What makes a home, a home?
This is a question and concept that we often ponder.
When you stay in one place, live in one country, and maybe travel occasionally, this is probably not a topic that comes up very often. But for us, it is a fairly constant theme that comes and goes with a fair amount of frequency.
I remember being in our little cooling off pool in our house in Granada, Nicaragua with our son Oren, and all our animals around us – 6 cats at the time, 3 dogs.. and all of us realizing and commenting about how much this particular house at that particular time, felt so much like home.
For Ben and for me, the feeling of home, comes from the “environment.” I highly value being in or near nature – I instantly feel “at home” when the place I am living in is surrounded by or near trees, a river or hills, or rice paddies and a beach will do! (Having grown up on a hillside in Johannesburg, with no immediate neighbors it is not surprising that being in nature is what makes me feel energized, alive and “at home”). Ben, who grew up in Paris, in a more urban environment, seeks out a place for newspapers, a cafe to sit (preferably outside) and of course some really good local food and immediately feels “at home”.
Beyond these two distinct sets of criteria for a home, we also share another common association with home. For us, it is our connection to animals that is also core and central. I grew up surrounded by animals: cats, kittens, puppies, dogs, rabbits, birds, tortoises. Ben had an equivalent list of pets plus a few more exotic ones such as a goat, cappucin monkeys (not that we advocate having wild animals as pets!)
And so, here in Chicago, we are well aware, that until we have a cat or dog, an animal in our midst, we will not feel truly “at home.”
I connected to a local group called Feline Friends ~ whose mission is to rescue cats from being euthanized due to overcrowding at shelters, by placing them in foster homes. And that is how it came to be, that in our loft we first fostered Louis, a very laid-back, adult male cat. A few weeks later we got an email from the organization asking if we could foster four ginger kittens in addition, who were in desperate need of a foster temporary home.
Not surprisingly, we found that, indeed our five new feline friends made our loft instantly feel like home!
In Nicaragua, our home was always home to cats in need of shelter, rescue and love. We found homes for about 30 kittens we rescued over the years and kept quite a few that we just could not bear to part with. It is an incredibly good feeling to be able to impact the trajectory of a little furry soul’s life, for the positive. Good karma. After living in Nicaragua for six years we sold our house a few months ago (bittersweet), we were notified by the new owner that she could not keep all four of our remaining cats, and so we made plans to try to find new homes for two of them.
One cat Thurgood, was successfully placed, but the other, Stubby became more difficult to find a good home for, especially at a distance, (from Chicago.) She is what I call, a special needs cat. She has half a tail due to abuse, thus the name Stubby, and this affects her balance ~ she is not as agile as the average cat, and as well, has a “weepy” eye condition.
We got a significant amount of pleasure, as well as entertainment from the four kamikaze kittens deliciously dive bombing our hanging saris and futon, and snuggling up with us for much needed affection and attention. Louis adjusted pretty well to the added activity and provided a good adult figure for the little ones. We foster cared these beauties for 4 weeks, until something extraordinary happened….
A woman we knew in Granada answered our request for a volunteer to bring Stubby the cat to the U.S. The only problem was, she was traveling to Minneapolis, not Chicago and that was her offer… To bring our cat as far as Minneapolis!
This is where Ben “The Hero” part of the story comes in…. Ben booked an early morning ticket from Chicago to Minneapolis, in order to meet and greet Stubby at the airport in Minneapolis and bring her back to Chicago.
There are not many men I can think of that would take the time and energy (and costly) effort to fly from one city to another to retrieve a cat. Yet, on the other hand, going the extra mile for one of our family members makes total sense to us. After many travel hours, Stubby the rescued street kitten from Granada, Nicaragua arrived back with Ben, to our loft in Chicago
I watched eagerly from the huge windows in our loft that look across the street, when I knew Ben and Stubby would be coming off the Blue Line El around the corner. Finally I saw a tired yet heroic Ben crossing the street at almost midnight, with a cat carry on bag, housing Stubby.
A few days before Stubby arrived we arranged for the foster kittens to be moved to new homes. (Louis we fell in love with and were ready to adopt, but alas he had been promised to someone else by the agency.) It did not seem fair to bombard Stubby, after having traveled so far and for so long, with four very rambunctious kittens, tempting as it was to keep them longer until permanent homes were found for them.
Stubby spent her first two days sniffing the smell of other felines, and wondering perhaps where they were? She also sniffed at everything in our space, the way cats do with new objects, and that kept her quite occupied. She was on the thin side when she arrived, but now being spoilt by canned food (a very rare treat in Nicaragua), she has filled out nicely and her fur is soft and shiny.
After a couple of days of adjustment to her new environment, and some significant sleeping, Stubby the cat settled in and is now happily at home here. With her comes a “piece” of our Nicaraguan life, contributing to making our Chicago home, really feel like home!