Remembering Homer on 9/11

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Probably no part of Homer's Odyssey has provoked more outraged response (yes, there are readers out there who were outraged--outraged!--by Homer's Odyssey) than the chapters dealing with 9/11 and my attempts to rescue my three cats who were trapped in my apartment mere blocks from Ground Zero.  I have been called "selfish," "utterly self-absorbed," "eerie," and just plain "stupid" for thinking about my cats on a day when so many human lives were lost.



I've always felt that any reader who comes away from those chapters describing my very visceral reactions to witnessing the loss of human life that day and remains convinced that it wouldn't have ruffled a hair on my head so long as my cats were okay is...well...not a very intuitive reader.  And, going back to my non-profit days, I've always been particularly irritated by the type of person who takes no helpful actions himself, but feels that so long as he criticizes your actions and attempts to help, he's achieved a kind of helpfulness-by-proxy.  (I like to refer to this as the Cheez-Whiz of helpfulness--it isn't actual helpfulness, but it's a helpfulness-like product.)

Forgive me for such a cranky beginning to a blog post.  But the thing that really chaps my hide--and that I'm using today as a platform to discuss--is this idea that helping people and helping animals is somehow an either/or proposition.  It is one of my firmest, most deeply held beliefs that when you help animals, you help people, too.  I spent this summer traveling to no-kill shelters all over the country, each one of which has programs that serve their local human communities--anti-bullying programs, literacy programs, programs that serve the elderly, the disabled, military families, disaster survivors, and so on--as a direct extension of the work they do saving animals.  Certainly more has been done for people by the people who help animals than by those who sit comfortably on the sidelines offering nothing beyond one more opinion about how things should be done (and we all know how much one more opinion is worth).

On September 11th, the ASPCA helped rescue animals trapped near Ground Zero--but, in doing so, they also helped me, and I'm a person.  The same goes for Garrett, my pet-sitter, who did everything in his power to get to my cats.  It was something he was able to do for a 9/11 survivor forced to flee with nothing but the clothes on her back and the $500 she had in her savings account, and who--for all she knew--might have nothing else left in the world.

I don't even want to get into the debate as to the relative value of human life versus animal life, mostly because I think such a debate is ultimately pointless.  We couldn't live in a world with only humans and no other animals, nor would most of us want to even if we could.

On September 11th, we remember that all life--whether that life goes on two legs or four--is precious and fragile. 

We remember the men and women--the office workers, the police officers, the firefighters--who lost their lives that day.  And we also remember the rescue dogs who rushed bravely into the fray.  Some of them didn't live to see September 12th.  Many of them have since been claimed by the lung diseases and cancers that have taken the lives of so many 9/11 first responders.

And I, at least, remember a little blind cat whose life was spared that day.  Just a little cat, whose loss might not have shaken the world to its core, but who meant the world to the person who loved him.



  • Janiss Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    My two favorite parts of Homer's Odyessy are when Homer saved you from the burglar, and the part about your experience in the days after 911. I totally got it, and I really don't understand those who don't. I was in New York when the major earthquake of 1994 hit my home of Los Angeles, and foremost in my mind in those desperate hours trying to get a plane home was whether my cat was okay. Yes, I was worried about my friends too, but the day I took Harlot home in 1986, I became responsible for her life and we were partners. And I was so happy to finally make it home late that evening and see her greet me at the top of the stairs.

  • Deborah Bentley Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Gwen, a righteous woman of God

    I had no idea that people actually criticized you and judged you, Gwen, for being concerned for your cats during 9/11! Your blog was excellently written, and as I read it, the scripture from Proverbs 12:10 came to my mind, "The righteous has regard for his animal." I am angry that people judged you for helping out your cats at that time, and at the same time, I pity those people who would say such things to you. People who say such things will not be out helping other people. If they can't go to the rescue of an innocent cat, how will they run to help people? I loved your book and found that chapter in your book so difficult to read, as it was heart wrenching, and I had to put the book down from time to time to get through the chapter. To think you had to go through 9/11, were living right by the Twin Towers! I was so relieved when you finally go up to the top of the stairs to save your kitty cats! All of the obstacles you had to face to even get to your apartment building- so many roadblocks in the way- it was a miracle you got through, Gwen! May our Lord greatly comfort you and Laurence and Fanny and Clayton on this day of 9/11. I have never met you, Gwen, but I love you and I think you are a wonderful person.

  • Cindy Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Ignore those people who have no real clue about 9-11!

    I work in DC and live very close to the Pentagon and yes, I worried about my kitties as well in the many many hours it took to get home on 9-11. And had even worse come, the kitties would have been with me in my car heading away from the east coast.

  • Dawn Bonsby Wednesday, 11 September 2013


    Only a true animal lover will understand your suffering during that day, and days to come. Don't feel bad at all!! I cried as I read what you and the kitties went through. You had no clue what was happening at that time. Your instinct was to get home and rescue them. Be proud of your actions Gwen!,

  • Kathy Minnick Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Remembering Homer on 9/11

    I met you on Saturday at the HELP Humane BTA and I believe you care a lot about both animals and people. I worked on ambulance here in Belton as well as in nursing and now doing meds on animals. I must tell you that any time we rolled up in the ambulance to a fire our first thoughts were to save lives no matter what they were. I administered oxygen to babies as well as animals. On 9/11 I'm sure rescuers were there for all life whatever that may be and were willing to give there lives to help. Thank God you are a testimony to the perseverance needed to save your loved ones. May God Bless You and yes Homer will be remembered by many.

  • Betty Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    In my opinion

    You are fabulous, they are soulless, Nuff said!

  • Nancy Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Thank you

    I don't understand why people would ever criticize someone for helping animals. "He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."--Immanuel Kant-philosopher. These types of people must be truly heartless. Thank you for your wonderful story

  • Deborah Bentley Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    You are a righteous woman, Gwen

    I just wrote an email and somehow it got deleted- so I will rewrite it. I just wanted to tell you that I am really sorry that some people were so judgmental and critical of you, Gwen, for rescuing your kitty cats. I can't believe they would say such things and it makes me angry- but then, they surely don't know the scripture from Proverbs 12:10- "The righteous has regard for his animal." If a person isn't concerned for the welfare of his/hers innocent animals, surely they won't be concerned for people. I want you to know how much I admire and respect and love you for what you do for animals and people- you surely do both of these things, Gwen. Your book "Homer's Odyssey" will always be a favorite of mine. Your chapter in it on 9/11 absolutely broke my heart, but I was so very happy when you finally got up to the top of the steps in your apartment building to save your kitty cats. It was so touching to read how your blind little Homer was right there looking out the window for you, and ran to your arms and clung to you- you were his lifeline, his "eyes," his strength. Your book shed much light on 9/11 for those of us who don't live in NYC, and it was so interesting to read the story of someone like you who lived through it- what a nightmare, but thank God you were saved, and that you were able, in turn, to save your cats. Much love to you from me and my kitty cat, Remmy.

  • Lisa Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Well put, Gwen

    I read this book. Can't believe Gwen had to address her reaction to the fear that her "babies" may not survive. I remember the movie "World Trade Center"..and how was already crying at the end of the movie in the theater but when they panned across the display of pictures of missing people and someone posted their cat's picture, well that just got me right in the heart! They may not be human but they are just as important to the ones that love them!

  • Kim Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Cats are Family!

    I remember reading that part of the book and being so scared that you would not be able to get to your cats. I would have been in that situation. My cats are family! They are little furry humans who talk funny. Anyone who thinks that people who love their animals are putting them before humans is wrong. Animals are our family. We couldn't get along without them.

  • Mary Schnebly Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    I would have done the same thing

    Obviously the people criticizing you have never known the unconditional love and companionship of an animal. I would have done whatever I could have to get to my cats, as you did. I probably would have told the guards to back off, cause I was coming through anyway!!! ;) I don't know what I'd do if I knew my cats were in danger and someone told me I couldn't go save them. I'd go ballistic, I do know that. My cats and my husband are the most precious souls in my life and I'll do anything to save them.

  • dee Wednesday, 11 September 2013


    I cried and felt your feeling of despair when i heard the cd with 9/11 on it. Anyone with a heart would feel that way.

  • Andrea Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Ignore those jerks.

    Gwen, whoever says that obviously hasn't understood that a family isn't made up only of human beings. Even if they don't like it, your cats were (and still are) your children, and the ones you were taking care of with all the love in the world. So to them, a big GTFO.

    "Just a little cat, whose loss might not have shaken the world to its core, but who meant the world to the person who loved him."

    I have to disagree a bit with you here, because it wasn't just one person who loved Homer. He did shake a good part of the world's core, thanks to you sharing us the story of your guardian angel. He was your cat, that is undeniable, but I think all of your fans, myself included, ended up loving Homer almost as much as you did. When I learned of his death, I was pretty sad about it. As I once read in a cartoon, I believe that when it's your turn to go to Heaven, someone at the gates will come to you and ask: "You're Gwen Cooper? Glad to meet you. Homer, Scarlett, Vashti and many other animals have been talking about you a lot. Especially Homer."

    You lived through the most terrifying days in modern history, and the fact that your furbabies were your motivation to get through them and see them to safety means a lot. If others don't understand it, it's their problem. But you did what you did, in the name of the love you have for your cats.

  • jaw Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Well said and many thanks for your bravery then and now.

  • Tracey Lake Wednesday, 11 September 2013


    If I recall correctly, either Vashti or Scarlett was insulin dependent, and that was another huge concern. It makes me a little crazy to read that people actually criticized you for recounting that day from your world. My brother was in New York in a hotel a few blocks away on September 11, 2001. I confess I wasn't thinking about all the people who lost their lives for the two weeks he was stranded in NY. All I wanted was my brother home safe. Does that make me selfish and self-absorbed? Maybe. But the fact is, each person that day worried about different things for different reasons. How dare they say your cats' lives weren't important because of the loss of human life. ALL lives lost that day, and the days since due to the fall-out, were and are important and heart-wrenching. There will always be the haters. Not worth our time.

  • Teresa Sommerville Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Very well said, Gwen. As I read the part of the book on the events of 9/11, I couldnt help but cry, as I thought about your cats, espacially Homer, and what could've happened. I was worried right up until ypu finally got to him. Bless that man who let you pass to go in. I thought about how I would've felt if it were my Daemon, in there. (I read a lot of the book to him as he sat with me through the tears.) My mom daughter an I mourn Homers' loss, with you. He has made me appreciate Daemon even more. Anyone who says negative things about your book, has no love for our furry companions. Therefore, whatever they say means nothing. Love from Kansas.

  • Damien Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    You rock

    Ignore the haters, Gwen. Don't even bother engaging them. Focus on all the great work you do. For every idiot there are a hundred people who love what you do and understand everything you did that day.

  • Patrick Jones Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Well said...

    My girlfriend and I recently listened to your book on a long drive back from Florida, and what I took from the 9/11 chapters was not that you were thinking only of your cats or somehow putting them above human life. Overall, it just seemed to be your way of making sense of (or just coping with) something that was absolutely senseless. Seems to me that's what everyone was doing in the days after 9/11 -- even the rescue workers and others who worked more directly in the aftermath of the tragedy. We were all just trying to do something. Some of us watched the news reports obsessively, some of us talked about it, some of us tried to contribute money or labor somehow. For my part, I remember hugging my three month old son a lot. You went after your cats. How could anyone have a problem with that?

  • pam rogers Wednesday, 11 September 2013


    iM TELLING YOU NOW . I WOULD HAVE DONE WHAT EVER IT TOOK TO GO GET MY KITTY'S. I would risk my life for my furr babies. people are just stupid. kitty's are part of the family. i love my cats like children they are always there to love you. After the fires in texas i told my husband I dont know how but some way I would get to my babies if we were ever not allowed to our home some way some how. My deedee is 17 and i think she is losing her eye sight she is bumping in to things but you know ill do what ever i can to help her .

  • Tom Hering Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Basic fact: love begets more love, not less. More for animals, more for people. And it doesn't matter if it starts with one or the other.

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