Saved by a cat called Bob
Wendy Gomersall meets the charismatic feline who’s proved that even an abandoned old moggy can make a real difference in the world…
Bob’s film-star looks attract many admiring glances as he prowls silently across the bar in my direction. Settling himself on the stool beside me, he leans his weight into me, fixes me with his mesmerising jewel-green eyes – and lets out quite a loud mee-oow…
Bob the street cat likes the ladies, explains his devoted carer, James Bowen, though he no longer has his ‘manly bits’. It was a necessary operation to keep the ‘man’ he describes as his soulmate. The feeling seems mutual: despite the bags-full of Dreamies cat treats I have brought to curry favour, the ginger moggy soon switches his attention back to James. Purring loudly, he hops up to his favourite position, draped around his best friend’s shoulders like a big fluffy scarf.
The devoted duo, both left bruised and battered by life, have become a familiar sight in Covent Garden, central London, where James first sold the Big Issue and busked with his guitar. The heart-warming story of how these kindred spirits met and changed each other’s lives is now a popular book and Bob has 5,200 followers on Twitter.
What’s more, his story is also in the hands of a Los Angeles agent, with the real prospect of it being turned into a Hollywood film. Things are most definitely looking up for a stray cat and recovering drug addict.
But let us start at the beginning. In 2007, James had no permanent home and was living hand-to-mouth. Arriving at his sheltered accommodation one day, he noticed a dishevelled ginger tom, about 18-months old, sitting forlornly in the hallway. ‘He just turned up,’ says 33-yearold James. The little mog was still there the next day, and the next, and it became obvious he was not well. In fact, he had a painful abscess on his leg. James knocked at the nearest flat, but no, it wasn’t their pet. He knew the cat needed help; and the cat knew who to ask. ‘I’d had cats as a child and I always carried treats in my pocket to feed the street cats when I was out busking,’ he says.
Perhaps word spread among the kitty fraternity that here was a cat-friendly human with a kind heart? Whatever the case, the poorly feline readily responded. ‘Hello mate, how are you doing?’ James asked squatting down to fuss him. ‘There was definitely a kind of intelligent curiosity when he looked at me, it was like he already trusted me.’ The cat followed him to his flat, and eagerly tucked into some tuna. Next stop was the Harmsworth RSPCA Clinic to get professional help. ‘He must have been badly bitten by a fox or another cat,’ says James.
Bob was treated but needed two weeks’ worth of antibiotics. ‘I decided to keep him in to make sure he got all his medication.’ Meanwhile, he tried again to find the owner, but drew a blank. ‘After that, I tried to let him back out on the street, so he could find his own way home but he just wouldn’t have it. ‘He started following me around, even on to the bus. It was incredible, he just settled down on the seat next to me.’
James made a shoelace harness so his furry friend couldn’t run off and get lost. (He has a proper lead now, not to mention an official London Underground pass with photo.) ‘One day he came with me when I went busking in Covent Garden and settled by my feet in the guitar case,’ says James. ‘And I tripled my takings that day.’
The ginger cat had found a way of repaying James’s kindness. ‘I didn’t mean it to happen, but Bob seemed to enjoy the hustle and bustle, and definitely the attention, especially from women.’ Generally, reaction is positive. ‘Occasionally someone will say, “Oh that’s cruel”. They don’t want to listen, and threaten to report me to the RSPCA. ‘I say, would you like their number, I have it on my phone. They know Bob quite well. As a cat, if he didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t be.’
And Bob is obviously thriving; he is beautiful, with silken fur, luxuriant whiskers and is spotlessly clean. His regular diet comprises nutritionally balanced dry and wet cat food, treats, of course, and oodles of love. In return for all this, Bob has had an enormously beneficial effect on James’s wellbeing, too, and not just in monetary terms. ‘He’s helped to change my life,’ says James.
Bullied at school and unhappy at home, James started sniffing glue. By the age of 17 he was well on the road to self-destruction. A fog of drink, drugs and petty crime left him jobless and homeless and with a heroin habit. ‘If I’d have been a cat, I’d have been on my ninth life,’ he says.
Loneliness had been a major factor in this descent. Finally pulling himself together, James kicked heroin by himself. When he stopped taking methadone, too, with the help of the drug-dependency unit, Bob was there to see him through the horrendous, initial withdrawal symptoms. ‘He would press his face close to me, as if to say, ‘“You all right, mate? I’m here if you need me”.’
James is not on his own any more, he has Bob. ‘It is a responsibility having someone else to look after, in a good way,’ he says. ‘Bob is quite a character. He can be very calm, but he can be boisterous; I have a few scratches to prove it – he doesn’t mean any harm, it’s not like he’s tried to open up my jugular.’
This contrary nature is the reason he’s called Bob, after Killer Bob, a schizophrenic character in the cult TV drama, Twin Peaks. He’s very intelligent, too – James has had to put child locks on the fridge and food cupboards. Bob likes his food. So, I asked James, feeding the feline film-star-tobe Dreamies on demand, who would you cast as yourself in the Hollywood movie version of your life? ‘Maybe Daniel Radcliffe,’ he replies. Bob, of course, can play himself, for there isn’t another cat quite like him.
Back in Pix, the duo’s favourite bar in Neal Street, Covent Garden, I was allowed one last stroke and a chinny scratch before we said our goodbyes. Bob kept what was left of the Dreamies.
Climbing on to James’s shoulders once again, he gently anchored himself in place with his claws, then jauntily waved his big fluffy tail as they wandered off, shoppers smiling in delight as they passed by.
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £14.99.
Daily tip from the lady archive
"BEAUTY may fade and riches be lost, but a sense of humour ripens with the years, and cannot be stolen. It remains a very real solace, and a talisman against the ills of life."The Lady. The Invaluable Possession 2nd May, 1912