“Homer was the World’s Cat”

A Commemorative Tribute to the Blind ‘Wonder Cat’

By Jordan Schaul | National Geographic | August 28, 2013 (edited)

This afternoon, I read about the passing of Homer. The feline inspiration for Homer’s Odyssey, an internationally bestselling book, was an adored and celebrated pet.  I was touched by the author’s commemorative tribute to the blind and black cat published in Huffington Post.

In the memoir, author Gwen Cooper recounted her life with Homer, her companion, and confidant for nearly two decades. The feline phenomenon succumbed to a prolonged illness at the age of 16 in New York.

I’ve never read Homer’s Odyssey, but I marvel at the remarkable legacy this one imperfect cat has left behind. Homer’s story has indirectly saved the lives of other blind cats that would otherwise have been euthanized, as have so many unwanted black cats. Homer has also been an inspiration to disabled people.

The book itself, according to Gwen, was rejected by 12 publishers before it became a bestseller and before being translated into 15 languages—another testament to persistence and perseverance.

But today was intended to be a celebration of Homer’s life and the life of the imperfect and their heroic courage. In our own ways, we are all imperfect, but we are most inspired by the trials and tribulations of the most disadvantaged.  They give us courage and they give us hope.

“From Homer, I’d learned that even the most “imperfect” of creatures are capable of loving with deep and perfect love. All they need is someone to give them a chance,” Gwen said in her tribute.

I was also touched because following my post last week—drawing attention to Black Cat Appreciation Day—I learned that there are a heck of a lot of compassionate people out there who root for the underdog and this black and blind cat was certainly one of them.

Black cats have had it rough, no doubt, and blind cats have it even more difficult. Suffice it to say, Homer had it particularly rough.  He was blind, and before being discovered by Gwen, he was living at a shelter as an abandoned three-week-old kitten.

Gwen shared that although Homer was just one cat, he and his story have impacted the lives of many other cats.  Shelters are now less inclined to euthanize blind cats, and hopefully, more people will consider rescuing a black cat, sighted or not, after last week’s Black Cat Appreciation Day.

I admit that even though I’m an animal lover and have been dedicated to the welfare and conservation of wildlife, including wild felids, I tend to keep my distance from domestic cats because I’m quite allergic to their dander.  Somehow my immune system may no longer perceive cat dander as a danger because last week while visiting Los Angele’s big cat sanctuary Wildlife Waystation, I encountered a large domestic black cat owned by the sanctuary’s founding director Martine Colette.  The cat jumped into my lap, clearly unaware of my allergies, but very receptive to being scratched.  I thought I would immediately start sneezing, but I had no adverse reaction. Perhaps I received some divine intervention instead via a black cat?

According to Gwen, Homer actually died last week. She said he was at home and she held him in her arms as he expired.


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Jordan Carlton SchaulWith training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine, and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife and conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska (As Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (As executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition, he was an ex officio member of the council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.