Meet Henry, the feline “tripod” therapist who has inspired thousands with his can-do attitude.
Henry is a handsome young tabby with amazing powers. He bounced back from a serious injury that cost him a leg, but that’s not the amazing part. It’s his uncanny ability to heal and soothe emotionally wounded souls that has made him famous.
The three-legged feline therapist started life as a healthy, four-legged kitten. One day in 2004, he showed up in the yard of Cathy Conheim, a psychotherapist living in La Jolla, California. Cathy had inherited a lifelong dislike of cats from her mother so didn’t pay much attention to him. She’d see him romping or washing in the sun, but kept her distance. “I had that prejudice my whole life without really thinking about it or questioning it,” she says. “It was passed on to me, and I just accepted it.”
One day the little tabby disappeared. He later turned up with a severely injured front leg. Cathy’s pity overcame her dislike, and she and her friend Donna rushed him to the vet. The doctor’s pronouncement was grim. Without immediate amputation, the leg would become infected and doom the kitten to a slow, painful death. Otherwise, euthanasia would be the kindest option.
Despite their shared distaste for cats, Cathy and Donna just couldn’t take away this spirited kitten’s chance at life. They gave the go-ahead for the surgery, even though it would mean taking him into their home and nursing him through his recovery. They christened the plucky feline Henry. After surgery, he quickly took over their household and even won over Dolly the poodle. Cathy tried to keep him confined to a pen at night, but even though he was a recovering tripod, the crafty tabby became a skilled escape artist and rebuffed her every effort to secure the pen.
As Henry continued to assert his independence, Cathy realized she couldn’t mold him into what she wanted. He clearly had to be free to be himself. So she expanded his name to “Henry jm” – the initials stand for “just me”!
Henry made up for his missing leg by developing amazing strength in his hindquarters. “He can easily jump six feet straight up, and uses his front paw as a pole vault to run all over the house,” Cathy marvels. “He moves faster than a four-legged cat.”
Cathy’s experiences with Henry made her question the way people absorb prejudices without any solid reason. Once she had been a cat hater simply because that’s how her mother felt. Now, after nearly 60 years, Henry had opened her heart and mind.
Inspired, Cathy began to share Henry’s adventures with friends via email. Little did she know she was starting a phenomenon. Her stories were forwarded to an ever-expanding audience, and total strangers began writing back, addressing their messages directly to Henry. “It just turned viral,” Cathy explains. “One email became five, five became ten, and ten became hundreds. People would share own their stories and challenges and even their emotional pain. It felt safe to open up to a cat because Henry is an innocent being.”
This burgeoning correspondence led Cathy to write Henry’s World, a book that included many of these emails and inspired even more people to reach out to Henry. Many were wounded themselves in some way, and felt an affinity that allowed them to open up to the plucky tabby. Henry had become a furry de facto therapist, helping humans through their emotional hurt.
Henry soon got his own website (www.henreysworld.org). To date he has received almost 35,000 emails, which Cathy answers as his “cat scribe.” Henry answers letters from people who have lost loved ones, are struggling with cancer and other diseases, or are victims of violence or other traumas.
“People can relate to him, and because he’s a cat, he’s non-threatening,” Cathy explains. “He’s not a Republican or a Democrat, he’s not straight or gay, he doesn’t have any of the labels that divide people. Also, he can ask questions that a person couldn’t get away with. For example, he can ask someone to explain a particular feeling. It doesn’t feel like prying because he’s a cat. He can say: ‘I don’t understand those human things, so please describe it to me.’” As a professional therapist herself, one of Cathy’s biggest goals is helping people give language to their feelings. “Too often, we don’t have the words to express them. Henry is the perfect vehicle to teach people to do that.”
Cathy soon wrote a second book called What’s the Matter With Henry? The True Tale of a Three- Legged Cat. All proceeds from sales of both books go to charity. Cathy’s original plan was to raise $1,000,000 for animal causes, but she has branched into other areas, including an outreach to military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. She also provides books at cost to any animal group that wants to resell them for fundraising. Last year, she was nominated for an Animal Planet Cat Hero award in recognition of her efforts.
Meanwhile, Henry’s fame continues to grow. His story has appeared in print and on television across the United States, and has also been featured in Japanese and South African magazines.
Despite all the attention, Henry remains a modest cat. In his simple feline way, he doesn’t think about what he has lost but focuses on the joy of living in the moment. Though barely five years old, he has helped inspire and heal people from all over the world. Few humans could achieve as much!