Homer’s Legacy: The Journey Continues

The more I get to know people, the more I love animals.

homerand Gwen Jessica Hills_700x800

Photo: Jessica Hills

If you’re like me, and spend a disproportionate amount of your day in online communities devoted to animal lovers, then you’ve probably heard this said about a million times. When I finished writing Homer’s Odyssey–my memoir about my blind cat, Homer—back in early 2008, I was already a long-time non-profit veteran. I’d undoubtedly spent far more hours involved in people-related causes, if only because there are so many more organizations serving people than serving animals. But if you’d asked me what I really thought way deep down, I’d probably have told you that I tried to help people because they needed it, whereas I helped animals because they deserved it.

The subtitle of my book about Homer is How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat. When I sent it off to my editor, I felt confident that I had learned important things about myself, and about the nature of love and courage and hope, from this improbably brave and fiercely loyal little black cat who’d entered my life as a helpless, hopeless, eyeless kitten some twelve years earlier. In fact, I was sure that I’d learned all there was for Homer to teach me—that the “teaching” phase of our relationship was over, and all that was left was for us to love each other profoundly until the end.

And then, a year ago today, Homer died. Yet somehow I feel that if he were still here with me to see what’s happened over the past year, to hover over my shoulder and whisper in my ear, my little blind teacher of 16 years might have said, You ain’t seen nothing yet.

To this day, I’m not quite sure how it happened. I’m not sure how Homer’s online social network and Facebook page grew from a modest community that reached perhaps 10,000 people a week to one that now reaches nearly 8 million. I’m not sure why so many people began sharing the stories of their own amazing rescues—stories that included photos and began with a cheerful, “Hi, Homer!” and told, on an infinitely human and humane scale, tales of animals rescued from shelters, from the streets, from abusive situations and certain death, redeemed by a single act of kindness. The small kindnesses that may not change the world all by themselves but that, when multiplied by thousands and tens of thousands, are the only thing that ever does.

Photo: Jessica Hills

Photo: Jessica Hills

I knew, of course, that when I wrote Homer’s Odyssey, I would bring Homer to the world and into the lives of others. What I never knew, or even suspected, was that Homer would end up bringing so much of the world, and so very many others, into our lives.

The latest—and perhaps most important—thing that I’ve learned from Homer, even after his passing, is that there are more good people than bad in the world. In fact, the number isn’t even close. The number of people who will be cruel to others, or to an animal, simply because they can, is crushed by the far-more-overwhelming number of people who might not have two nickels to rub together, but who will nevertheless donate one of those nickels to an animal in need of love and the humans—the extraordinary, remarkable humans—who rescue that animal and give him that love.

This was something I’d always hoped to be able to know someday. Today, I do know it—to a certainty. I get to see the world through the eyes of my eyeless cat. And the view is extraordinary.

The last year of learning to live without the heart of my heart, who I’d loved and been loved by for so, so long, has been a painful one. There are still many days when, without thinking, I expect to find Homer in one of his usual favorite spots—and then have to remember all over that I’ll never see him there again. It’s been difficult to even know how to write without my first “editor” curled quietly in my lap. Those of you who’ve been following Homer and me since the beginning will have noticed how much less I’ve written over the past year.

But there have also been tremendous, and unexpected, joys. It has been an incredible and humbling joy to get to know so many of the remarkable people who love and rescue both animals and each other. I’m thrilled to announce that I will be partnering with the Animal Rescue Site to bring some of the very best of these stories here, to a larger audience—and in tandem with resources that will raise funds for the cause of animal rescue.

I’m also working on a sequel to Homer’s story called Homer’s World: A Fearless Feline’s Odyssey Continues, which I will release within the next few months. Because of Homer, I’ve been privileged to see some of the very best of people on a daily basis. This is as essential a part of Homer’s story as any other, and I can’t wait to tell it.

Photo: Jessica Hills

Photo: Jessica Hills

It often seems that nobody’s easier to laugh at than we “crazy cat ladies” and “cat dudes.” Low-hanging fruit is always the easiest to pluck, and with our LOL cats and funny animal videos, some people see us as low-hanging fruit indeed.

They don’t know, perhaps don’t want to know (because it might ruin the punch-line) how much compassion, how much perseverance in the face of overwhelming obstacles, how many long nights praying for small miracles and how many painful sacrifices for the sake of bringing those miracles about, go into the real stories behind those funny photos and videos. It’s probably not worth arguing too much with such people—so I’ll only say the one thing that even a blind cat could have told them:

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Gwen Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat and the novels Love Saves the Day and Diary of a South Beach Party Girl. She is a frequent speaker at shelter fundraisers; donates 10% of her royalties from Homer's Odyssey to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled animals; and serves on the Advisory Boards of Tabby's Place in Ringoes, NJ and Tree House Humane in Chicago. Gwen lives in Manhattan with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her two perfect cats—Clayton the Tripod and his litter-mate, Fanny—who aren't impressed with any of it.