What pets teach us about…Commitment.

In 2007, James Bowen was a drug addict, attempting to recover, living in halfway housing, and trying desperately to make ends meet by busking on the London Streets. He had struggled with homelessness and heroin addiction for many years, and was trying, yet again, to get back on his feet.

James was part of a rehabilitation program in which patients take the drug methadone as an alternative to illicit drugs. James had successfully transitioned from heroin to methadone, but he was still addicted and fully dependent on methadone. To help cover the cost of this program, and of his housing, he brought in what spare change he could by playing guitar and singing on the busy London streets.

One night, as James returned home to his building, he found an orange cat in the hallway. At first James ignored it, believing it must belong to someone else. But the next day, James found that the kitty was still in the spot where he first saw him. James discovered that he had no identification, and was also badly injured. He tried to find the cat’s owner amongst the other residents of his building, but when no one claimed the kitty as their own, James decided it was his responsibility to help him

He brought him into a nearby clinic, and with the very little money he had, he pursued treatment of the kitty’s wound. For the duration of the two-week treatment, James continued to look for the owner of the cat, while keeping the kitty in his care. Once the treatment was complete, and no owner had turned up, James let the cat back out on the streets. Since James was caught in his own volatile situation, was having a difficult enough time caring for himself, and was desperately struggling to remain on the methadone program to heal his addiction, he didn’t feel he could add the responsibility of caring for another life.

But this little orange kitty had other plans.

He began following James around. He even followed him onto the bus! This kitty wouldn’t let James go, so James decided he wouldn’t need to. He adopted this bold little cat, and named him Bob.

Bob became an integral part of James’s life and routine. James took Bob everywhere. He bought him a harness and a leash to keep him safe, though Bob’s preferred method of transport was atop James’s shoulders. They became an inseparable duo. James would busk the streets of London, and Bob would reside beside him.

But this life they led was still volatile. Though Bob’s presence helped with his busking earnings, James still made little money. He quickly learned that caring for an animal was not free, and he wanted to give his new partner the best life he possibly could. The duo still depended on the special housing program, and though it was more stable than James’s previous homelessness, James wanted to move beyond assisted housing.

And most critical of all, James was still addicted to methadone.

James decided he needed to change. He needed to create a better, more stable life-  for his sake, and for Bob’s.

James made the decision to end his methadone dependency, and to become completely drug free. He knew that this would be unimaginably challenging. What he didn’t know was that he wouldn’t be alone.

James ceased taking methadone, and soon his body began to react. He endured days of violent withdrawal symptoms. But through every moment, Bob stayed by his side. Bob’s constant presence, his sweet little purr, was the support James needed to make it through. Bob’s soft body by his side was the reminder of the purpose for all the pain and strife. James knew he needed to do this for Bob and for himself, and Bob never abandoned him. Though James’s body reacted violently, Bob wouldn’t leave him.

Bob had made a commitment to James. From James’s first act of kindness toward Bob, Bob decided that James was his person. And though it took some convincing, James finally agreed.

Bob had chosen his duty. He made a commitment to be James’s companion. And that commitment, from animal to human, from one sweet soul to another, is one that does not falter. Through the happy moments, and even through the scary ones, Bob was steadfast in his commitment to James.

We humans sometimes struggle with this. Everyone’s heard the tiresome trope of a parent requiring a child to first prove their responsibility before being allowed to get a puppy. And we’ve all experienced the trials (read: messy failures) of house training a pet, and the dedication and determination that requires. Sadly, we’ve also heard stories of animals being surrendered, or worse yet, abandoned by their owners. The fact of the matter is, owning an animal takes commitment. Many humans do not understand this at the start, but quickly learn.

Whether it is potty training, walking, grooming, boundaries and discipline, or routine veterinary care, there are a myriad of tasks and responsibilities that are necessary for owning and effectively caring for a pet. Too often humans adopt a pet, but refuse to undertake these necessary tasks. They want the animal, but not the responsibility. And inevitably, the pet suffers.

And yet there are many humans who discover the great and daunting responsibility of caring for an animal, and though they are met with many challenges, they choose to commit to their pet, despite the difficulties. They accept the potty training, the many walks, the grooming, the frustrations of setting and reinforcing boundaries, and the sometimes overwhelming costs at the veterinarian’s office. They understand that when we choose to care for another life, there are many obligations that come with it, but that each of those challenging moments is worth it. That we have made a promise, and that that promise takes commitment.

What our pets give us in return far exceeds those challenges. The joy, the laughter, the comfort, the unconditional love- these things cannot be measured, and they cannot ever be matched.

When Bob chose James, he began to teach James what true commitment looks like. Bob’s determination to stay by James’s side no matter what showed James the depth of his attachment, and James knew his life would never be the same. James, in turn, fully committed himself to Bob, and together, they made a new life for themselves. Though James had greatly struggled with addiction, finances, job responsibilities, and homelessness, having Bob in his life and committing to loving and caring for him gave James the determination he needed to change his life. James sought new job opportunities and worked hard to be successful in them. Gradually, James became more and more financially stable, and successfully remained drug free.

James and Bob became a well-known pair. People began to upload videos of them to YouTube, and local papers wrote pieces on them. Eventually, James wrote a book about Bob, entitled “A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life.” It became a worldwide bestseller. Not long after, it was made into a film.

James is eternally grateful for what Bob taught him. He feels he owes everything to Bob, saying “I believe it came down to this little man. He came and asked me for help, and he needed me more than I needed to abuse my own body. He is what I wake up for every day now… he’s definitely given me the right direction to live my life.”

Bob taught James so much when he chose him and stayed by his side. James in turn committed fully to providing Bob with a beautiful life. Though it took all the strength, determination, and fortitude he had, he worked hard, he changed his life, and he created a wonderful future for his new companion and for himself.

James and Bob are still an inseparable duo. Together they have written many books (including children’s books starring Bob!) and they continue to share their beautiful story with the world.

Our pets teach us so many invaluable lessons during their time with us. And one of the greatest of these lessons is commitment.

This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply