A Hard Place for Strays 

A Hard Place for Strays

Having grown up with a profound sense of disconnection, I find myself reflecting periodically on the nature of “home.” The other day I was thinking that any place where you have made your own living, found your own place to live, learnt the language, been involved in a struggle bigger than yourself, fallen in love, and made and lost friends, must surely qualify to be considered “home.” Experience with the health care system, the justice system, and pet ownership in a place would be supplementary categories. Having lived in Harare for going on seven years, I've experienced everything above aside from pet ownership.

I returned here recently after a few months in New York City, a place that decidedly did not feel like “home.” And my sense of relief when I landed back in Harare was palpable. I felt, as I have whenever I've returned here from time away, that I'd come home.

I've been house-sitting and staying with friends since I've been back. I'm undecided as to how long I will be here for, so I've been reluctant to find my own flat again. On the other hand, I know that having my own place to live is integral to my sense of feeling at home. My closest-ever friend is an inveterate rescuer of lost dogs. A few weeks ago, she took in her latest stray. Before I even met him, I knew that this dog meant something special to me. She and her partner had found him by the shops near their house, looking well fed but in enormous pain from his back paws which had been completely shredded.

I met him a few days later, and it was love at first sight. African hunting dog with a healthy dose of border collie, Themba/Simon/Zorro was breathtakingly gorgeous. Even with his back legs bandaged he had an air of the majestic about him, and I adored him. I accompanied him on a trip to the vet to have his dressings changed, stroking his coat and speaking softly to him as he trembled in fear and pain. There was something deep and wounded and compelling in his eyes, and I wanted him to be able to speak. I wanted to hear his story. I wanted to hold him close in my arms and tell him he was safe now. That I knew he had been hurt, but everything was going to be alright.

Of course, the women who had rescued him was also smitten by him. I daydreamed about moving him to the house where I was staying and nursing him gently back to form. I fantasised about finding a garden flat with room for him to play, and taking him in, but I feared his new owners would be reluctant to let him go.

At home they already had two dogs and four cats. One of the conditions for any new stray is that he get on with the pets that already live there. As Zorro regained his strength he became increasingly aggressive, going after the cats and one of the dogs. Harare is a hard place for stray dogs. Many people are leaving the country, and are looking for homes for their animals. Would be pet owners often look for dogs with a known pedigree, or puppies they can train without worrying what sort of history they carry with them. One look at the vet's notice board, filled with flyers overlapping one another announcing scores of pets looking for a home, and you know a dog like Zorro doesn't have a chance. So sadly, just two days after I'd met him, before I'd gotten a chance to nurse him back to health or find a new home for us, Zorro was put down.

I took his death very hard, and very personally. It was as if, in putting him down, some of my own faith in the future, some of my hopes for a deepened sense of “home” had also been lost. It's only now, some weeks later, that I'm able to feel less gutted. The experiences I've had here, and elsewhere, can never be taken from me. To some extent they define me, and what I do with them determines how much or how little I feel at home anywhere. More than that, though, I'm beginning to wonder if that elusive feeling of “home” isn't so much about where you are, or what you've done there. Maybe it's more something you find in yourself. Some inner calm, or contentment, or acceptance that you build from within, and carry with you wherever you go.

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Comment when you say it like that it makes a lot of sense

Wed Apr 5, 2006 2:18 pm MST by bob stevens

Comment when you say it like that it makes a lot of sense

Wed Apr 5, 2006 1:53 pm MST by bob stevens

Comment I know I'm off topic but today is the best day as she has said

Mon Apr 3, 2006 3:44 pm MST by tim smith

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