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Dear Tabby

Diane Bell
For the UNION-TRIBUNE
December 2, 2006

Dear Tabby . . . A feline version of Dear Abby is finding its niche. Apparently, writing to a three-legged cat can be therapeutic.

That's what the co-owner of Henry, an injured kitty rescued in Julian two years ago, learned after she sent e-mails by and about the feisty feline to friends, who passed them on to other friends.
Before long, Henry, the gray striped tabby with the amputated leg, was deluged with fan e-mail (now up to 11,800 pieces) from around the world. Cathy Conheim, who co-owns Henry with Donna Brooks, answered every one.

A psychotherapist by trade, Conheim soon ghostwrote a book, Henry's World, featuring Henry's adventures, his triumphant spirit and many of the e-mails.

There was Brian Mullin, who felt so bad after accidentally hitting a cat with his car that he went into debt trying to save its life. After he confided in Henry, the cat's owners donated several books to Brian to sell to pay off the injured feline's vet bill. Brian, who worked in a senior care facility, was then offered a new job – as Henry's business administrator.

When a story appeared in the U-T  about Jo A. Del Rio, a researcher at Salk Institute and later Merck, whose health problems robbed her of her job, her savings and eventually her home, “Henry” found the woman an apartment and guaranteed the rent payments so she could be reunited with the cats she had tearfully relinquished to foster care.

After seeing Henry on CNN, a fellow from Arizona sent an envelope containing 11 $100 bills and the note: “Henry, you seem like the kind of guy who would know what to do with this.” (Henry used the gift to help Del Rio.)

Continued success

This year, Henry wrote a second book: “What's the Matter with Henry?” Last week it won “Best Gift Book” for 2006 at the National Cat Writers Association conference.

So far, the feline author has chalked up 6,250 sales of the $20 to $25 books. His owners donate all the profits to charity (after all, Henry wants to make a difference in the world). His goal is to raise $1 million for injured and homeless animals, and to help challenged kids, too. They market the books through the cat's photo-filled Web site: Henrysworld.org.

Henry's fame has spread through articles in a South African cat magazine and in a Japanese magazine bearing the title: “Henry, Sensei” (master teacher). “I don't know what it says; it's in Japanese,” confides Conheim. Cat Fancy  magazine plans an article for its February issue. Among the many notes Henry has received was one from retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and another from author Joseph Wambaugh.

Henry's persona has evolved into something that Conheim admits exceeded her wildest dreams. “I'm curious as to where it's going to go from here,” says Conheim, who now spends about eight hours a day answering Henry's paw pals.