Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Today I would like to introduce you to Henry, an extraordinary and inspiring “celebri-cat” who was recently named the ASPCA Cat of the Year for 2010. Henry is a three-legged cat who opens people’s eyes and minds, as well as their hearts. He received this special award because of his transformational work teaching tolerance, resiliency and courage, as well as for his healing work with disabled children, wounded veterans and their families, Hurricane Katrina survivors and Haitian earthquake amputees.
Some might say that Henry’s incredible journey from unassuming stray to remarkable healer was accidental, but I really don’t think it was. I don’t necessarily believe in the saying, “everything has a purpose,” but Henry’s life story seems guided by more than chance.
The stray tabby kitten was discovered at Cathy Conheim’s California home one day, with a severe leg injury. Cathy, despite being a devoted “dog person” who actually disliked cats, not only rushed Henry to her vet, but chose amputation over euthanasia. This conscious choice to save Henry’s life and take him into her home was just the start of the amazing events yet to unfold.
Henry adapted quickly to his new life with just three legs, which inspired Conheim to send an email to 20 friends describing his triumphant tale of survival and courage in the face of adversity. As often happens in this internet age, the email was forwarded by countless thousands of people around the world who were moved by Henry’s story.
Conheim realized then that Henry’s purpose was to be a “therapet” who could impart healing through storytelling. The plucky three-legged cat could serve as inspiration for humans struggling to come to terms with their own disability or tragic life circumstances, and he could also help others understand and feel compassion for the disabled. You see, Henry had found his way into the home of two healers – a psychotherapist and a doctor – and they believed he was destined to join the family profession.
“He's here to teach us how to deal with our misfortunes. All of us have problems, but Henry says you can't be defined by them. You're defined by your response to your problems. He is a hopeful symbol of beating the odds,” said Conheim.”
Indeed he is. With Henry as her inspiration, Conheim wrote two books, Henry’s World, a Three-Legged Cat’s View of Human Absurdity and What’s the Matter with Henry? The True Tale of a Three-Legged Cat, both of which were published to raise money for less fortunate animals. Henry has his own website, www.henrysworld.org, through which he serves as a “therapet” responding to more than 33,000 letters to date.
“Humans talk from their heart when they talk to a pet, which is why Henry has had such an impact,” said Conheim. “What's fascinating to me as a therapist is what I can accomplish through Henry that I can't do in my office, because he has the voice of a child and the innocence of an animal,” she explained.
A national nonprofit, First Book, distributed What's the Matter with Henry? to children displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and to children of military families dealing with deployment-related emotional and physical trauma. More recently, it was translated into Creole to help Haitian earthquake victims and amputees.
Conheim wrote a third book, What About Me? I'm Here Too!, to address the emotional issues experienced by healthy siblings of chronically ill children, who often feel invisible and ignored. Told through the voice of Henry’s “sibling,” Dolly the dog, it helps children learn how to develop resilience and express their feelings.
According to Conheim, Henry's evolving mission is “to raise money for animals in need, while also teaching humans to turn obstacles into opportunities, bullies into buddies and to create an emotional vocabulary for health.” One of Henry’s many goals as a therapet is to start a national conversation around healing and the difficult issues of life’s disappointments.
Despite being a bona fide celebri-cat, six-year-old Henry enjoys normal feline activities like bird-watching from his indoor perch, stalking sunbeams and having his belly rubbed and ears scratched. If you’d like to learn more about Henry and his important healing work, or to order books, dolls and cards, visit his website, henrysworld.org.
Read more articles by Julia Williams