The French author Colette once said, "There are no ordinary cats."
Venice resident Natalie Van Kirk would have to agree.
"I haven't replaced him yet," Van Kirk said, her house silent, but filled with pictures and figurines of a tuxedo cat named Louie. "I don't know if I ever will."
Before his death at age 19 last year (2003), Louie and his human, Van Kirk began collaborating on a book, aptly titled "Louie's Letters," an autobiography in which Louie tells how he went from being a throw-away 7-month-old kitten to an adopted cat who wrote letters to the terminally ill and elders in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
"Families would send letters back to Louie and said it made them laugh," Van Kirk said. "The more he had torn the corners of the letters, the better."
Louie had belonged to an old lady who was confined to the bed of her New Jersey trailer. According to Van Kirk, relatives decided they wanted the trailer - but not the cat. Homeless, chased away from a river by fishermen and from a restaurant Dumpster by its owner, Louie found Van Kirk's husband, Lambert, and decided that was his human.
"He wuz washin' his car," Louie writes. "I could tell he was the one I was looking for."
Dirty and starving, Louie jumped into Van Kirk's white interiored car several times before Van Kirk caved. First, Van Kirk fed Louie, vowing not to take him in. Then he took him into his business while he looked for his owners. Van Kirk had no plans to take Louie home... Louie was brought home in a week.
Louie's calling as a letter writer actually began when one of Natalie's friends was going through a bitter divorce and her young son was having a difficult time.
"I started to write a letter to him, and Louie got involved," Van Kirk said. "Whenever I tried to write, he'd be in my lap, chasing the pen. Then he started wrapping his paw around the pen and started tearing the paper. So I signed it from both of us. That little boy would come home every day and couldn't wait to get a letter from Louie."
Louie and Natalie would eventually hook up with Gaye Gompers, a licensed psychologist in Miami and her Rainbow Connection Program. Through standard letters and e-mail, Louie began to correspond and offer encouragement to the terminally ill and elders.
"Some of the elders online shared more with Louie the Cat than they would with other seniors," Gompers wrote in the book's preface.
In 2002, researchers at a St. Louis university completed a scientific study that concluded that therapy dog visits to long-term care facilities reduced the loneliness of elderly patients.
Van Kirk has seen it first hand.
"I was visiting one day and Dr. Jo Jo (Gompers) introduced me to this woman," she said. "When she told her I was Louie's 'Mom' she pulled this old, beat up pocketbook from the side of her bed and opened it, and there were all the letters from Louie. She said she kept them close to her so no one could steal them."
Though one of his nine lives spent, Louie continues to write letters from heaven, according to Van Kirk.
"It is something that brightens their lives," she said. "It's something worthwhile."
For more information about the book, you can contact Van Kirk at E-mail or go to Louie's Letters At AuthorHouse.com.
ISBN number: 1403372683