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