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Friday night we stayed home and read books. The Computer Scientist was trying to finish a library book that was due Saturday. I started A Street Cat Named Bob: and How He Saved My Life by James Bowen. And finished it about an hour or so later.

James Bowen was barely making ends meet as a busker in Covent Garden, recovering from years of homelessness and drug addiction, when he came home one evening to find a ginger tom cat in his apartment building in north London. Bowen nursed the injured cat back to health, dubbed him Bob and delighted in their new friendship. One day Bob followed him onto the bus, settling into his guitar case when Bowen set up to perform. He quickly realized Bob was a draw. People also treated Bowen better when Bob joined him. People who’d ignored or judged him before looked at him differently: “Seeing me with my cat softened me in their eyes. It humanised me . . . . I had been a non-person; I was becoming a person again.”

Bob’s antics – he watches horse races on TV, smacks a menacing dog with a swift paw, rides on Bowen’s shoulders, and teaches himself to use the toilet — are quite entertaining. And the way that caring for Bob brought Bowen new purpose, structure, and love as he put his life back together makes this a heart-warming read. Bowen’s compelling personal story reminds readers of the discrimination and danger street musicians and vendors face daily and the challenges that remain even after a homeless person finds a safe place to live. And of the difference small acts of kindness and community resources (like libraries, where Bowen often used the computers) can make for someone putting his life back together.

I’ve seen the softening effect of our own stray cat on my family these past three years — when someone is upset or stressed, she has a way of relieving the pressure and bringing us into the present moment. Being the object of a pet’s affections is a great way to get out of your own head. Our local paper has covered both our human homeless population and a colony of feral cats downtown. As I read A Street Cat Named Bob I couldn’t help but wonder whether these two communities have something to offer each other.

That might sound silly, but I think one of the strongest points the book makes is that Bowen became more determined to take his life back because he was responsible for Bob. For someone who’d lost touch with his family and whose friends sometimes offered the temptations of his old life, having a pet was an anchor. Bob offered more than companionship — he gave Bowen a reason to be his best self.

For now I don’t have the resources to start a nonprofit “sheltered housing”*/pet shelter. But I wonder if anyone’s every tried it? Leave a comment if you’ve ever heard of an organization helping get both people and animals off the street together.

*Sheltered housing in the UK helps the elderly and “vulnerable” people live independently with support and services to help them stay that way.

 

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