Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rescue Cat

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, cats, homelessness, street life

There are dog people and cat people (and small numbers of a few other kinds). I am a cat people. Raised with them. Raised many. Not quite raised by a cat, but then, I didn't have a cat like Bob. I suspect he could have managed it.

Bob is the star of two books by James Bowen. I haven't seen the first one yet (A Street Cat Named Bob), but I'll get to it anon. I just finished reading The World According to Bob. Quite an amazing book. I wondered how someone like Mr. Bowen could write a book, but since a third of the second volume is about how the first volume came to be, I didn't have to wonder long.

James Bowen was a troubled young man who fell into drugs as a teen and was a heroin addict for about a decade. I presume his ascent from the depths of addiction is mainly covered in the first book. This one begins with him being on the mend for a further decade, and being weaned from Methadone treatment, and finally the follow-on remedy, Subutex. But he remains desperately poor, though he is eking out a bit of a life in a flat, the kind that you have to "top up" the heat and electricity meter almost daily. He has spent some years selling a street publication, then has to return to busking (he's a guitarist and singer), which he'd done so many years earlier.

Bob, a ginger tabby, has been his constant companion since 2007. People are suckers for a nice animal, so having Bob on hand helped James sell more of the magazines, more than offsetting the vet bills. But Bob has not been a passive cat, for viewing only. He plays to whatever audience comes by, and even does a "high 5" at times with James or someone else. It tends to stop people long enough to induce them to buy a magazine, or later on, to toss a quid or two into the hat.

One of the aims James has in both books is a frank portrayal of street life. People's habitual disgust at someone disheveled and dirty, and probably smelly, pushes them farther and farther into the margins of society. And many folk wish they could be pushed right out of all possible view.

Both James and Bob had to navigate a significant transition once the first book was published. Anywhere you may be, some folks are going to envy any break you might get. On the street, people tend to be less reserved about expressing an opinion, particularly when it is contrary. Fortunately, the publishing company folks have done more than just assign and interviewer to gather the stories and knock them into a narrative in James's voice, and market the book. He had help of many kinds along the way.

When a cat adopts you, perhaps in many cases it is just trying to secure a steady meal plan. But once in a while a cat is more like Bob, and becomes a partner in your life, even defending you and yours. One would-be mugger has a few rather large scars that prove that. The chapter titled "Doctor Bob" further shows this; our pets are keen to our welfare, and Bob sometimes seemed to know what had to be done about it. We don't often think that the life of a homeless or poor person is fraught with more illness and pain than is usual among "middle class" people. James benefited an amazing amount from Bob's presence and ministrations.

I am glad that one man at least has been helped to rise from the street, and is likewise helping others. He owes a lot of that to the cat named Bob. See where they are not at their blog.

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