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Addiction Help from Bob the Cat
How a street cat named Bob saved James Bowen from a lonely, hopeless life of addiction
From the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, James Bowen was a homeless heroin addict scratching out a living of sorts on the rough streets of London.
James managed to keep himself alive as a “busker”, a street musician, playing his guitar and soliciting donations at busy tourist areas and tube stations around the city.
Like other street people, James often had to sleep outdoors in all kinds of bad weather in unseemly locations. He was only too familiar with being wet and cold and hungry, and lonely.
Even worse, James was supporting an expensive and debilitating heroin habit.
Taken all together, it’s obvious that James Bowen’s life was not a recipe for good mental and physical health, never mind planning for a successful future. “Future” was seldom more than getting through today.
Then in 2007 came the miracle that changed James Bowen’s life. In a nutshell, here’s what happened.
James met a stray cat with a bad leg, took it in and helped it heal, and the two became fast friends. James named the cat Bob, and Bob turned around and helped heal James Bowen’s life.
Sounds simple enough. For James, meeting Bob and what followed was the kind of miracle that, by its very nature, is impossible to predict. Yet it was so real that, with almost no effort on his part, it propelled the 28-year-old drug-addicted busker from a life of obscurity to one of at least modest wealth and world fame — and off the streets and off drugs.
James is now a world-famous best-selling author, and the movies have come knocking. There are plans afoot to make a film about the miracle of James and his amazing street cat named Bob.
It was 2007, and James was still battling addiction. But he’d managed to get onto a methadone program. James told London’s Mirror newspaper how that happened. He said he’d been “sleeping rough” (in London that means doorways and alleyways and under bridges and culverts), he had contracted Hepatitis A, and he had ended up in the hospital.
“Heroin is all about escapism,” James told Mirror reporter Polly Hudson. “When you’re on it and it’s in your body, everything’s great. It’s like being wrapped in cotton wool, you don’t care about anything in the world. But when you’re sick, you’ll rob your grandmother to pay for the next fix. The truth of it is it’s nasty, it’s evil.”
While in the hospital, James got a visit from an agency that offers medical services for people who are homeless and suffering from substance abuse and addiction. The visitor suggested that James get into a methadone program to get off heroin and start getting his life together.
“It was either that or be a sick junkie lying in a bed, not able to do anything,” James told the Mirror.
After getting out of the hospital, James decided to do it, to get into a methadone program. It was a big decision. But it allowed him to leave street heroin behind, to end the constant scrabble for the next fix. And it helped him find ‘sheltered accommodation’ — the British public housing for ‘vulnerable’ people — handicapped, the aged, infirm and addicted. Homeless and battling addiction on methadone, James qualified for a tiny flat to call his own. For James, it turned a corner to new possibilities.
Anyone on methadone maintenance knows that moving from heroin to methadone can be a little like moving from the frying pan to the fire. Yes, there’s the stated goal of getting free of the equally-addictive methadone — “some day in the future.” But the dream of a drug-free future usually remains an impossibly long way off for most opioid addicts on methadone programs.
One day, after busking at London’s busy and popular Covent Garden, James returned to his new little flat in Tottenham, North London, and encountered a tiger-striped orange tabby cat sitting in the hallway. He’d never seen this ginger cat before (everyone with red hair, man or animal, is called a ginger in the UK) but he presumed it belonged to someone in the building. James just went into his flat.
But when the cat was still there the next day, and again the next, James went closer to say hello. “He was very friendly,” James said, “he was like, ‘Hello, who are you?’ Very inquisitive.”
James noticed the little fellow had no collar and no tag. James asked around the building, and no one had any idea whose cat it might be. “So I invited him up to my flat and that’s when I discovered he had a big abscess leaking pus on his leg,” James said.
James knew all about being a stray, alone, hungry and in pain. The next day, James took him straightaway to a vet, who fixed the cat up with some medicine, and the two went back to James’ flat.
“After I nursed him back to health he kept following me around. Whenever I came home he’d be on the doorstep. So I let him stay,” James told the Mirror. James decided the cat needed a name, and he decided on Bob, after the character in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and the pair soon became inseparable.
“After a week or two of him following me a little bit further up the road each day, he jumped on the bus with me, and that was when the story really started. He sat down on the seat next to me like, ‘It’s just a normal day, here we go into town’. So I made him a little harness so he didn’t get run over in the West End. When I got my guitar case out he sat on it, made himself comfy, and that was it.
“Busking all of a sudden picked up, people were taking pictures, it went crazy. People interacted with me differently.”
Polly Hudson wrote in the Mirror: “Suddenly James was half of a celebrity duo and he was overwhelmed by the support and love they began to receive. Oh, and the scarves. Strangers began knitting for Bob in droves and he is now ‘to scarves what Imelda Marcos had been to shoes’.” There are few pictures of Bob these days without a colorful little scarf tied around his neck.
We’re all familiar these days with cell-phone photos and videos appearing almost instantly on the internet. In no time at all, thanks to thousands of tourists and local Londoners, countless photos and videos of this amazing duo began appearing on YouTube and FaceBook and all the other social websites — James playing his guitar while Bob sat calmly by, watching the crowd with interest or just curling up for a nap on his little blanket in spite of all the human attention.
So that’s how Bob the Cat and James the Busker became an instant internet sensation with millions of views from around the globe. Tourists flocked to Covent Garden just to see the busker and his amazing street cat named Bob. James taught Bob to “high five” with either paw, too, and Bob would oblige at any time to please the tourists. The bills and coins on the pavement began to really add up.
James was also making money selling The Big Issue, a popular British street paper which is available for homeless and needy people all over the UK to sell on the street and help them survive. They have to buy the papers up front, but they only pay half of what they sell them for, so it’s a terrific profit. And everyone knows that buying a copy of The Big Issue from a street person is helping that person stay alive. With his partner Bob at his side, James was able to unload lots more Big Issues.
It was around this time, maybe mid-2010, that the next part of the miracle began to unfold. A literary agent named Mary Pachnos, who represented John Grogan’s Marley and Me, had become aware of the James and Bob phenomenon. She stopped by one day and said she’d like to introduce James to a writer named Garry Jenkins, because she thought there might be a book in James’ story and Garry could help him write it.
James’ immediate impression was that this women was “a nutter” but he thought, what the heck, and he took the meeting. Good thing he did, because history was made that day. James and Garry Jenkins worked beautifully together, produced a terrific outline for a book, and Pachnos sold the deal to London publishers Hodder & Stoughton.
A Street Cat Named Bob was published in March, 2012, sold over 1 million copies in the UK alone, was translated into 30 languages and spent over 76 weeks at the top of the Sunday Times’ bestseller list — in both its hardback and paperback format. The US version, titled A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life was published in July, 2013, and immediately hit the New York Times best-seller list. The book details James’ life from before Bob, to meeting the ginger kitty, and up to their burgeoning success on the streets of London.
And of particular interest to us, it covers the time when Bob’s loving and inspiring presence in James’ life helped him decide to tail off of methadone and say goodbye to opioids for good!
Next up, James and Garry turned out The World According to Bob, which follows Bob and James’ continuing street adventures up to their meeting with agent Mary Pachnos. Published in July, 2013, it also became a number one Sunday Times’ bestseller.
Almost immediately, James and Garry also came up with the idea that kids should be able to enjoy the James and Bob experience without exposure to the more unseemly content, such as drug addiction and the scarier aspects of homelessness. They created Bob: No Ordinary Cat, a version of the original A Street Cat Named Bob written just for kids. It came out on Valentine’s day, 2013, and was another big seller.
Now comes a really fun thing, and again, thanks go to that faceless but powerful phenomenon, the internet. Around The World In 80 Bobs is a terrifically fun blog site that is devoted entirely to posting pictures of Bob (actually the covers of James’ books showing Bob) set in countries around the world. And this led to Where in The World Is Bob?, a picture book from James and Garry based on the blog. Readers have to spot Bob, James and assorted other items in scenes from around the world. It was published in October, 2013 and is the latest popular book.
Next up is a story from James titled A Gift From Bob, published just a few weeks ago in October. It’s about James’ and Bob’s last Christmas on the streets together. Publishers Hodder & Stoughton say that the book reveals “how Bob helped James through one of his toughest times — providing strength, friendship and inspiration but also teaching him important lessons about the true meaning of Christmas along the way.”
Finally, as if all this publishing wasn’t enough success for James and Bob, a film version of their story has been optioned by a movie production company, and the latest news is that it is moving forward.
James Bowen, the former homeless opioid addict, is saving up to get a mortgage so he can buy his own house. That’s a very long way from doorways and park benches, and in a very short time indeed. James is no longer on public benefits or on drugs.
“I still pinch myself,” James told the Mirror. “I’m getting a bit of money but I’m not commanding millions in advances. But I’m happy because I no longer have to worry about bailiffs banging on the door, everything is good now.”
A local UK man who helps run Bob and James’ Facebook fan page, arranged the first “BOBFEST” last May. People came from as far away as Brazil and Japan to help raise money for Blue Cross, where James first took Bob to see a vet. And apparently there will be more BOBFESTS in the future. To date, ‘Bobites’, as they’re called, have raised close to 10,000, and are also acting as advocates against homelessness.
Most of the time these days, the famous duo are seen at book signings and doing charity work. According to a recent story in The Big Issue, which James used to sell on the street, he and his “scarf-wearing, high-fiving, streetwise cat Bob are in high demand.”
“I’m working with several charities and celebrities,” James said, naming a few UK celebs. “We share the same opinions, not just about animals but the way that humans are treated like animals in certain circumstances.
“I never expected to find a following. It’s so great to have a voice. So many people don’t have one, and the same goes for animals. Homeless people and Big Issue vendors, we all get chucked in the same boat.”
Well, what can we say, except that it’s a well known fact that few people get off drugs without some love and support from someone somewhere. And for James Bowen, the love and support he needed came from a most surprising source — a ginger tiger-striped tabby cat named Bob.
It’s also well documented that a surprising number of recovering addicts, like James Bowen, turn around and do whatever they can to help others who need guidance and support to mend their damaged lives.
Here at Novus Medical Detox Center, we’re dedicated to helping our patients overcome their addictions so they can get on with what’s needed to ensure their lives are free of drugs and alcohol. We bring you these stories of hope and inspiration in the same spirit that we bring hope and inspiration to our patients.
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