Cat Got Your Tongue?

Julia Romp's seven-year-old son didn't speak a word until an unexpected visitor arrived at their home.

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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR. My name is Glynn Washington and this is the Saved episode where we're rocking stories of helping hands appearing from the most unlikely of situations. And our next story begins in Merry Old England when Julia Romp, she gives birth to what she hopes is a healthy baby boy.

JULIA ROMP: George was an unusual baby - just cried, very agitated and the first signs immediately to everybody was that there is something wrong with him. Three to six months come along - he never smiled. I started to take him backwards and forwards to the hospital, obviously, 'cause he showed signs of almost - as I touched him - like he was on fire. And then he would walk around the house, when he did learn to walk, but wouldn't look my way. There was never ever any kind of communication between me and George. There was nothing at all, and the most difficult thing, I think, for me was having no affection towards me. Never touching him. Never being able to hold him. If I went near him, he would scream. The closest I got to him is when he was in a deep sleep because we used to give him, like, cowpowell (ph) then to help him to sleep, to make him relaxed. He used to have curly blonde hair and I used to wait 'til he was in a deep sleep just to be able to feel and touch his hair. Do you know I used to sit and imagine what it would be like to hear him talk? If you get what I'm saying. People said, oh, your child - has your child been abused? That's why he don't talk? You hear the mothers gossiping at the school that your child couldn't speak. And then doctors started to get involved, and they'd done many tests on him. They did say that he does have a blank on his brain.

He then got diagnosed on the Asperger's and autistic spectrum, but being diagnosed didn't really help, and it's something I just got used to, really. That I was going to live with this child and accept him for what he is. There was a stray cat that came into our garden with blood down its neck and it really distressed me. I wasn't the biggest of cat fans to start with because my mom was known as catwoman. There must've been up to 28 - 29 a time in my mum's house. It obviously got caught on someone's fence or something. Well, I run around, I said, oh, my God, this cat's covered in blood. So we got some food. I told George all about it and said, this poor cat's really sick. I've got to catch it in this box. 'Cause what it is with George is, even though he didn't talk at all, I've always talked to him. And so I'm explaining to George - still George isn't answering - but George is listening all the time and looking and watching everything. And absolutely, I mean, I still feel mad saying it now - out of nowhere - George said in a high-pitched voice, it's like a cartoon character, Baboo (ph), baboo. Well, this is coming out of child who had never spoke. I froze just thinking to myself, my child for the first time in seven years, talking. Am I imagining he's just done those sort of sounds? Funny, high-pitched sounds?

I said to him, what are you doing? What are you doing? Baboo, baboo. I said, you're talking to the cat. Is that the cat's name? Baboo, baboo? I came straight in to phone my mum to tell my mum what had happened. I went from the cat, to the psychiatrist, to George's dad, to everybody in the phonebook - everyone thought I was totally mad. They all drove over here. So we had a whole house of people with him walking around saying this high-pitched voice baboo thing. They heard him themselves, they all stood staring at each other and they thought, oh, thank God the mum's not lost it. The child's talking. That was the actual start of him talking. So I thought, well, that's the start of something. So we brought the cat home. He was then our family. He decided to name the cat Ben. Ben would follow George around. I mean, it was like having a dog. He talked through the cat. Everything was in this high-pitched voice.

And then he played through the cat. It was really like a real, proper friendship. They would have a routine bit of play. The cat had to sit at the dinner table and eat dinner with us. And I went along with it because if George asked for a fish finger, the cat had a fish finger. And while George said, fish finger, I was happy for the cat to sit at the table. And that's how it worked. And George went on and asked for a trampoline, and the minute George got on his trampoline, the cat would have to get on it. It was so funny to watch but the cat liked it. George used to just absolutely, absolutely laugh. I'd never heard George laugh, see. And no one else likes the child - or he hasn't got any friends. He's only got the cat. The cat started purring and rubbing up my legs and I said to George, when it purrs, it's doing something it's done to its mum. It wants love. So when the cat done that to my leg, George done the same. That's the first time George has ever cuddled me by rubbing up my legs.

And everyone said, oh, well, now it is getting strange. Letting your son rub up your leg like a cat. Don't mix with him, his mother's not right, you know. He's acting like a cat. It's alright for other people to judge, but they hadn't had a child for seven years that never give them any attention. A long time to wait isn't it, you know? Everything was running really smooth and we was having a great time and we decided to go on a holiday. We had George's dad come and stay here to look after Ben. We got to day three of our holiday and we got a phone call to say that Ben had gone missing. Well, immediately there was complete and utter blank. George, he just absolutely went stiff. He packed his bag and he looked at me and he said, we've got to go home haven't we and get him back? We actually flew home on day four. We went on this mission to try and find our cat. All day long, all night I had phone calls. I opened a Facebook page. I opened a website. I was going to local shops, post offices, pubs.

I was handing out posters overnight. I nearly got arrested outside the local school for handing out leaflets. But I continued to do it hoping that they would arrest me because then I would get free advertising in the local newspaper because we couldn't afford to do it any other way. I wanted it on the side of the bus and I wanted it on the TV 'cause I just wanted to say to people, look this cat made my child talk. I got many, many, many phone calls. I had thousands of people help me. Every dead animal that got ran over I got called to pick it up to say, is it him. George was very depressed. He didn't eat. He stayed in his room. It became like a full-time job. Local people said, oh, here comes the mad catwoman. I've got myself a terrible name. But I was so desperate. Please somebody help. It was getting nearer to Christmas and obviously Christmas was out the window. George wouldn't leave the house. Friends, close friends - they said, you know, you're really tired and you look ill. And maybe you should, at this point, say to George, should we think about getting another cat? So three months later, at this desperate point - I got this phone call from this lady. Hi, I've got a cat in my conservatory. Is your name Julia Romp? I said, oh my God. I can't believe it. Where are you? Expecting her to say, Hounslow, Eisworth (ph) - somewhere in London. She said, oh, she said, I'm in Brighton, my love. Well, I'm not kidding you. I nearly fell off the chair. Well, Brighton's like 90 miles - is it 90 or 80? I got to this house, knocked on the door. I was so nervous and there's this whole family, stood at the door all really smiling like that.

It was like they were going to sing carols to me or something like that. They started giving me tea and biscuits and saying, oh, your clothes are wet. And, you know, they didn't just go and get my cat. And all I kept thinking about is, where's the cat, where's the cat? She said, don't worry I am going to take you to your cat. They opened a door and I could not believe it. My heart just - I felt like it dropped out my boot. And he popped his little head out the basket and he ran, jumped in my arms. As I tried to take him off of me like a baby, this cat, and pull his neck away from my neck, do you know he held onto me? I kept saying, come on Baboo, I've got to put you in the basket to get you home. We couldn't get him off me. We come back and all of a sudden as I got really close to home, it was pumping through my thoughts and my feelings, how's George going to react? My God, you don't think, you know, I hope he doesn't not feel right about it - the fact he's gone. So I shouted out to George up the stairs. I said, George, mommy's home and Baboo's here. He come running down the stairs and he had this massive big smile on his face. And I could just see, you know, you can just see in his face. I could just see and I said, oh, here he is.

Here's Baboo And he said, oh my God. And then he made jokes and got him out and he was just as loving as ever. And I was totally exhausted. I just sat on the sofa. And George pulled everything down - the Christmas tree, the decorations. And I just let him just jump around the front room and them two carry on. And they danced and he laughed and he carried on as normal. George was seven when he had Ben. He's now 16. He goes to college now. You know, I'm not saying he's a hundred percent social. He does find life very difficult. But he is one fine, kind, nice person. I swore blind I'd never turn out like my mother, being brought up with cats, lots of cats let me tell you. The cats were more important than us. As a child, I just said that, when I grow up, I was going to have a hair-free, cat-free house. Little did I know that later on in life, that I was not only going to turn into me mother. I've got three ferals living with me at the moment and I ended up saving Ben. And Ben opened George's world and saved my life (laughing). That taught me a lesson, didn't it? Yeah, never mind.

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WASHINGTON: Much love to everybody over there Julia, even the cat. Now, Julia wrote a book about how this all went down. We have a link to it on our website snapjudgment.org. That story was produced by Anna Sussman.

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