little bell when she runs to the door.
It’s hard to explain to other people—people who don’t have pets or don’t see past the cute factor. These guys have individual personalities and they’re so worth getting to know. Like, Nala likes to watch TV, particularly Game of Thrones. Or anything with a good dragon in it. And then my other cat…
AS: Also a rescue?
Marc: Oh yeah. Jasper’s mother was a stray, maybe, and got hit by a car, I think, three streets away. Then he started hiding in my garage and I made sure that there was food left out for him. Eventually he got into the garden, and… Well, he’s mine now! And he’s a lot more wary of people than Nala is. Nala’s happy to walk up to you and have a sniff; I’m sure you’ve noticed. She’s definitely the alpha. (Note: Jasper used to be “Zoe,” until Marc went to get her spayed and found out that “she” needed to be neutered!)
AS: So you’ve worked with the WWF since 2009. Did you learn about adopting from them, or is it something you’ve always known and done?
Marc: Oh no…I’ve been around people who are very much into adopting. My girlfriend has two cats, and had two rescue dogs… and Joey has like, nine cats? And one rescue dog. And those are just the ones that she’s kept. She’s rescued others and fostered them out. She’s the one we call if we have any questions.
AS: So these two are your first cats?
AS: You’re probably the type whose camera roll is full of cat photos.
Marc: You have no idea! I have photos of Nala at different ages, even. I took some new ones this morning. I’m trying not to be that guy, with a timeline full of cats… Although I will say that you can find her via hashtag on Instagram: #nalathebeachcat.
AS: What’s your favorite part about being a cat dad?
Marc: When I come home. I’m always happy to see her. She sleeps o
n the bed! My girlfriend lives overseas, so really, Nala is my companion. I travel all the time, I’ve always loved traveling, but now that I’ve got this (he pauses again to scratch Nala’s chin) feisty little one, I mostly think about how much I’m going to miss her! She’s brought me so much happiness… and, you know, unconditional love. But sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll find her asleep on my head.
AS: It’s funny, how we get to that point, because you used to consider yourself a dog person!
Marc: I know! I didn’t think I was a cat person at all. Not at all. And I still really, really love dogs, but it [would be] impractical and unfair of me to take in a dog because I travel so much. So as much as I want one, for the dog’s sake, I shouldn’t. Cats are a bit more independent. They can love you but also be on their own. Especially Nala, who doesn’t have the fear of cars yet; she’s actually fairly fearless. Like, she can swim. And she travels really well, she has no problem with the travel crate.
AS: That’s cool, but a little dangerous.
Marc: Exactly. When I take her back down to the beach—I mean, the water is no problem, I got the cat who loves water—but sometimes, the gate is left open to the road. I don’t know how to teach her to be afraid of cars, so I’m very worried about that.
AS: She’s clearly learned to model. (Nala poses, almost as if on cue.)
Marc: Probably because she’s so used to me taking pictures of her all the time!
AS: What’s her diet like?
Marc: Oh, dry food, mostly… It’s supposed to be complete with vitamins, so she gets most of her nutrition from that. Sometimes cooked chicken breast. Anything beyond that, the vet comes to have a look at her.
AS: So your vet makes house calls?
Marc: Yeah. I’ve seen a few different ones but the one I like best so far does home visits. I’ve heard of a great one from my friends, called the Pet Project Vet Clinic [in San Juan], and they’re all real animal lovers, and it’s so well equipped. Even my vet now recommends it, because they’re very compassionate.
AS: So now you’re big on adoption, too.
Marc: Yeah. I donate to PAWS, and so many organizations do like these big events to get their [rescue cats] adopted, and the best thing I’ll ever hear is when they say, ‘We’re out of cats!’ It’s fantastic because so many of these creatures need homes.
AS: And strays are generally not treated well.
Marc: Well, no, but I kind of understand why, because it does cost money to keep a cat or dog safe and healthy. And the mills don’t help the population problem at all—that’s another thing. I’m a big advocate of the spaying and neutering. It’s better for everybody in the long run; everybody wins.
Nala hops onto his shoulder, enjoying the view from a higher, more mobile point than usual. Marc smiles; apparently, she does this often. He struggles to get her to pose in his lap, but despite this, he clearly adores her, and there’s no denying it: there’s nothing like a man and his cat.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2017 issue.