Book of the Month
Book Review~by Michele Gregoire
Homer: The Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat, by Gwen Cooper
It has been five years since I wrote my first book review on the Catholic Stewards of Creation website for the book Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper, so it is fitting that this month I am reviewing her sequel, Homer: The Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat. This new little book covers Homer’s last few years of life – he passed away in August 2013 – and shares details surrounding the publishing of the book, publicity events, the two new kittens (one with three legs) that come to live with Cooper’s family, and finally Homer’s last illness and death. It is a sweet memorial by one of my favorite authors, whose writing style remains as fluid and heartfelt as it was in her first memoir.
This 113 page book is pure Gwen Cooper, written from the soul of this kind and sensitive author. It consists of a foreword and four chapters in which the author fills in some of the details of life with Homer since the 2009 publication of Homer’s Odyssey, and concludes his saga – although he will continue to live on in large part through the rescue work his story has engendered. She shares the stories of losing Vashti and Scarlett, her other two cats, as well as acquiring the two kittens she and her husband now have, and of course ultimately, the loss of Homer. There are plenty of good-byes and sadness in this book, but Gwen Cooper has the ability to bring joy out of sadness and something positive out of pain.
In her Foreword, Cooper tells us that “in writing this book, I’ve gotten to live with Homer again. I’ve gotten to feel his little head pushing hard into my hand as he demanded his daily pettings; to hear the distinctive clip-clip of his feet as he followed me down the hall; and to listen once more to the very specific melodic bird-song that ran beneath his purr. It’s a sound I would instantly know from any other cat’s purr, even if I were blindfolded. The only thing that seems remarkable now is that I’d ever thought I was losing those things. And the only regret I have is that it’s taken me so long to write my way back to them. I’ve spent the last weeks feeling Homer with me – the substance of him, a physical presence – as I haven’t gotten to do in far too long. That’s the gift this book has given to me. What I hope it will give to readers is more Homer, of course, more of the happy times they shared with us and loved in reading the first book, and all the comedy of seeing a little blind housecat – who, once upon a time, nobody else wanted – take the world by storm.” She also wished to bring attention and clarity to the elder care and end-of-life issues that all animal guardians have to face eventually, which she does very effectively.
In her first chapter, Cat Lovers Don’t Read Books, Cooper takes us through the arduous process of getting Homer’s Odyssey published. At that time, only nine years ago, cat memoirs were not a developed genre and publishers she approached were loath to take a chance on it. Fortunately, an agent believed in the book, successfully promoted it, and the work was published. A huge success, it is no wonder Homer’s Odyssey continues to spawn an awareness of cats with disabilities and has greatly publicized the work of rescue organizations that support the cats most likely to be euthanized in shelters – those with disabilities or illnesses. Homer: the Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat as lovingly told by his guardian Gwen Cooper gives an important focus to the need for adopters of cats with disabilities. One realization the author shared in the second chapter, The World’s Cat, was “the deep chord that Homer’s Odyssey would strike in the animal rescue community. Homer represented any number of cats who rescuers would cry themselves to sleep at night thinking about – cats who were sweet and friendly and loving, cats these rescuers worked with every day, and who they knew would make a wonderful companion to anyone lucky enough to adopt them. But, cats (and dogs) who, nevertheless, were consistently passed over for adoption because they were blind, or deaf, or needed extra care for ongoing medical issues, or simply because they had aged out of kitten-hood and were now ‘too old.’” The author shares how an entire community has been created around Homer and of the rescue efforts and successes that have occurred especially for cats with disabilities since the publication of the first memoir. Of course, Cooper herself is the driving force behind all the charitable works and she has nobly taken on the rescue facilitation work.
The third chapter takes the reader through Homer’s illness and death, which was handled with great grace. Cooper consulted with Jackson Galaxy (Cat Daddy), the cat behaviorist, on Homer’s last illness treatment options. He guided her to listen to Homer, to let him live out his last days as he chooses, and to be selfless in caring for him. He tells her she made an unspoken deal with Homer the day she adopted him –in loving him she promised to always take care of him. “Taking care of someone means putting them before you…In this moment, you’re a parent with only one job. You have to listen to Homer, because the only promise to keep is not to wait until it’s his worst day. Let him leave knowing love, not fear, not pain, not the flipside of love… Just because doctors can do something doesn’t mean they should. Just because you did certain things for your other cats doesn’t mean you should do them for this cat. Every cat is different.” After that consultation Cooper and her husband cared for Homer without invasive medical procedures, ensured that he ate well and received whatever he needed to be comfortable and happy, and gave him continuous loving attention. She shares her profound grief reaction to Homer’s passing, and his memorial ceremony. Deep in mourning, she did not report his death until the following month.
The final chapter tells most of the story about the kittens they adopted (after losing Scarlett), that became great friends with Homer and grieved his passing too. She describes how Clayton became ill after Homer passed and they were worried they would lose him, discovering that his illness was a response to his own grief, and this event created a bonding between the author and Clayton that was reminiscent of her love for Homer. She speaks much of the rescue and adoption movement and the significant impact Homer has had on it all, through his Facebook page and Homer’s Heroes, which raises money for rescue efforts after disasters all over the world. Cooper affirms that “The greatest gift Homer left me with when he left me for good was fresh evidence every day – every single day – of the innate goodness of most people, even when the news headlines make it far too easy to conclude otherwise. In a very literal way, Homer’s passing brought life in its wake.
There are countless animals alive today because of Homer’s loss, and the community that grew and flourished from our shared grief – which doesn’t make it ‘worth it,’ but does assure me that even in his physical absence, Homer’s spirit hasn’t gone anywhere.” I know of no better conclusion to this review than Gwen Cooper’s own words, and I sincerely hope that everyone who has any concern about the precious lives of our four legged brethren will read this book. What a difference an author can make!
Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.
Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.
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