Book of the Month

~by Michele Gregoire

April 2015 Review: A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life, by James Bowen

James Bowen found his calling in life, and the means to accept it, through adopting a stray cat eight years ago. His tale of the first few years of life with Bob, the cat, gives a beautiful example of how, to borrow author Gwen Cooper’s book title, ‘love saves the day,’ and in this case it saved the life of not only the author but his cat. This is a story of how James and Bob came to be together and how each saved the others’ life. And in that story is great inspiration as well as some heart-breaking truths about life on the streets.

The book was published in 2012 and is comprised of 21 chapters, each one providing autobiographical specifics relevant to Bowen’s childhood and life status during the time period that the book covers. He also shares a fair amount of detail on his young adulthood and its impact on his life, especially poignant since he spent much of it homeless and drug addicted. And that provides the main impetus for the book. Already on the road away from addiction and off the street living in an apartment as part of a program for homeless people, the author was working as a street musician to survive. He was barely getting by financially, but receiving methadone as part of a program to keep him off of heroin and help him to eventually get clean of all drugs. That’s when Bob enters his life.

Bob is an ailing young ginger tom cat who appears one day at Bowen’s apartment complex and somehow the two are just drawn together. The author takes this cat on in spite of his limited means and worry about being able to take care of a pet. That action proves to be the most important decision of his life because this cat will be the means of Bowen’s getting completely off drugs and maintaining a steady job, turning him into a responsible adult. More importantly, his cat gives him responsibility and a greater purpose in life. Although, little did he know when he made that fateful decision for the two of them to become a family that he was creating his own future success. And that is the essential story of A Street Cat Named Bob.

The book is a quick and enjoyable read even though it is 279 pages long. It is a very engaging story and tempting to read in one sitting. One of the saddest realizations the reader will encounter in the book is how homeless persons lose any dignity and self-respect they may have had and become essentially invisible in society. This gives one pause and keeps the plight of our significantly less fortunate brothers and sisters forefront in awareness, perhaps leading the more conscientious among us to vow to do more to help the homeless within our own communities. It is also an unsurprising reality underscored by Bowen that many, if not most, homeless individuals are also addicted to drugs (including alcohol). The author was fortunate enough to have a program available to treat the addiction and provide an apartment for him. But, in many communities resources and services are inadequate to meet the needs.

Bowen takes us through his daily routines and describes how having Bob in his life and work effected many positive changes. The man and his cat drew passers-by no matter where he was singing and playing or selling magazines on the streets. People became fans of Bob’s and many took photos and even videos, which ultimately ended up on YouTube. These videos began his renown and soon led to the writing of this book. Twice in the volume the author relates how Bob ran off after being scared by a dog when his leash was not secured. James was profoundly distraught, as any cat owner would be, and searched diligently to find him. Both times, his anguish was clear and yet he found him, the first time in a store many blocks away, and the second time at a friend’s apartment house more than a mile from where they had been. The relief felt was palpable and anyone who has had a pet run away will feel the emotional impact at these points in the tale.

Bowen writes about his ultimate release from addiction and the final phase of his treatment, something he chose to do as a direct result of having Bob in his life. Bob became like a son to him in a way, but I think he was an angel sent by God to rescue this young man from a life without purpose or love. The author’s relationship with his mother was healed after Bob came into his life, and he provided the subject and events about which to write. Since this book was published three years ago Bowen has achieved quite an international following and substantial acclaim. And, as a result, this success was followed with additional books about his beloved cat, Bob.

The messages beyond the autobiographical content in James Bowen’s personal story should resonate strongly with all Catholic Stewards of Creation and move us to some kind of redemptive action. We are called to charity and this book reminds us that we should keep homeless persons, and homeless animals, in the forefront of our giving. Our aid must involve more than just donating money to the various ministries that help the homeless, but also giving of self even in small ways by simply acknowledging those homeless individuals we encounter as fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and love. And, we should be very aware that humane societies and rescue groups need our help too. James and Bob were blessed to find each, but how many other stray animals happen upon such good fortune? We are called to be care-takers of one another and the natural world. James Bowen gently reminds us of that in his true story of a man and his cat.

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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.

Visit Michele’s BOOK OF THE MONTH ARCHIVE

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