A couple of years ago, I (and a few million or so others) read Homer’s Odyssey, the best-selling memoir of Gwen Cooper’s life with her blind cat and the journey of growth and change she experienced as a result of living with him. Recently, Cooper published a new book, Homer: The Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat, in which she talks about life with a famous cat, the lessons she learned as his life ended, and the legacy he left.
Cooper chose to self-publish The Ninth Life rather than using a traditional publisher as she did with Homer’s Odyssey and her cat-starring novel Love Saves the Day. “It’s significantly shorter than the first book, and I didn’t want to pad it to make it standard publishing-industry length.” Cooper says. “I was also very attracted to the fast turnaround time that self-publishing allows. So many readers had been asking me for so long for a new book about Homer … I didn’t want to make them wait an additional year — or longer — for the book to come out.”
When Cooper was shopping Homer’s Odyssey around to agents and publishers, she was often told that nobody would want to read about a blind cat and that the subject matter was depressing. But when the book finally was published, it made liars out of all the naysayers. “What surprised me the most after Homer’s story was published was how many people I heard from who’d also adopted blind or special-needs animals. I also hadn’t realized how strongly the book would be embraced by the rescue community,” Cooper says.
“Homer was clearly born to be a star,” Cooper says, reflecting on the photo shoots and appearances required of a famous purrsonality. “He was actually great with the photographers and camera crews, provided that I had done my job as his ‘entourage’ (basically, to be the invisible presence who kept the star happy).”
Cooper shares a lot of funny stories about Homer’s stardom in The Ninth Life, but the funniest moment was when her publisher was shooting video footage of Homer for the book trailer they planned to release. By then, “Homer was so bored with all the shoots we’d been doing that we couldn’t get him to stay awake long enough to be engaged on camera. My husband ran all over New York to get the specific kind of turkey and toys that Homer really liked, and in the meantime there were eight of us — including an award-winning documentary crew who’d flown in on the red-eye from L.A. just for the filming — who stayed behind trying desperately to entertain Homer enough to get him interested in doing something on camera.”
But The Ninth Life isn’t all silly memories. This story is really about the last four years of Homer’s life, and thus, elder care and end-of-life issues are a big part of the book as well. Having taken care of several elderly kitties, I know that cats have very different personalities and different levels of tolerance for aggressive medical treatment.
“When Homer developed his final illness, I was told that without treatment, he had fewer than two weeks left,” Cooper says. “But Homer was so very, very traumatized by medical care, there wasn’t much I was willing or able to subject him to. That was a hard decision at the time. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing, but I kept coming back to the idea that I wasn’t going to extend Homer’s life by making him hate his life. As it turned out, Homer ended up living another nine months without anything beyond palliative care — nine very good, very happy months.”
“What I really learned from the whole experience is that we have to make these decisions with our cats, not just for our cats, the same way we do with our human family members,” Cooper says. “I also learned that, difficult as it is, you have to remember the unspoken promise you made when you adopted your cat: to make him feel safe and happy and loved every day of his life. If you think in those terms, you make better decisions.”
One amazing thing to come out of Homer’s life is Homer’s Heroes, originally a feature on Cooper’s blog where she celebrated some of the people in rescue who do so much to help save animals’ lives. After Homer’s passing, it grew into a grassroots effort to help make more of these rescues happen. “I think of Homer’s Heroes almost like the bat signal,” Cooper says. “It’s the call I put out when I want to rally Homer’s online community [of almost 780,000 Facebook fans] either for a fundraising effort or to help rescue an animal in a particularly difficult situation.”
In the past two years, Homer’s Heroes have raised more than $200,000 to support animal rescue efforts all over the world. They have also helped to find homes for dozens of special-needs cats who’d been languishing in shelters for years.
“It still knocks me out every day how many lives Homer has been able to save, simply because he lived and his story was told. I’ll always be grateful beyond words to my readers and to Homer’s community for keeping his memory alive, and for saving so many lives in his name,” Cooper says.
What does Cooper most want the world to know about Homer and his legacy? “The same thing I wanted people to know when I first published Homer’s story — that, when all is said and done, a special-needs cat is still just a cat, just as capable of loving you and living an extraordinary life as any other cat.”
Photos via Homer’s Facebook page, used by permission of the author.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.