I don't usually read books about pets, but something about A Street Cat Named Bob intrigued me, and once I started reading it I found I couldn't put it down. It's about a heroin-addicted London street busker named James Bowen who finds an injured stray cat and nurses him back to health. This simple act of kindness to an animal had a profound effect on Bowen's life. Enjoy the following excerpt.
Inside the center, it was like stepping into a scene from hell. It was packed, mostly with dogs and their owners, most of whom seemed to be young teenage blokes with skinhead haircuts and aggressive tattoos. Seventy per cent of the dogs were Staffordshire Bull Terriers that had almost certainly been injured in fights with other dogs, probably for people’s amusement.
People always talk about Britain as a ‘nation of animal lovers’. There wasn’t much love on display here, that was for sure. The way some people treat their pets really disgusts me.
The cat sat on my lap or on my shoulder. I could tell he was nervous, and I couldn’t blame him. He was getting snarled at by most of the dogs in the waiting room. One or two were being held tightly on their leashes as they strained to get closer to him.
One by one, the dogs were ushered into the treatment room. Each time the nurse appeared, however, we were disappointed. In the end it took us four and a half hours to be seen.
Eventually, she said, ‘Mr Bowen, the vet will see you now.’
He was a middle-aged vet. He had that kind of world- weary, seen-it-all expression you see on some people’s faces. Maybe it was all the aggression I’d been surrounded by outside, but I felt on edge with him immediately.
‘So what seems to be the problem?’ he asked me.
I knew the guy was only doing his job, but I felt like saying, ‘Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t be here’ but resisted the temptation.
I told him how I’d found the cat in the hallway of my building and pointed out the abscess on the back of his leg.
‘OK, let’s have a quick look at him,’ he said.
He could tell the cat was in pain and gave him a small dose of diazepam to help relieve it. He then explained that he was going to issue a prescription for a two-week course of cat-strength amoxicillin.
‘Come back and see me again if things haven’t improved in a fortnight,’ he said.
I thought I’d take the opportunity and ask about fleas. He had a quick look around his coat but said he could find nothing.
To his credit, he also checked to see if the tom was microchipped. He wasn’t, which again suggested to me he was a street cat.
‘You should get that done when you have a chance,’ he said. ‘I think he should also be neutered quite soon as well,’ he added, handing me a brochure and a form advertising a free neutering scheme for strays. Given the way he tore around the house and was so boisterous with me I nodded in agreement with his diagnosis.
‘I think that’s a good idea,’ I smiled, expecting him to at least ask a follow-up ‘why?’
But the vet didn’t seem interested. He was only concerned with tapping his notes into a computer screen and printing off the prescription. We were obviously on a production line that needed to be processed and pushed out the door ready for the next patient to come in. It wasn’t his fault – it was the system.
Within a few minutes we were finished. Leaving the vet’s surgery, I went up to the counter at the dispensary and handed over the prescription.
The white-coated lady there was a bit friendlier.
‘He’s a lovely-looking fellow,’ she said. ‘My mum had a ginger tom once. Best companion she ever had. Amazing temperament. Used to sit there at her feet watching the world go by. A bomb could have gone off and he wouldn’t have left her.’
She punched in the details to the till and produced a bill.
‘That will be twenty-two pounds please, love,’ she said.
My heart sank.
‘Twenty-two pounds! Really,’ I said. I had just over thirty pounds in the whole world at that point.
‘Afraid so, love,’ the nurse said, looking sympathetic but implacable at the same time.
I handed over the thirty pounds in cash and took the change.
It was a lot of money for me. A day’s wages. But I knew I had no option: I couldn’t let my new friend down.
‘Looks like we’re stuck with each other for the next fortnight,’ I said to Bob as we headed out of the door and began the long walk back to the flat.
It was the truth. There was no way I was going to get rid of the cat for at least a fortnight, not until he completed his course of medicine. No one else was going to make sure he took his tablets and I couldn’t let him out on the streets in case he picked up an infection.
I don’t know why, but the responsibility of having him to look after galvanized me a little bit. I felt like I had an extra purpose in my life, something positive to do for someone − or something − other than myself.
That afternoon I headed to a local pet store and got him a couple of weeks’ worth of food. I’d been given a sample of scientific formula food at the RSPCA and tried it on him the previous night. He’d liked it so I bought a bag of that. I also got him a supply of cat food. It cost me around nine pounds, which really was the last money I had.
That night I had to leave him on his own and head to Covent Garden with my guitar. I now had two mouths to feed.
Here's a video about Bob and Bowen: