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Tired of the Dog Days of Summer?

Author and Cat Champion Gwen Cooper to the Rescue!




Some people turn to booze. Some people raid the refrigerator. And some people adopt a pet. Americans are coping with the stress and isolation of the pandemic in different ways, but the stampede towards pet parenthood might be the most unexpected. “Around the world, animal shelters are emptying out because of the coronavirus outbreak.” reported the Los Angeles Times in April. “People who are confined to their houses are adopting or fostering animals en masse.” When you can’t leave your home and feel lonesome, it seems a cuddly new pet can fill the void. The A.S.P.C.A. is determined to go with the flow: you can now adopt a cat or dog by Zoom.

Full disclosure: I’m a longtime devotee of creature comfort. I have two rescued cats, Abby and Jimmy, the latest in a line of frisky felines. We have been sheltering-in-place together, kibble in hand, since March. So I understand the tug towards populating your household with pets during these trying times. Which is why, with all of this talk of skyrocketing animal rescues, I decided to pull down Homer’s Odyssey, my favorite book about loving a pet, from my bookshelf. Homer’s Odyssey is not the book of Greek mythology that you were forced to read in high school. Rather, this book is a touching exploration of the human-animal bond. Heartwarming without being Hallmark-y, sensitive without being syrupy, it is a smart, literary memoir about taking risks and finding the courage to live life on your own terms, A New York Times bestseller in 2009 (in hardcover), in 2010 (in paperback) and in 2015 (in ebook), Homer’s Odyssey has now been published in 25 languages.

The tale (the tail?) in brief: Homer was a tiny, starving two-week old stray kitten with a devastating eye infection when he was brought to a Miami veterinarian in 1997. The vet found the kitten’s eyes needed to be surgically removed to save his life. The well-meaning Florida couple who had found the kitten begged the vet to euthanize him. Instead, the idealistic young vet desperately sought to find a loving owner for the otherwise healthy, playful kitten. After meeting with a torrent of rejections, she found a financially-strapped 25-year-old woman with two cats of her own, who agreed to take on the responsibility of this blind “fuzzball” that no one else wanted. Homer (named for the blind Greek poet who wrote the original Odyssey) grew into a spirited cat who defied the odds and lived a long, happy life. The young woman, Gwen Cooper, grew into a bestselling New York City author, who weathered 9/11 near Ground Zero and, with Homer in tow, found love and marriage in often heartless Manhattan.

Although Homer died in 2013, that was just the beginning of his saga. Thanks to Cooper’s hard work, Homer has become a star on social media and an icon to many in the rescue community. Cooper (who has been The Insider’s ace book reviewer since we began publishing), spoke with us about her life as an author, and as an advocate for animal rescue and pet adoption.

Gwen Cooper's nationwide book tour at 20 no-kill shelters: Shadow Cats, Austin, TX

The Insider:

You’ve been a moving force for finding homes for special-needs pets—animals who might be blind or deaf or missing a limb, or who might be living with chronic physical or neurological conditions and who were once considered “unadoptable.”

Cooper:

I hear from people all the time who say that they were inspired by Homer’s story to adopt a special-needs animal, which is of course incredibly gratifying. The joys of adopting special-needs pets is something I reiterate whenever I do interviews, and I always showcase my own and other people’s special-needs pets on Homer’s social media accounts. Homer has a large and devoted online following of around 900,000 people across Facebook (@homerblindcatfans) and Instagram (@homerblindcat), which reach a combined 2 million-plus people each week.

We also do a lot of fundraising for animal shelters in Homer’s online community, although that’s not specifically related to special-needs animals. To date, we’ve raised nearly $1 million for shelters and rescue groups around the world.


Gwen Cooper at the San Francisco SPCA

The Insider:

You’ve also done book events at shelters, right?

Cooper:

Homer’s story struck a real chord in the rescue community, and rescuers remain some of my most passionate readers. In 2013, I published a novel called Love Saves the Day (named for the legendary and sadly now-defunct vintage store in the East Village), narrated from a cat’s point of view, and my book tour for that book was done entirely at shelters. I visited 20 no-kill shelters across the country and even secured corporate sponsors who made donations of food, litter, and money to each of the shelters I visited along the way. I don’t think I’ve done a traditional bookstore reading since 2010, although there’s usually a local indie bookstore onsite to sell books when I do a shelter event.

The Insider:

You and Homer have a lot of fans! What do you hear from them?

Cooper:

I’ve heard from more than 10,000 readers since Homer’s Odyssey was first published, and I’m proud to say that I’ve personally answered every reader email I’ve received! I get tons of pictures and stories about my readers’ cats (they post them on our social media accounts as well) and lots of presents for the cats and for me. Presents for the cats tend to be toys, handmade cat blankies, and things like that. For me, the gifts are usually representations of Homer in various media—ceramic Homers, soft sculpture Homers, paintings and portraits of Homer, etc. When Homer passed away, I got a lot of angels.

I recently heard from a reader who was 11 years old when Homer’s Odyssey first came out and who just completed her most recent reread of the book. She’s 22 now, about to complete a B.A. in Creative Writing, and she said she felt like she’d grown up with Homer. That really struck me, because I remember very well those books that I loved when I was young and continued to re-read well into adulthood. It felt odd—in a good way!—to have written a book that became one of those books for someone else.

The author at Good Mews, Atlanta, GA

The Insider:

How has the pandemic affected you personally?

Cooper:

It actually hasn’t had a huge impact on my day-to-day life, insofar as my husband and I are both writers who worked from home anyway. Of course, we used to go out, particularly into Manhattan, much more frequently. (We’re in Jersey City, only one train stop out from NYC.) And we used to do a fair amount of traveling, which is obviously on hold right now.

Two readers who I used to hear from frequently on social media have died of COVID-19, and one of my readers lost her daughter, who was a nurse. And I have a lot of elderly readers who are very isolated right now. I know how lucky I am that, thus far, the toll it’s taken on me has been fairly minor.

Cooper at MEOW Cat Rescue, Kirkland, WA

The Insider:

You had COVID-19 early in the pandemic. What was that like?

Cooper:

I still haven’t had that confirmed by testing, I should say. For ten days, I had constant pressure in my chest, to the point that even talking was difficult. I’m asthmatic, and in five days I’d completely drained a rescue inhaler that usually lasts me three months. And at the same time I had the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had in my life. I also had a mild bout of conjunctivitis about three days before anything else started. This was back in March.

The Insider:

How long did it take you to recover?

Cooper:

My chest was bad for 10 days, although with my stomach it was closer to two weeks. I’m still battling persistent rounds of hives and weird rashes that flare up and are tough to control even with Benadryl and topical steroids—although they (finally!) seem to be coming less frequently. My knuckles are now almost entirely rash-free!

The Insider:

Tell us a little about your current cats.

Cooper:

I’m currently owned by two black cats: Clayton “the Tripod,” my three-legged cat, and his litter-mate, Fanny. Clayton is roly-poly, intensely social and “talkative,” and incredibly sweet—although not terribly bright. He’s a lovable doofus, basically, and a mama’s boy through and through. Fanny is very svelte, athletic, and quiet—which makes her in all ways entirely unlike anybody else in our household. She has my husband Laurence [Lerman, The Insider’s “Reel Streaming” columnist] wrapped around her velvety little paw.


The author at the Nine Lives Foundation, Redwood City, CA

The Insider:

Was Laurence a cat person when you met him?

Cooper:

Laurence wasn’t at all a cat person when we first met, and he was trepidatious about living with cats at first. When we moved in together back in 2005, he fell very hard for my cat Vashti—everybody fell for Vashti; she was an exceptionally beautiful cat—and he and Fanny have been very close since we first adopted her and Clayton eight years ago. I’m not sure that I’d describe Laurence today as a “cat guy,” but he’s definitely an “our cats guy”!

The author visiting Good Mews, Atlanta, GA

The Insider:

Do your cats like you being home all the time now?

Cooper:

I’ve been a “stay-at-home cat mom” (sorry—that’s a little joke from the online cat community!) for their entire lives. Unlike with my three older cats—of whom Homer was the last to pass away—Clayton and Fanny have never known me to have an office job or routinely leave the house for ten to twelve hours at a time. I honestly think Clayton, especially, would completely lose his mind if I suddenly had to go back to a nine-to-five. Basically, Laurence, Clayton, Fanny, and I are an intensely co-dependent foursome.









Gwen Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of Homer's Odyssey and My Life in a Cat House, among numerous other cat-centric titles. Check out a full list of Gwen's titles on her Amazon.com author page.

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