Book Review and Farewell to Homer, the Blind WonderCat

homer's odyssey
Homer’s Odyssey

If we share our lives with animals and truly relish our relationships with them, we realize that, for all we feel we have to teach our animal companions, they also have their lessons for us. And while our lessons are usually of a practical nature—this is where you eat, this is where you sleep—and often disciplinary—don’t pee on the rug, get out of my cereal bowl—the lessons they have for us tend to be much deeper than that.

I’m sure Gwen Cooper would have learned a few “lessons about love and life” eventually, but how much more fun to learn them from a fearless and fun black kitten who happened to be blind?

Homer came into Gwen’s life when her veterinarian called her about the possibility of adopting a tiny abandoned kitten who’d lost not only his sight but his eyes to an infection. Gwen had her doubts, many having nothing to do with his condition—income, living situation, two cats already—but agreed to meet the kitten nonetheless. Despite the little x-shaped stitches over his eyes and the cone of shame he had to wear to keep him from pulling on the stitches she immediately bonded with the little guy and lost all doubt of the fact that she really would take him home. Her epiphany about Homer’s openness and joy despite his difficult life so far “established the standard” by which she would judge all her relationships in the years to come.

And immediately the lessons began as Homer, quite the normal kitten despite the fact he couldn’t see, fearlessly explored his surroundings and deeply bonded first with Gwen, then with his fur sisters, Scarlett and Vashti. Watching him wrestle with the girls, unaware of how much bigger they were, watching him leap off of whatever he’d managed to climb up on, literally taking a “leap of faith” not knowing where or how he’d land, Gwen could see he didn’t think of himself as a tiny scrap of a kitten nor as in any way disabled, he thought of himself as a big cat. Though it was presumed that his blindness would make him “hesitant and less independent than a typical cat”, Gwen wrote, “…because Homer was unable to see the hazards in the world around him, he lived in blissful unawareness of their existence…”

When, after a frightening incident with a plastic bag, Gwen began discouraging Homer from nearly all exploration because she’d made a pledge to herself, her veterinarian and the world that she would make the world safe for Homer, she saw him becoming anxious and frustrated. She knew the fear was hers and not Homer’s, and he might be safe but at the cost of his high spirits. It was the first time she’d ever thought about shaping anothers’ life than her own, and in turn Homer was shaping her life. Gwen let go of the fearfulness and Homer continued on with his discoveries as she watched in wonder, and, oh, the stories they could tell. Meeting each day with joy and a new destination around the apartment, making friends with all the people he met, even being stranded in her apartment near the World Trade Center for days after 9/11 and famously saving Gwen’s life by chasing off an intruder, Homer laughed at the predictions of his timid personality. It was when the magic happened, when “the things that happened around him happened just because he was there”, that she knew Homer was even more than a bravely surviving blind kitten.

Recently  it’s not so uncommon for cats—or any pets—with missing limbs or disabilities to be adopted, in fact we celebrate the knowledge they are just as able-bodied in love as any other pet, and that’s what we cherish about them, not their physical bodies. But in the late 90s, cats like Homer were usually not even given a chance at life let alone offered for adoption and the path of living with them and caring for them was largely untraveled. Gwen had her own uncharted course for living with Homer, and in her own way was blind to what he might need, but together they taught each other. When Gwen published this book in 2009 she and Homer opened up a whole new world of possibilities for blind cats especially, and all pets with disabilities took literal and metaphorical steps toward being considered “adoptable” as she describes in loving detail all the antics of a confident, imaginative and very loyal cat. The story itself has been translated into 15 different languages and reached millions of people all around the world.

I have to confess, I have just finally read Homer’s Odyssey, not because it wasn’t of interest to me but between time and vision issues reading for extended periods of time is often difficult. I usually listen to audio books, especially now that more and more selections are available on audio, but I had wanted to read about Homer on paper, off in the woods, perhaps. I had followed Gwen’s travels when the book was first released and all the wonderful things she’s done and animals she’s helped to save in the name of Homer the past few years, and read so many other reviews that I felt entirely familiar with the book. I’ve also followed her travels with her new book, and also Homer’s failing health in the past few months, knowing how hard it must be each time to leave him, and to stay away knowing how much he needed her. When I learned last week that he had passed, I decided it was time to really read his story, bought the unabridged audio book narrated by Renee Raudman, and spent a happy ten hours listening to this odyssey of a cat named Homer.

Each chapter begins with a signature quote from the Greek poet Homer’s original Odyssey, so I knew what I was getting into with each chapter. I so enjoyed her lovingly detailed descriptions of every little ingenious thing Homer did as a kitten, and the pranks and mischief he created later—it was like spending time with another person who’s loved cats all her life, telling and listening to stories. Enjoying the telling of my own rescue stories and those of others, I really couldn’t wait to hear the whole thing from beginning to end, the tiny kitten, the decision to help him, the adoption and his very happy ending. And having experienced a few amazing feline rescues and recoveries and known a few amazing cats in my life I could see the pattern of their relationship from the very first page and anticipated the magic as this cat changed her life and touched the lives of others.

I was in tears both happy and sad through most of the book, but it was her emotional and detailed experience of the morning of September 11, 2001, living and working within blocks of the World Trade Center, escaping without knowing what was happening, having to leave her cats and trying all she could to get back to them, then finally walking the deserted and debris-strewn streets past Ground Zero and arriving at her building, and into her apartment that kept me literally on the edge of my seat. Gwen shares a good bit of her daily personal life in the story of Homer as well and by this point, in her manner of storytelling like a familiar friend, I felt I knew them and was fully invested in their welfare.

Gwen and Homer, courtesy the website.
Gwen and Homer, courtesy the website.

The Homer’s Heroes Fund

Gwen has been donating 10% of the book’s royalties to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled animals. To honor Homer’s legacy Gwen is creating the Homer’s Heroes Fund through with each year she will make a donation in Homer’s name to a shelter or rescue group that does outstanding work with “special needs” animals.

Gwen also has a new book, Love Saves the Day, due out in paperback October 22. For every copy of the paperback pre-ordered or bought in-store or online between now and Sunday, October 27, Gwen will donate 100% of her royalties to a shelter through the Homer’s Heroes Fund.

The more we love, the deeper the roots of the pain when we lose the source of our love, and in losing Homer a portion of Gwen’s own life and her own self go with him as he has left a part of himself with her. On the loss of Homer, another handsome house panther, we send our most loving thoughts and lots of healing purrs from our family of black cats.

Visit her website to read more about the books and to find links to her Facebook pages for the books and for Homer.

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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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