O.R.T ~ Operation Rescue Thurgood ~ Nicaragua.

A mere four days after arriving back in Chicago from two months in SE Asia and very much still jet lagged, I set out to meet my son Adam, in Nicaragua, for a week.

Ben and I lived and worked in Nicaragua for six years, before we started our nomadic Asian adventures. I have not returned in almost two years…. Nicaragua is where the Green Global Trek launched.

Yup, pretty crazy schedule of travel.

I am back on the train to the airport, then a four hour flight to San Salvador, followed by another flight for an hour, to Nicaragua. Upon arrival in Managua (the capital city of Nicaragua) it is yet another two hours by taxi to the city of Rivas, where the ferry ride leaves from the next morning.

The ferry will take me to the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Cocibolca, where Adam has just completed a three week intensive permaculture course.

The travel, jet lag and effort is very well worth it for me to be able to take the opportunity to be with Adam. On Ometepe island, which is stunningly beautiful, we have a small piece of family land.

He and I will be gathering information, making decisions re the land and visiting and speaking to others who live sustainable lifestyle here. Applying his permaculture knowledge to our land.


View of Volcano Concepcion, from our little piece of paradise.


Visiting Finca Mystica on the “other side” of Ometepe.

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Chilling on Playa Santa Domingo. Volcan Concepcion behind us. Bliss.

This post however, is not about our time on Ometepe island, which was stellar! It was great to be back and to have time immersed in nature, together with Adam.

This story is about our two days in Granada, where we headed after our time on Ometepe. Granada is where we built a house and lived for six years.

There are many blog posts in our archive of Nicaragua covering our fostering of numerous stray kittens and cats and dogs over the years*. In total we fostered and nurtured to health over 30 cats before finding them good homes. Stray dogs were omnipresent outside our front door, always waiting for food and attention.

This visit to Granada was focused around locating and visiting one of our cats, namely: Thurgood.

Thurgood is not Nicaraguan. This particular cat was adopted from an animal shelter in Chicago, many years earlier. He was a birthday present to my son Oren who chose the name (in case you were wondering where it came from). Thurgood lived with Oren in Chicago and then moved with him to California and then again relocated with him to Nicaragua.

Yes…. my sons are also all crazy about animals. Yes, we consider our animals as family members.

When Ben and I sold our house in Granada, I was pretty adamant that I would only sell it to a cat lover. After all, we had 4 cats living there and my dream was for the cats to stay in their home and be loved by the new owners.

This plan worked out well for two of our cats, Georgia and her son Salvador, who still live there and appear to be very happy.

(A bit of our Nicaraguan cat family history:  Georgia was a feral cat, who had her babies on our roof and lived in our second bedroom with them for six weeks.)

(Here is her story: http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2010/06/animal-update-2.html)


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Adam reuniting with Salvador (Dali) on the roof top terrace, where “Sal” was born years prior in the middle of a rainstorm to his feral mom, Georgia (o’Keefe).

Alas, the new owner of our house later decided she only wanted 2 cats, not 4.

Thurgood was given by the new owner, to her housekeeper Juanita.

And so, Adam and I went back to “our” house to meet the housekeeper with the intent to visit Thurgood ~ to assess his health and happiness level. We were concerned from the start about this situation….

After living in Nicaragua for six years, my direct observation was that most (not all) Nicaraguans do not treat their animals the way I would want any one of my animals to be treated. It is a different culture, one in which animals are not generally highly regarded, be they cats, dogs, horses or other. That said, I found many loving homes for cats and many Nicas love their pets.

For the most part, cats are seen as rats and are often kept in a home for one sole purpose, and that is to catch mice. And their owners believe that if they are not fed much then they are more likely to be more motivated to catch more mice. Sigh.

We return to our former house and wait for Juanita the housekeeper to finish her daily duties so that we may accompany her into the barrio to see our cat.

Initially when we ask how our cat is doing, we are told that Thurgood is fine. Once we state that we would like to visit him and see him, the story changes somewhat. It comes out that Juanita actually no longer wants him and that no, Thurgood (whose name got changed to Max!) is not fine. He ran away a few times, he is not eating much. He is throwing up his food.

It is with some trepidation that we walk through the streets of Granada with Juanita, all the way from our former house, street by street across town, towards her daughters’ school to pick up her daughter before heading to their home. Along the way, Adam and I get to discuss the upcoming situation with each other.

What if the cans of food we brought in my suitcase are not be enough food? Maybe we should try to buy some dry food as well? What if Thurgood is not doing well, how will we take him and what will we do with him? We are staying in a hotel and leaving in a day!  Maybe we need a cat carrier? Nicaragua is not America. It’s not as though one can just drive over to the Pet store and pick up a cat carrier. There is one tiny pet shop in Granada, and one cannot be guaranteed to find n item that one needs at any given time.

Serendipitously, as we are pondering the answers to these questions we pass by the sole pet store in Granada. So we stop. We buy a bag of dry cat food. And our good luck continues… s there IS a pet carrier and we buy that too.

And on we walk…. Past all the streets I knew so well, past the cathedrals and the market and the street vendors.

Finally we get to the school (where I use some of the cat food to feed a starving malnourished sad street dog). Once we have Juanita’s daughter with us, we take a taxi to where they live. Way past town, we are now on the road that leaves Granada. The road gives way to dirt lanes and the houses are very basic small structures with corrugated roofs and earth floors, as is very common in Nicaragua.

We all get out the taxi and walk down the dusty dirt lane, with chickens squawking loudly and the smell of fire wood burning in the air. There are small ramshackle  houses on either side, with makeshift corrugated steel roofs and fences around them.


(This is not my photo, as I was too focused on finding Thurgood, to take pictures… It is however a representative photo of the streets on the outskirts of Granada)


(Not my photo). Representative of typical barrio in and near Granada.

What will we find? Will Thurgood even be there, and what state will he be in? I am so grateful that Adam is with me. I would not have wanted to do this alone.

At the end of the dusty lane, there is a duck and a puppy and a very thin, bones sticking out thin, cat waiting outside the last house. As we get closer, the puppy starts jumping up and down knocking into the cat, the duck is flapping its wings, they are all clearly very hungry.

The cat… Is that Thurgood?  He is almost unrecognizable to us…

This was a cat that was muscular, strong and solid. A very regal and elegant “polydactyl” cat. (Thats the term for cats with an extra toe. Hemingway cats, mitten cats.)

At least, he is alive. He has managed to survive. No wounds, just very thin. A skeletal version of his former robust self.

Thurgood is meowing his head off in hunger. We ask Junaita when he last ate. Yesterday morning she says. She opens the door to her one roomed house, which has a few makeshift beds cramped together for herself and her daughters, a tiny “kitchen” area and stuff everywhere. The whole house is the about 10′ x 10′. A very typical Nicaraguan shanty home.

We quickly open a can of food and Thurgood gulps it down. Adam and I look at each other and we both know we have to get Thurgood out of here. Adam wisely suggests we do it now as we have the carrier and we are here now.

We tell Juanita we are taking our cat. She seems relieved. She has no money to buy him food. Whew, a lot easier a situation than it would be if she wanted to keep him.

We shove Thurgood into the carrier and rush to the taxi that we had asked to wait for us, for our ride back into Granada.

As we get in the car with our kitty cat, we feel like we have just completed a rescue mission.

But now what? What are we going to do with him? We no longer live in Granada, we are leaving in one day to return to Chicago and not only that, but we are staying in a hotel.

FIrst things first.

We have to try to sneak the cat into the hotel without being noticed. We oh so casually walk in, and I am praying that Thurgood will not start meowing as we walk past the front desk. Somehow Thurgood senses that things are looking up for him and he is silent as can be. Innate animal intuition.

Once we get back into our room, we let Thurgood out the carrier. Will he hide under the bed or in a dark corner? Nope.. he positions himself on the bed and seems happy to be away from the chaos.

Adam is having feelings around the topic of how we rescued our cat from an environment in which 2 little girls live every day ~ “How can we say this is not an environment fit for our cat, and yet be un-phased by the same surroundings for two children?” Valid observation and understandable concern. (The girls however are clearly not malnourished.)

I make a makeshift sandbox in our hotel room, using a plastic garbage bag opened up on the floor, and soil from the garden outside.

Now what?

I post on facebook hoping we can find someone who will happily adopt our cat and give him a good home, before we leave. I send out emails, in as many directions as possible to try to find a solution. I email Ben, and Oren.

The emails are headed: ORT ~ Operation Rescue Thurgood.

I will make a long story short and get to the resolution of Operation Rescue Thurgood.

The bottom line, our family pow wow determines that the best outcome would be to bring Thurgood to Chicago!

We did have a very kind offer from an expat via facebook, to adopt Thurgood if nothing else surfaced. This woman already has two dogs and four other cats. Not an ideal scenario. (We have high standards for our family members.) Thurgood needs a quiet nurturing place to recover from a year of being malnourished and just surviving. He definitely prefers to be the solo animal in a home. Picky, picky.

I get the name and number of a local vet who agrees that if the next morning I am at his clinic door at 8 a.m. with $120 and a copy of my passport, he will get all the papers organized in one day and bring them to me at the hotel at the end of the day! He will also have an approved carrier for the airlines.

Lots to do…not much time to do it in.

I have to buy myself a new flight back. I am currently on Mexican Airlines and they will not allow a cat in the cabin, only underneath in cargo. (Too many horror stories. Too risky.) I buy a new flight on American, leaving at a different time from Adam.

I wake up early to go to the ATM machine, get  a copy of my passport – luckily I know exactly where to get all of this done, having lived in this town. I am at the clinic door at 7.40 a.m. waiting for the vet.

Once all the logistics are taken care of, and the plan is set and we can finally have one afternoon in which to relax before we leave the next day. Whew, huge sighs of relief. (We just have to hope that Thurgood is quiet when we are not in the hotel room and does not start meowing up a storm and getting us busted.)

Thurgood is very inteliigent. He knows something is up. He is a real trooper and does not make a sound. He spends his time in one position on the bed, he is in recovery from the chaos and constant struggle for survival.

There is food, there is water, there is quiet. He is clearly appreciative.


Final step is the journey back to Chicago.

Thurgood is too thin to be sedated, the vet says it’s too risky. I am nervous about traveling on two flights for many hours with a cat. I am too emotionally connected to animals for this to be a “piece of cake” no brainer.

Transition at the MIami airport and going through customs is the most challenging. The official wants the cat out of the carrier before going through the xray screening. I explain to him that if I do that, the cat might bolt and run away. Is HE going to go chasing the cat and bring him back?

The cat stays in the carrier and other than the usual long lines and delays that happen with such frequency at American airports, all goes well. Smooth sailing….

In Chicago, Thurgood joins Stubby, clearly a happy camper in the photo below in our loft in Chicago,  who had her own journey from Granada to Chicago a few months back.

(You can read http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2015/12/what-makes-a-home-a-home-part-1.html  which tells the story of Stubby, cat no. 3 and her journey to Chicago.)


Thurgood if finally back to his original home, where he started off, many years ago….. Chicago!

Update: It is now two months later since ORT. Thurgood has thrived, has regained some of his weight and muscle tone and is one very happy cat!


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Here you can see clearly Thurgood’s extra toe(s). Ie: polydactyl.



Soon Thurgood will move back with his original owner and chief cuddler, Oren.


         ** For more cat and dog rescue adventures during our years in Nicaragua, see:




22 thoughts on “O.R.T ~ Operation Rescue Thurgood ~ Nicaragua.

  1. carolinehelbig

    I am a huge cat lover (sadly, hubby is very allergic). You had me hanging off the edge of my seat. What a journey… I’m so glad that Thurgood is well and happy now. It is nice that your sons share the same passion around animals.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Oh, how tough to be a cat lover and have your husband have allergies.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the drama ~ I wonder if it will be of any interest to anyone that is NOT a cat lover?

      Not only my sons are animal lovers but as well my sisters and my parents! My older sister is the generous provider of meals to many many stray cats on a twice daily basis. Runs in the genes I guess.


  2. lexklein

    Wow – I came back to your blog for the Nicaragua stuff and was taken on a cat cliffhanger! Glad to hear that it all worked out. I remember you commented on my blog when I was in Granada in January, and now the blogosphere has circled me back to you via my Tibetan pilgrim post. We have another connection: I have lived in Chicago for 25 years (although we are sort of living in DC at the moment – long story!) I’m now off to read some more of your posts!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      That’s funny…. A
      “cat cliff hanger”!Yup I really wasn’t sure how this drama would play out. Glad we got to our cat in time!

      I hope to loop back to you when we go to Tibet one day. No concrete plans but it’s one of those places that truly beckons!

      DC is a terrific city ~ Ben lived there several times and we have spent a lot of time there together!


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sharon! Imagine if it had been about a chicken rescue … You would really be at the edge of your seat. That was too much excitement for me!


  3. GreenGlobalTrek Post author


    Aw, that was a very beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

    I am glad you were able to rescue him and bring him back. He’s a good kitty.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Ayda… Thurgood is one pretty special cat and he sure is enjoying being fed “on demand” and getting affection and attention!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Aaaah that’s too funny! It was pretty stressful that’s for sure, but I keep thinking how fortunate it was that we got there in time. And we are SO enjoying him now!

  4. Kris

    We love happy stories!!!!! How cute is Mr 6 toes?!!! 🙂 You are just AUM-aaaaaa-ZING!!!
    So lucky the States are that easy to bring in our furry friends! All in one day. Well done! Bringing Olive to NZ the process needs to be started months in advance and he needs shit loads done (i.e. vaccines, blood tests, treatments, physical checks etc). So stressful. We need your good vibrations to have it all go smoothly Pete 🙂 xxx

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      “Mr 6 Toes” … I love that, Kris!!

      Honestly I was very surprised to get everything done in ONE day AND have the papers brought to our hotel – Nicaragua is always full of surprises like that, right?

      Olive is one super lucky puppy to have such loving and devoted mamas …Nicaragua to UK, to NZ! What a journey!

      Sending you guys huge positive energy, bright light and love. Each step at a time… Deep breaths. Safe and easy journey to the family!

  5. badfish

    what a thriller!!! But I know exactly how you feel about your animals…I could see me doing the same thing. I have a hermit crab now, and don’t know the rules about bringing one into the US!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Ha ha Bad Fish. I think I prefer animals to people really. Yup I definitely go all out for them. Nice to hear you are of the same breed.

  6. Gili

    Poor old Thurgood, and yet how lucky is he… I had no idea he wasn’t a Nicaraguan cat. Great to see Ometepe again, I have good memories from that magical island.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Oh yes Thurgood is from a long lineage of royalty. Very elegant and all.

      Look forward to having a little all natural house on Ometepe one day in the hopefully not too distant future. Nothing quite like the magic there! After traveling to so many beautiful places in the world, Ometepe still retains its magic for me.


  7. joliesattic

    So funny. When my sister and I bought this house in Alabama, we had a cycle of feral cats. We had at one point wondered if perhaps someone had posted a sign out that said “The guys are softies, come on in” and we would. Some we saved, some were too sick by the time we got to them, but they kept coming.

    How do you find care for them when you travel? That is one of the biggest reason, we stopped keeping them. Dogs definitely require more care, but Chloe still resents us leaving. She will literally snub us for a few days if we leave her.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Haha, we must have had the same sign outside our door. Actually that sign has been with me my entire life!

      Whenever we travelled we rented our house to animal lovers, or found people who were happy to stay for free in exchange for animal care. Most cats in my experience are mostly attached to “place” and with a loving substitute will fo fine. If my cats snubbed us on return ( rare occasion) it told me that they probably did not receive the loving care they were used to. We definitely had a tough time of it when we were up to 8 strays… 4 was more “do-able”.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thurgood is living happily and contentedly like the king he is, with one of our sons in Chicago. He loves being the only cat, having plenty of food and all the attention. Thanks for asking.


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