James Bowen is down to his last chance at life in A Street Cat Named Bob. He’s a heroin addict, living on the streets of London, busking (playing music for donations) and eating out of garbage cans to stay alive. A social worker assigned to his case gets him into a methadone program but he uses heroin one night and almost dies. Fearing for his life, the social worker talks her superior into getting James into public housing. If he can’t make it there, it will be back to the streets and almost certain death.
Not long after James moves into his flat, a surprise visitor shows up—a cat. He tries to find its owner but has no luck although he does strike up a friendship with one of his neighbors (Betty). She tells him the cat has chosen him and it seems that he has. She names him “Bob.” One day Bob follows James when he goes out to play music and to his surprise, the cat proves to be great for the busking business. He attracts an audience and puts them in a generous state of mind. Bob makes more money than he ever has.
Soon they are inseparable. James buys a leash for the cat but most of the time Bob ends up sprawled across his shoulders. The two achieve something of a celebrity status at Covent Garden where James does his busking. They pose for pictures. Bob gives high fives. Before long, there are clips of them on YouTube and articles in the newspaper.
Life is good but for it to get better James needs to get off his methadone. With the support of Betty, his social worker and the companionship of Bob, he makes it through the torturous process of withdrawal. To cap it all off, a publisher approaches James about co-writing a book concerning himself and Bob. He does and it ends up selling over 1 million copies in the UK and is translated into 30 languages.
It’s a good story that’s better because it actually happened. Bob the cat is cute and gets top billing and that makes for good entertainment. But it also makes it easier to overlook the people who help James—people like his social worker (which in real life was actually two people—a drug counselor and a housing worker) who saves his life by making James accountable, her intervention in getting him a place to live and not giving up on him when he fails. Then there is James’ friend Betty who provides companionship and support. There are others who contribute as well.
It’s refreshing story. Despite the critics—this kind of thing does happen in life and when it does it is a cause for celebration for all right thinking people. But maybe at the same time, it should make us sigh and long for more—and think about what struggler needs a lifeline from us.