Nothing beats the peace of being among animals. One drowsy afternoon, I found it under an acacia tree with a pair of cheetahs. Lying between these two magnificent cats, Cleo snuggled by my side with a rumbling purr and her sister Pride resting her fuzzy head on my cheek, I felt such a rush of love and for an instant thought about packing up everything and living in the bush. The three of us spent the longest time gazing at the shimmer of the dropping African sun. I’d been volunteering at the Harnas Wildlife Foundation, a family-run sanctuary in Namibia, looking after full-grown lions, baby leopards, baboons, antelopes, giraffes and all sorts of wild creatures.
I’ll never forget the way these two wildcats made me feel and the sheer privilege of that trance-like loveliness. Anyone who lives with or has spent any time with cats, big or small, is aware of their magic and realizes how tender and caring they can be. Much of my life has revolved around helping animals, especially cats. While living in Los Angeles four years ago, I stumbled across an extraordinary true story about a lost cat and a homeless man and their 4,000-mile journey across America. I wrote a book Strays about this lost man and little stray and how they healed and saved each other.
After finishing Strays and getting divorced, I returned home to London and created a boutique festival for cat lovers Catfest, debuting this summer, to help cats in need. It’s sold out, drawing people from around the globe and featuring inspiring speakers including Gwen Cooper, the New York Times bestselling author of the memoirs Homer's Odyssey about her rescued blind cat, and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who’s written nine bestsellers on the emotional lives of animals, including the revolutionary When Elephants Weep, and multi-million-selling The Nine Emotional Lives Cats and Dogs Never Lie About Love.
As a kid, I’d often said: ‘I want to go around the world and save animals.’ And journalism for me was a passport into the wild. I’ve written just about everything, from interviewing rock stars like Paul McCartney to conservation pieces about billionaire philanthropists battling to save America’s wild mustangs and hard-hitting pieces about Ugandan Aids orphans and the savage exotic wildlife trade. But the stories that touched me the deepest were always about animals.
Until one has loved an animal part of one’s soul lies unawakened and often looking after another creature helps us rediscover the things that bring us joy. My wildest hope with Strays and Catfest is to inspire people to help animals in distress and adopt from kill-shelters or the streets.
Every animal, like us, wants a safe, peaceful life and every one of them has something to teach us if we listen.