Source: The Guardian (Extract)
Posted: July 08, 2024

Everything shifted with a single voicemail. My cat, Bootsy, was notorious for getting into mischief. He often disregarded others’ boundaries. So, when a concerned neighbor called from the number on Bootsy’s collar, I braced myself for the worst—a report of him sneaking in to steal their roast dinner or causing some other mischief.

To my surprise, it wasn’t a complaint but a kind gesture. The caller informed me that Bootsy was peacefully sleeping on their back veranda chair and was welcome to stay as long as he pleased.

Curious, I walked over to the neighbor’s house, which appeared more like a fortress with its imposing steel sheets covering the windows, shutting out the outside world. Despite the intimidating exterior, the woman who greeted me at the door exuded warmth and kindness.

This was my first time meeting Enid Morrison. “I was so helpful, wasn’t I?” she recalls.

This would be the start of a friendship that helped transform a street in Sydney’s inner west into a community. This is the cat who has created a sense of home that expands well beyond a house. “I think it’s quite an honour, really, to be accepted like this,” Enid says.

For six years, I resided in Newtown, a vibrant cultural center in Sydney that beckons to the city’s youth. However, my time there had grown monotonous, bordering on stagnant. A devastating medical diagnosis—late-onset type 1 diabetes—was the tipping point. At 28, I made the decision to leave it all behind and relocate to Rozelle, a tranquil enclave favored by affluent young families and retirees. My intention was to carve out a solitary existence. With leaving the house now requiring meticulous medical preparations, I found it simpler to avoid going out altogether.

At 87 years old, Enid had settled into a familiar routine. Apart from her regular trips to the grocery store or enjoying a solitary glass of prosecco at the pub, she had lost interest in socializing. She had moved to her current neighborhood in her 20s after a period in London, primarily to care for her ailing mother, who had purchased their house in the 1950s for £600. Enid had remained there ever since.

During her career in magazines before retiring, Enid was fully absorbed in her work. “I was just focused on my job, that’s all,” she recalls, explaining why she didn’t engage much with the community.

Before Bootsy, she says, she didn’t know anyone.

“The cat has changed my life.”

It has been four years since that voicemail. Bootsy now regularly heads over to Enid’s place most mornings when I leave for work, returning in the afternoon before I lock him in for the night. His daily visits have become a routine part of Enid’s day.

“I’ve grown to rely on him,” she admits. “Isn’t it funny?”

While the RSPCA warns of risks posed by outdoor cats to both wildlife and the cats themselves, the once-common sight of roaming cats is dwindling in neighborhoods. To mitigate Bootsy’s impact on local wildlife, he wears a belled collar and a GPS tracker that alerts me if he ventures into sensitive areas.

Enid is sharp-witted with a great sense of humor. What started as quick visits to retrieve Bootsy turned into long conversations filled with street-side banter throughout the day. We’ve become friends.

This wasn’t part of my plan for a solitary life—it turned out to be much better.

These days I have a key to Enid’s fortress, should Bootsy decide to sleep through his regular departure time. I also used it to help feed her dearly departed cat GG – help often repaid with a bottle of prosecco.

And now when I go out I leave my headphones at home in the hope of an encounter with my neighbours. Because Enid isn’t the only one to have fallen for Bootsy’s charms, nor the only person he has brought into my life. And I am not the only person he has brought into hers.

As Bootsy strolls calmly beside Enid along the street, neighbors and passersby pause to greet them. Over time, Bootsy’s wanderings have gradually encouraged Enid to become more open with others.

“I’ve become more approachable,” she reflects. “I couldn’t accept it before.”

Sara Horn, Enid’s nextdoor neighbour, remembers Bootsy’s arrival into the area. “I would go outside and there’d be this beautiful tabby, flopping over wanting a pat.” Sara also recalls a hooded, tattooed man – me – coming and going from her octogenarian neighbour’s house.

“I thought, how great is that? You were complete opposites.”

And for months Bootsy was laying the groundwork to introduce me to the Clarences. Vicky Clarence had seen me walking up the street, and had seen Bootsy wandering around. But she had never connected us until Enid helped join the dots.

Vicky moved to the area in 1979 and can speak to the mood shift in the street. “Bootsy does make a difference,” she says.

Now it is a rare, and frankly grim, day when I don’t get stopped for a conversation. Usually they revolve around the cat but it’s bigger than Bootsy now.

The once ideal notion of solitude is so removed from my life I’d have to drive several streets away just to feel it.

Sitting in Enid’s kitchen as she responds to questions for this article, she pauses to reflect on my transformation. “You’re different now. You’re open and ready to engage with anyone, not necessarily to be friends, but to be recognized,” she observes.

She’s absolutely right. Between her home and mine, there are a dozen friendly households where neighbors are always ready to lend a hand. These interactions have not only lifted me out of negative thought patterns in the short term but have also reshaped my brain to appreciate and seek the joy of connecting with others in the long term. Now, I find fulfillment by volunteering at the Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre.

As for what Enid thinks Bootsy would make of all the attention he receives, she muses, “I’m only human; I can’t comprehend the universe inside his head.”

Bootsy isn’t as young as he used to be, and his visits to Enid may soon require supervision. Yet, for us humans, his mission seems complete. He has led us toward community, and there’s no turning back for any of us.