Meet Nala, the globetrotting, life-changing cat

In this week's Big Issue, Dean Nicholson shares the incredible story of how he started to see the world differently after rescuing a cat called Nala. As a book telling their tale is published, he writes that their adventure is just beginning...

In 2017, looking for a new direction in life, Dean Nicholson from Dunbar in Scotland decided to cycle around the world.

But he only found his way after he rescued a kitten, Nala, who led him on a journey helping other animals in need.

It was on a mountaintop in Bosnia in December 2018 when Dean came across an abandoned cat. Immediately smitten with the kitten, he named her Nala, after the character in The Lion King, and she became a loyal companion on his travels.

It changed the way Dean saw the world – and the way the world saw Dean.

In this week’s Big Issue, Dean writes:

“I’m a big, bearded, tattooed Scotsman. Not someone who people would approach in the street ordinarily. That was transformed when I started travelling with Nala. She’s made my journey around the world a more rewarding, more enlightening experience. 

“As a result I’ve made friendships that I’d never have made without her. Enjoyed experiences that I’d never have had otherwise.”

Be a blessing to others and you will be blessed

Dean recounts the time he came across a refugee camp in Northern Greece.

“The young children at the camp were delighted to have us as company. They played with Nala endlessly. She seemed to be a welcome and entertaining distraction. 

“When I woke up the next morning I climbed out of the tent to find a small bag outside. It was filled with fresh water, tomatoes, oranges and bread. Someone had left me a full breakfast, basically. I was amazed. Their set-up was very basic yet here they were, sharing what little they had with a complete stranger. I had no idea why.  

“A little later in the day, while I was fixing my bike and the children were once more playing with Nala, I was joined by a middle-aged man. He was Syrian and clearly well-educated and spoke good English. 

“He’d nodded at the children, smiling and shouting as they played with Nala. ‘Be a blessing to others and you will be blessed,’ he smiled. I took it to mean that the food was a thank you for letting the children play with my cat. But his words stayed with me long after Nala and I waved the camp and the children goodbye.”

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Dean explains how during his journey he was able to raise tens of thousands for animal charities across the world.

“I’d begun by helping charities that I came across on my travels, mainly cat and animal shelters in Greece and Turkey. But then, as my popularity allowed me to raise more money I was able to send money to charities around the world, from Australia to Lebanon, from a cat shelter that I visited in Marmaris, Turkey to a charity in the Pacific that protects the endangered coral reef. To date I’ve sent more than £100,000. And I’m hoping that is only the beginning.”

Nala’s World, a book about the pair’s travels is published this week. Dean hopes it will continue to raise awareness for his charity work.

“It’s all happened so fast, I’ve rarely had time to take stock of it all,” he says. “But when I do get the chance to reflect, I often think back to that little moment in the refugee camp.

“The Syrian man had been absolutely right. The more you help others, the more rewarding life becomes. So yes, be a blessing to others and you will be blessed. It’s not a bad mantra to live by, especially in these difficult times. I’ve got no intention of changing it.”

To read the full article by Dean Nicholson, buy a copy of this week’s Big Issue, available now from vendors across the UK. Big Issue vendors are homeless or long-term unemployed people working there way out of poverty.

If you are unable to buy direct from a vendor, you can purchase via The Big Issue app, available from the App Store or Google Play. Individual print copies can also be ordered internationally from The Big Issue Shop.

Nala’s World by Dean Nicholson with Garry Jenkins is out on September 29 (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99). Follow their journey on Instagram @1bike1world and at  1bike1world.com

Main image: Diana Bachler