Friday, July 15, 2011

Homer's Odyssey, a book review


Homer's Odyssey is by far the best book I have ever read about an animal, in this case a cat. Not just any cat, a special needs cat. A black blind cat! This book taught me so much about the strength and courage of animals with special needs. Their preternatural abilities, they're almost superhuman.

In reading other reviews many readers indicated they had reservations. Usually the ending is tearfully sad and the pet dies. Not Homer. He will exceed your expectations.

Before I continue with my review, since I'm all too familiar with the misconceptions surrounding cats, I want to take out of turn my recommendation as to who should read this book. This books is NOT for cat people.

I encourage this book be read by:

- Anyone who says they're not a cat person. Believe me I used to say the same!
- Anyone who's hesitant about adopting more than two cats. Three's a lucky charm.
- Any woman or man who worries about the effect of cat ownership on one's dating life and relationships. This book offers excellent examples.
- If for no other reason than to learn about the incredible strength and spirit of a blind animal. This cat had no fear, not even of jumping into unknown depths!
As the chairperson of the inaugural Black cat gala by The Cat Network, to turn around the misperceptions of black cats and save them from epidemic rates of euthanization, I had heard about this book and the author even donated a few books for our event. Finally after finishing Dewey (another book about a famous library cat), I finally reached this book on my reading list.

This book jolted me immediately for a number of reasons. First, I identified with the author, Gwen Cooper who had two cats and lived in Miami. Moreso her rollercoaster career, the highs and lows was a copycat of my own career struggles. Marketing and Public Relations are finicky careers in the Miami market. All of my colleagues have shared the expected job layoff every three years like clockwork.

At the age of 27,  Gwen received a call from her vet, about a special case, a stray kitten. In this case a black BLIND  kitten. Would she take him? That vet, Dr. Patty Khuly, surgically removed Homer's eyes to rid of the infection and gave him a fighting chance to live. The question was, would a human see past his looks? This altruistic soul, is now a well-known veterinarian in South Miami, a writer for Miami Herald pet column and blogger. I encourage you to follow her on The Daily Vet.

In the foreword, Dr. Khuly writes:

The kitten had bounded back to life after surgery...How could I help but be smitten with his scraggly little blackness, his tiny sucken sockets, his insatiable appetite for feedings, pettings, cuddlings, and play sessions? Yes, he even romped like a normal kitten, despite his eyelessness. In short he was eminently lovable at least by all standards except the one with which most humans preoccupied themselves with: his appearance.

Amidst the topsy turvy career of a young woman already loaded with two other cats, there is the unplanned adoption of a third stray kitten, barely two weeks old and blind. Gwen Cooper is chronically living on the edge and now caring for a special needs animal. Does she become the crazy cat lady?

The book continues with Homer's odyssey from kittenhood into adulthood, moving multiple times from house to condo and to an even smaller apartment, from Miami to New York City. It is that odyssey of antics and adventures alongside the growing pains of a young woman in relationships and career that Gwen is the one who learns about love and life's lessons-- from a blind cat.   Homer steals the show.  I found myself as amazed as the author as she learns that Homer is not only unencumbered by his blindness but is actually more capable in other areas because of it. The episode wherein the author discovers Homer's ability to catch flies in mid-air is worth noting.

His courage of climbing a seven foot tall book case and taking a "blind leap" to depths unknown was more than pure courage it was symbolic.  This cat embraces life and enjoys it to the fullest. His gallant unswerving, and fierce loyalty even saved Gwen from an intruder in the middle of the night. That story alone and what he trained himself to do at the senior age of 11,  is worth reading the book.

But Homer looms larger than life in my imagination...He's Daredeveil, the famed marvel Comics superhero who list his sight in an accident while saving a blind man, but who gained superhuman use of all his other senses. Like Daredevil, Homer's senses of hearing and smell, his ability to map and negotiate all obstacles in an unfamiliar room simply walking through it once, border on the preternatural...He's a cat who can spring straight up five feet into the air and catch a buzzing fly in midflight. Every leap from a tabletop is taken on faith, a potential leap into the abyss...My other cats can see out the windows of our home, and so they know the boundaries of the world they inhabit. But Homer's world is boundless...and therefore infinite.


The chapters about her dating life and relationships initially had me nervous and before I knew it I was laughing. Nowadays having three cats does not carry stereotypical weight as let's say five cats? More comical, it turns out the guys were more interested in Wonder Cat than in Gwen and they would ask if they could still visit Homer "as friends" after breaking up with Gwen. Can you believe that?


Homer initially came into my home because nobody else wanted to take him. So it never fails to amaze me how fascinated people are --even people who aren't particularly interested in cats--when they meet him or even just hear about him. He's the ultimate conversation starter...
Gwens' writing style was refreshing, never monotone or mundane, lively and created a three dimensional nonstop mental motion picture.

I can already envision the movie, the actors, but who would play Homer? Hmm maybe a black cat audition! Between the casting cat call and the movie, black cats would have better chance of survival! Oh I'm getting too excited over a fantasy. Back to reality.

If you claim to love animals, open your mind and you'll thoroughly enjoy this book. It's great for a summer or vacation read--Humorous, enlightening, moving and inspirational!

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