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.



  • Monica Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    My Favorite Quote

    From St. Francis of Assisi
    “If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

  • Richard Newhouse Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    I was moved by what you wrote

    Gwen I remember when I first read Homers Odyssey feeling what you felt that day because your description of the events really told me for the first time how really horrible that day was. Oh I saw the video during that whole day like everyone else but I never really realized how the attack hurt the average person. At the time too my cat Buttercup was still alive and I was wondering how the animal owners would get to their pets as most of the streets had been closed. So no Gwen you have nothing to apologize for I just feel sorry for those who have never really and truly experienced the love of any kind of pet.
    Homer and you though have been the real pioneers and have showed people that just because a cat or any other pet has a handicap doesn't mean that they can't be loving and sweet. Many animals with all kinds of handicaps can and do lead relatively normal lives.

  • Katie Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    I would have done the same

    If it were my cat i would have done the same to get to my cats and make sure that they were safe i sorry i don't have children but my cats are my kids and when people are single mind and don't think about all liveing thing that what might make someone else happy. but when i read that chapter about homer and 9/11 and that you were trying every thing to get back to your apartment and that you did not know weather the window were broken i cryed. like i said i would have done that same thing to do every thing in my power to get back to my place to get back to my cats

  • Janette Kavanaugh Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Brava!!! Well said.

  • Mary Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    you will always find those who like to put others down

    Gwen, If those people really paid attention to your book and got into the story, they should had felt how shock you were by what happened that day. I remember reading that part and as I read your reaction to it, my heart was pounding so hard and tears were streaming down my face. I could feel your anguish, disbelieve, your horror, and desperation while you saw people jumping to their death. Like someone said, your cats were your family. Like for me, my cats are part of my family, my kids. Just today, I found out, I would never have kids due to medical problems. Once I told my mother, to please never judge me for loving my cats as if they were my kids. I am in my early 40s and for the way things were going, I was probably never have kids. It was like deep down I knew it will happen. Today as I told my mother the news, she broke crying as I said that I would never have kids. I am still in shock, but now, I would say my love for my cats will be deeper.

  • Dafaolta Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    Tiny minds

    I'm so sorry that these sad little people and their tiny minds have made such a fuss over what has always been one of the most memorable parts of your book. Homer's joy at your reunion always brings a smile. It's a gift you were given that the grumblies will never know.

  • Qaylys Comment Wednesday, 11 September 2013

    To Homer's Family

    Your description of 9/11 was deeply moving. When I read the 9/11 chapter, I was on tenterhooks. I kept thinking "Sewers, Gwen, sewers!" In a city where so many move in and out, I struggled not to be angry at the officers doing their jobs. "Blind cat, broken windows"... and Homer's leaps of faith. My prayer was that in that mysterious way of cats, he would know that it wasn't the time. I stand at the window all night when one of mine just escapes outside. The lesson I took was go straight home and secure my fur babies; in the hearts of your critics is the fear that should disaster strike, no one will fight to return to their side.

  • Kumo Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Heart breaking

    Dear Gwen,
    It breaks my heart to even imagine that anyone could be so unfeeling and ignorant as to criticize your attempts to save your cats. I live in another country. Your very personal account of 9/11 in Homer's Odyssey brought home the true horror of the event; of what it means to be separated from small and vulnerable loved ones while witnessing and living through the hell and chaos of a catastrophe.
    For every one of those mean spirited folk who sneer, there are millions of hearts beating in time to yours.
    ("For what you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me.")
    Bless you, Gwen, for all you do!

  • jmuhj Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Remembering Homer on 9/11

    "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 couldn't have expressed it better, and certainly I would not have expressed it anywhere near as kindly as you have. It's no one else's business how an individual feels or what his/her priorities are, as long as (s)he is not harming others. For me and my family, cats have always BEEN family and, as such, they receive the same love and consideration as any other family member. Maybe more, because cats' love is so pure and unconditional. I don't and won't apologize to anyone for how I feel or how I prioritize, and if that offends, so be it. Life is not and should not be a popularity contest.

  • Katie & Feline Princesses Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Amen - Again

    Agree totally. On that terrible day you were concerned about your loved ones - there is no law that says loved ones can only have 2 feet! Homer and his sisters were amazing as is his mom and dad! Read the book again as a way to celebrate Homer's life and all the good things that one small black cat did! Love seeing the photos of Homer and his sisters.

  • Agnes Newcomer Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Animal People

    Gwen, your determination to rescue your three cats from 9/11 was exactly what I would have done. Anyone who criticizes you for saving those whom you love isn't worth your consideration.
    Several years ago, I realized that there is a difference between "animal people" and the rest of the people. Animal people seem to be more compassionate, kinder, more accepting, patient, and committed to those that they love, than the "rest of the people". Non-animal people have subdivisions: including the obvious sociopathic brutes; people who just don't connect with animals, and don't want to be around them; and the insidious people who claim to be animal lovers - if it is convenient. This group last group likes animals for entertainment, with no commitment to the animal. They play with it until they get bored, or the animal becomes sick, or otherwise inconvenient. They believe an animal is less than human, not much more than a wind-up toy, so it can be tossed aside. These self-centered people lack empathy and commitment.

    I am polite to these people, and they may be acquaintances; but they aren't my friends. That cold lack of empathy and compassion makes it easy for them to drop an inconvenient human friend as easily as a they drop their animal friends. Instead of worrying about how these heartless people judge you, give them your pity for the life they live without ever having real love.

  • Anilyn F Thursday, 12 September 2013


    I wrote on your facebook page, but wanted to add how wonderful it is that you and Homer touched so many lives. That so many other cats were saved and adopted because people were moved by you and Homer's story. I found out about his passing yesterday on 9/11 and the tears just burst out of me. How you must miss him so, but I'm sure his spirit will stay around you as the love was so strong. Thanks again for sharing y'alls story. The world is better because of it.

  • Sharon Howard Saturday, 14 September 2013

    Right on, in giving it to those condemning you about 9/11 in your book. Those who wouldn't be worried about their four-legged friends are heartless.

  • Valerie Saturday, 14 September 2013

    People are the real horror in disasters

    The horror is that when a disaster whether natural or man-made one occurs non pet owners don't even consider what would happen to those pets. Thousands of beloved pets were injured, dead or separated for months after Hurricane Katrina and the federal evacuators forbade people from saving their pets. Many people turned down evacuation to take care of their pets and not have either die or potentially be lost forever. It is the people who have no thought to small, defenseless animals, especially a blind cat, seperated for days with scanty access to food or water. Would these thoughtless people put a baby in the same category or a small child? Is seriously think that some of these people would be that cruel.

  • Kit Curtin Monday, 16 September 2013

    One word description

    Two of us out here (in other-than-NYCland*) were absorbed in the chapter merely as an accounting of that day as someone living so close to the scene. Your attempts to get to members of YOUR FAMILY were the same as anyone else who had family 'lost' that day!!!! ALL LIFE is of value!! One word describes anyone "outraged" - IGNORANUS = stupid and an a**hole!!
    * I lived in NYC (while the towers were being built) so I know for New Yorkers there's only NYC and everywhere else! ;-)

  • Lorna Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    I agree

    Gwen, when I read that part in your book I too cryed. I would done anything and everything I could to get to my cats. I was at work when the towers were hit, one of the first things I thought of was my cats at home. Thankful they were safe in Des Moines IA not New York City near ground zero. People who reacted the way they did are short sited.

  • Sandra Calloway Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Homer, Scarlett and Vashti on 9/11

    Why in the world would anyone reading a story about your cats even question how worried you were about them?? If it were my cats I would have been frantic to get to them too - and that doesn't take anything away from what happened to anyone else that day. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time until you knew they were okay - even knowing since there was more to the book that they must have been! - so I can't even imagine how it felt going through it. If it were my cats I would have felt the same way.

  • Kathy Kimber Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    I agree

    Both with what you said in this post and what you wrote in the book. If my guys were in danger, I would do anything I could for them. Last week we had to evacuate our apartment complex because of a fire in the open space on the hill above it. Fortunately, my husband was home and able to stuff our guys into a carrier and get out with them. But, if we'd come home to find that we couldn't get to them, I would be the person trying to sneak in past the police lines to get them out. Thanks, Gwen

  • Wanda Smith Thursday, 19 September 2013

    Missing Homer

    I am so very Sorry about Homer, I know he watches out for you even now.
    He was so brave to chase the Burglar.

    All mean spirited do not have a clue, you can never expect them to understand.
    9-11 Was heartbreaking for All Americans. Our Duty is to protect our "Fur Kids. Love is like a two way street. They depend on US to protect them and keep them safe as we possible can, and THEY love & comfort us.

    Works for me, I have 4 rescues. I love them very much so does my husband.

  • Terri Wilson Thursday, 19 September 2013

    Great Tribute!

    This is such a wonderfully written tribute to Homer. I would have have been worried sick about my cats if I would have been there that day on 9-11. Like others that have written in here, tears were streaming down my face as I read the chapters in Homer's Odyssey about 9-11. I remember when you spoke in the book about stopping at a store to pick up cat food and litter as you were trying to make your way back to your apartment. It was a real life story about how devastating everything really was that day to someone who lived there. I wondered that day myself just about that very thing; how so many people left for work and didn't return to their pets. I don't know how anyone with any heart at all could criticize about that! The three cats were your family and responsibility. Of course, you would worry about them!!!! Thank you again Gwen for sharing such a wonderful true life story that truly will move me forever.

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