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Sixteen-plus years ago I was working the soul-sucking kind of job only a recent graduate would take. I was a beaten-down veterinary associate whose bosses dictated everything from the vaccines I had to administer to the style of penmanship required for medical record-keeping. Into this new and restrictive environment entered a 2- to 3-week-old kitten I managed to usher in under management’s radar. And, as they say, the rest is history.
This kitten came to be called Homer. Little did we suspect, but he would soon rank among the most famous cats in modern U.S. history for his starring role in Gwen Cooper’s best-selling book, Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life With a Blind Wonder Cat.
But back then, baby Homer was a mere half-handful of a black foundling who arrived with two terminally infected eye sockets and an unspoken challenge: “I dare you to fix me.”
Given Homer’s wretched state, getting caught fixing a “freebie” was the lesser of my challenges. But seeing him through the trials inherent to neonatal surgery wasn’t even the worst of it. As it turns out, removing ravaged kitten eyes wasn’t half as hard as finding this now-sightless, eyeless feline a forever home.
Luckily, what Homer lacked in vision he more than made up for in personality. Even at 2 weeks of age, despite a depleting case of malnutrition and two eye sockets full of goo, he was undeniably spritely and indefatigably curious. Irresistible is the word that comes to mind. That is, he would’ve been if he didn’t have stitches for eyes. Which made him a hard sell for all but the most devoted. And those were in short supply that year.
Now, I would’ve taken him, but I was in no condition. Not only was my home under construction at the time, but it was also lousy with big dogs, and I was fixing to pop with my own newborn, to boot. It was no place for kittens, much less blind ones. So when a family friend agreed to “take a look,” I latched onto the prospect with fierce determination.
It was just as I was starting to despair that Gwen appeared, offering him a bold and noble name (literally within a second of their meeting) and, hands down, what turned out to be the ideal home for a “blind wonder cat” like Homer. For 16 glorious years.
After Homer died last week, Gwen sent me a note to thank me again. To which I replied, “All I did was open a window. You furnished the whole damn house.”
So thank you again, Gwen. Because if veterinarians didn’t have people like you to believe in, we’d never get the chance to accept challenges like Homer’s. And I shudder to think what veterinary medicine would look like without the people and patients who fuel idealistic moments like the one that compelled me to smuggle him through surgery all those years ago.
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