Paws for Applause: Henry is a hero and the ASPCA’s ‘Cat of the Year’


By Emily DeRuy

Contributor Emily DeRuy

La Jollans have an unassuming hero in their midst. He’s furry, three-legged, and has just been named “Cat of the Year” by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Henry J.M., as he is known by thousands of loyal followers, has an important message for people, and his name says it all. J.M. stands for “Just Me,” and that’s exactly the message Henry and his owner

, a retired psychotherapist, want to spread.

Henry encourages people of all ages to move beyond ignorance and bias into an attitude of acceptance and love for those around them — just as they are, no matter their circumstances.

Henry, with assistance from Cathy, has authored two books — “Henry’s World,” and “What’s the Matter with Henry?” His sister, a poodle named Dolly whose world was upended when her family adopted Henry, has also written a book, “What About Me? I’m Here Too!” that gives a voice to the siblings of sick children who sometimes feel forgotten.

Cathy, a devoted “dog person,” said she found Henry (his upper left leg dangling from his shoulder) in Julian, Calif. near her vacation home in 2004. She rushed him to the veterinary clinic where she learned the leg would have to be amputated.

Wary of bringing a cat into her life, Cathy said she debated about whether to proceed with the surgery, but Henry won her over and soon enough she was bringing the three-legged, indoor cat back to her home in La Jolla.

Cathy sent an e-mail written from Henry’s perspective about his new life to 20 of her friends, and unbeknownst to her, a project was born.

Cathy’s friends forwarded her e-mail to their friends, and what started out as a simple note has snowballed, six years later, into an international phenomenon.

Henry and his story have reached millions of people, from South Africa to Japan. His books, each accompanied by a workbook, have been read by more than 45,000 people around the world.

The books have offered comfort and inspiration to victims of Hurricane Katrina and been translated into Creole and sent to a children’s amputee project in Haiti. Henry has also helped thousands of children from military families cope with a new and frightening reality when their parents return from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs or other serious injuries.

The books are paid for privately by Henry’s family. When they are sold retail, the profits go to animals. The Just Me Project (the educational non-profit arm of Henry’s World under the Athena Foundation) distributes them free to institutions and individuals who need them and cannot pay for them. All profits above printing costs (some $50,000 thus far) aid animal welfare groups. Any group that uses the products for fundraising is permitted to keep all of their profits locally.

Some 45,000 children and adults have written to Henry, and he responds to them in an emotional, nonjudgmental, openhearted voice. For Cathy, it’s a way to reach out to those in need without all of the paperwork and requisite diagnoses that clinical therapy requires.

Writing as Henry allows her to ask people healing questions that might seem condescending in a traditional therapist/client relationship. Cathy says people talk to their pets differently, without fear of ridicule, and Henry answers with the innocence and acceptance they seek.

“Henry just knows how to love,” she said. “You can Henry-ize anything; we want to turn bullies into buddies, obstacles into opportunities. He’s become a virtual pet to so many. Henry is their lifeline.”

Now, Henry and Cathy are being rewarded for their dedication to helping people learn tolerance and resilience in the face of physical difficulties and differences. The ASPCA selected Henry from hundreds of nominations, and in November, Cathy (Henry gets car sick even on short trips) will travel to New York City to attend the annual Humane Awards Luncheon.

“Hundreds of ASPCA supporters submitted their nominations as to why they believed their candidate should receive special recognition,” said Sean O’Connor, Vice President of ASPCA Special Giving. “Henry’s story touched us. Henry is a true hero, role model, and inspiration.”

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