A source of love and hope
Princess was "one of a kind."
It was January of this year and we were still in quarantine in the small town where I live in upstate New York. I was working on my taxes and decided I needed a professional’s help because I didn’t want to make any mistakes with the IRS. I had reached out to an acquaintance who worked at a little bakery, she was both their pastry chef and accountant. She asked me about some of my charitable donations and noticed that I had given frequently to an organization called Pets Of The Homeless.
When I told her that it is a charity that helps the homeless cover food and medical expenses for their pets, she smirked and rolled her eyes.
“So, not only do we have to take care of them, but their pets too? If they’re on the streets, why do they have to make animals suffer along with them?”
I just smiled and mumbled something about how it’s a charity that I like helping. I had no intention of getting into a discussion about this or telling her my story. It was obvious that she didn’t think much of the homeless, or their pets.
Her reaction wasn’t unusual to me. I’ve been around others who felt the same way before. They thought that supporting such a charity is nothing more than supporting the suffering of animals who are forced to live on the street. They’ve told me that these animals were nothing more than props, a way to gain sympathy from gullible people. In the past, I had tried to explain that this wasn’t the case for most of them, but I was called naive. “How else are they going to make their money for drugs?” they asked me.
Homelessness is prevalent in this area. It’s not unusual to see someone with a sign declaring their need in the parking lot of our local shopping plaza. It was near there that I got to know a homeless man and his little calico cat. A man who took the wrong turns in life, but never gave up hope.
His name was John, in his late 60’s, with a very pronounced limp, and a soft voice. He had a small cat named Princess. Princess was a calico cat with beautiful green eyes. The first time that I stopped to talk to John, I thought she was a kitten because of her small size. John was never without her at his side. I’ve had quite a few pets in my life, and I could tell that their connection was unbreakable. The love between John and his little Princess was very strong. It wasn’t hard to see why. She was the only family that John had.
John cared for Princess like a parent. I always saw him feeding her and making sure that she was warm in the frigid weather. Whenever I stopped by that area, I’d spend time talking with John. I’d often buy some things for John and Princess. I’d get them food, clothes, and whatever I could afford that day. I got strange looks from people, because I would sometimes sit on the ground with him, to talk and to play with Princess. Some people stopped associating with me, after they saw me sit with John and his cat, while others just asked me why. “Wasn’t I afraid of him?” I’d answer that John is like everyone else, a human being, who just happened to be homeless. He is a person that needs compassion, and dignity. My explanation didn’t change anyone’s mind.
When I first met John, I was working at a local restaurant as a server. Jobs are hard to come by in a small town. Being a server wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I was happy that I was finally able to pay my rent and bills.
A woman that I worked with mentioned that she had seen John and Princess at the plaza. She didn’t think that John should have Princess with him on the street. It wasn’t fair to Princess to belong to a homeless man. She said that she was going to ask John if he would allow her to adopt Princess. I knew that John would never that but I didn’t say anything.
The next day my coworker came into the restaurant in a bad mood. Just as I thought, John had turned down her proposal. She angrily yelled that she offered him $1,200 for his cat. He had refused. John told her that Princess was his child and his best friend. There wasn’t anything that she could offer him that would make him give up his beloved cat. My coworker didn’t give up easily, and she kept trying to talk John into giving her the cat, over the next few months. Eventually, it was clear that he wasn’t going to agree, and she stopped trying.
I knew not to get into a discussion with the woman that tried to buy John’s Princess. Many people seem to not comprehend that homelessness and poverty can happen to anyone at any time. We are all one step away from being that person on the street, asking for change and a little empathy. Unfortunately, many people are of the mindset of “that can’t happen to me, because I’m not an addict, lazy, or crazy”. The homeless are often perceived as less than human, if they are perceived at all. Most of the time, they’re just invisible. Their dirty clothes and unkempt appearance makes people pass them by as if they don’t exist at all. Often their pet is their only friend and family. They have no one else to love or be loved by.
I understand what a pet can be to a person who’s alone in the world, and the love that they share. I was homeless at one point in my life. The way people treated me was worse than not having a bed to sleep in at night.
I was in between jobs, when my home was dropped by Hurricane Sandy, along with everything in it. The only thing that I had left was my little ginger cat. His name was Grumbles, a blind stray that I rescued a few years before losing everything. He was the only one of my cats that survived the hurricane.
I was scared, lonely, and my savings have run out. I have very little family, and we are not close, and I ended up on the streets. Grumbles was my family, and taking care of him was the reason that I got up in the morning, Grumbles loved me unconditionally. He didn’t care how much I had, or where I was in life. He gave me hope, and because I had him, I didn’t feel alone. Of course, there were some people that accused me of using my blind cat to garner sympathy and financial help. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Grumbles was never a prop to me, never something that I used to help myself. When he passed away in 2015, I was heartbroken. I still miss him, and will never forget him.
For John and other homeless individuals, that pet is often their only source of love and hope.
A few years ago, I ran into John, who was now living in assisted housing. He told me that Princess had passed away at the age of 11. He said that when she died the light had gone out of his life.
He cried, and I cried along with him, because I knew what he felt. I told him that there are other cats in need of a home, and he can help by adopting. I told him to just think about the love that he can give to a needy animal, just like Princess. “You can use me as a reference.” I said.
He smiled at me and said, “But Princess was one of a kind.”
As left, I knew that he would adopt. When he did, that cat would find John as I had found him—patient and kind, holding on to hope, and looking for someone to love.