Author Gwen Cooper is a darling of the animal rescue community, and no wonder. Her bestselling 2009 book Homer’s Odyssey told the true story of Cooper’s adoption of an unwanted three-week-old blind kitten and the unique bond that developed between them. This week, her highly anticipated new novel, Love Saves the Day, hits shelves, and the author is about to embark on a book tour that will take her not to the usual bookstores, but to 20 some no-kill animal shelters nationwide. TIME met with Cooper in Manhattan to talk about Prudence—the sassy but sensitive feline heroine of her new book—and her own cat’s many followers.
TIME: Tell me about Prudence, the cat at the center of your new novel.
GWEN COOPER: Prudence will be familiar to people who read Homer’s Odyssey because she is based very closely on my cat Scarlet. Scarlet is that classic aloof cat. She liked me, but she didn’t really have any patience for anybody else, including other cats. And when I decided to write a novel from a cat’s point of view, I really wanted a narrator who would have a certain objective distance from the character. I mean, she has a very loving heart; she loves the people that she loves. But she’s not viewing them through this kind of foggy haze of adoration where she just loves everything that they do.
Prudence goes through an awful lot in the book.
It’s the story of a mother and grown daughter who have a difficult relationship. Prudence is the mother’s cat, and her human [the mother] dies very early in the story and so she goes to live with the daughter and the daughter’s new husband. The story is told mostly from Prudence’s perspective, but occasionally the mother and daughter also chime in. This cat and the daughter grow to love each other and help each other heal from their mutual loss—and also through some other issues that they have in their own lives. That makes it sound very serious! I should add that Prudence is funny because cats are funny.
When you first got Homer, were you worried about adopting a blind kitten?
I did have some concerns at the beginning…it was an unsettled moment in my life. I was staying in a friend’s spare bedroom, having just broken up with my fiancé. I had two cats already. I was 24 years old. I was working very hard, as 24-year-olds have to do to establish themselves in their career. So I didn’t know if I had the time or the resources that a blind cat might require, but I agreed to meet him and just immediately fell in love with him. And as it turned it out, it really, in terms of the amount of care involved, was not substantially different from living with a sighted cat.
How does a blind cat maneuver?
Honestly, you would never know he was blind to see him walking around. He’s really adept at figuring out new spaces. Obviously his whiskers help him out a lot, his sense of smell, his sense of hearing. We try to keep everything in the same place all the time.
How’s he doing now?
We did have a health scare a few weeks ago—he’s going to be 16 this year, so he’s getting on in years. But knock wood, he’s rebounded amazingly. The vet gave me really dire predictions. They told me that his blood work was incompatible with life, which is a really harsh thing to hear. I mean, it’s a way of saying he should already be dead. But he’s doing great. He’s eating like a champ. He plays. He purrs and cuddles. He’s a little slower than he used to be, but he’s an old man at this point and that’s to be expected.
Homer is a star on the Internet, isn’t he?
I think we’re up to, between Twitter and Facebook, about 28,000 fans and followers. Homer’s social network keeps me very busy.
Does he type quickly?
Oh yes. He touch-types you know because he can’t see the keyboard.
Your upcoming shelter tour has really struck a chord.
There’s been an overwhelming response from readers who want to get involved themselves. So we now have hundreds of offers of donations of food and blankets and toys. I have a lot of readers who have small businesses where they make cat blankets and cat toys or they grow catnip and things like that. So I’ve just been receiving dozens and dozens of offers.
This must be the first book tour sponsored by a kitty litter.
It’s Arm & Hammer Ultra Last Clumping Cat Litter. You know I pitched this idea to [A&H] and they were incredibly enthuasiastic. They’re not only sending me to all of these shelters, but they are also donating 500 pounds of litter to each shelter we visit.
Do you see yourself more as an activist or as an author?
Definitely more of an author. Being an author is what I do for a living. Being an activist is just sort of who I am. I mean I was always the kid who tried to butt in and figure out what I could do to help make things work better.
And lastly, that eternal question: dogs or cats?
I’m equal-opportunity animal lover. I cannot say that I love cats more than dogs or dogs more than cats. Anybody who restricts themselves to only loving or wanting to live with one type of animal is inherently limiting their options and their potential for happiness in life.