It’s hard to comprehend the life of a heroin addict and the desperate, hopeless struggle to get clean.
For many, it can be a difficult task to kick the habit and climb out of the black hole that’s sucked them down and consumed them for so long.
For addicts living on the streets, that hole can be so deep and lonely that it’s impossible to even imagine getting out.
But for James Bowen, it was an unimaginable and unlikely hero who saved him from his doomed fate. His hero is Bob, a ginger Tomcat who strolled into his sheltered accommodation back in 2007 and provided him with the strength and support to overcome his crippling drug addiction.
Seven years on and James, a former busker, is now a best-selling author, thanks to his much-loved tale, A Street Cat Called Bob. The 35-year-old now spends his days traveling up and down the country, with his feline friend, sharing his inspirational story – and the pair will be stopping off in Manchester at The Family Pet Show next month.
“Before Bob I was invisible”, says James. “I never dreamt in a million years that we’d be able to travel and do all of the wonderful things for the chary that we do, there are no words that can describe it. He’s a way of opening people’s eyes and ears to things.”
Following his parent’s divorce, James moved to Australia as a kid with his mother and stepfather but home life was tense and he struggled to settle at school.
In 1997 he returned to the UK to live with his half-sister, but the arrangement didn’t last and in a matter of months he found himself without a job or a home, sleeping rough on the streets. With nobody to turn to, it wasn’t long before he turned to drugs and began using heroin:
“Heroin is just terrible”, says James. “The only escape for a lot of people sleeping rough is drugs and I can completely relate to anybody in that situation. For me, drugs became an escape from reality because I was sleeping on concrete at the time and life was hopeless.
“I’ve always been the black sheep of my family. I spent my teenage years dreaming of being a rock star then when it didn’t happen I sort of slipped through the cracks and then ended up on the streets.
“When I found Bob he gave me such purpose. When I looked in his eyes he gave me a sense of responsibility and it became the case were I wasn’t just looking after myself anymore, I was looking after him to.”
The pair’s paths first crossed when James was staying at a supportive housing building in London, after spending months on the streets, and Bob turned up unexpectedly outside his room:
“He managed to get through the security door of the place where I was staying and he was sitting on this doorstep for three days straight so I just thought he was waiting for his owner to get home”, recalls James.
“But on the fourth day he was still there so I knocked on the door but the guy said ‘he’s not mine’, and he didn’t know where he had come from.
“So I took him in my place and cleaned him up and gave him some mashed up tuna that I had and then he let me bathe him and that’s when I noticed he had a huge abscess on the back of his leg. He looked like he’d been attacked by another animal so I took him to the RSPCA and bought him some antibiotics and during that time I tried to find out where he’d came from, but nobody knew who he was.
“By the time he’d finished his course of antibiotics we’d got into a routine of me taking him down for the loo, because he didn’t like the litter tray, so he’d do that and then look at me like come on let’s go back inside now.”
After two weeks had passed James tried to help the cat find his way back to where he had come from and admits he even tried ‘shooing’ him away. But, his efforts failed and Bob made it clear he was staying put.
“He kept following me and every night I’d get home and he’d just be sitting on my doorstep waiting for me”, says James. “One day I got on the bus and looked down and he was sitting next to me.”
It was then that James made the decision to take Bob in and look after him, but little did he know it would be the cat that would end up looking after him.
James recalls: “When I was on the rehabitiliation programme to get clean he was just there for me. He knew when I needed a bit of comfort and he knew when I needed to be left alone. He is a remarkably intelligent cat and he inspires me.”
Since the success of his book squeal, James now devotes his life to inspiring others by sharing his story and helps raise funds for charities close to his heart:
“I am always more than willing to help any charity that asks me”, says James, “I’m a big supporter of housing schemes because I know how much they helped me and they can be that step that people need to help get the on their way back into the real world.
“When Bob came along he gave me a chance to be a spokesperson for those who were just being passed by so that’s what I’m trying to do.
“We’re working on a new children’s book at the minute and then it’s going to be more touring and so we can meet all of our loyal fans and say thank you for all the support they’ve shown us.
“As long as I’m comfortable, that’s all that matters. I don’t want to be rich or a millionaire, I just want to make sure that I can look after Bob and that I don’t ever have to sleep on the streets again.”
James Bowen and Bob will be appearing at The Family Pet Show, which takes place at EventCity, in Manchester on October 25-26.
For tickets visit: www.thefamilypetshow.co.uk
Image courtesy of bumfe’s via YouTube, with thanks.