Family Promise Chief Impact Officer Cara Bradshaw writes about what Home means to her…
As far back as I can remember, walking into my home meant an exuberant greeting from a four-legged friend, tail wagging, running circles around my legs.
I grew up with Terri, a spunky Border Collie who herded us on family hikes, and when she died, it wasn’t long until we came home with a sweet lab-shepherd mix from the neighbor’s litter. We named him Tucker, and he became a wise and gentle therapy dog. Among his other “jobs” over the years, he consoled grieving families during 9/11 at an emergency center at Liberty State Park.
My family’s love of dogs goes back a few generations. My grandparents owned Great Danes in small Manhattan apartments and started dog walking groups on the wooded paths of New Jersey. They took their dogs to visit veterans, sick children, and the elderly. A Vietnam vet named Leo, who hadn’t spoken to a human in over a decade, started talking to their Lab, Butter.
My favorite part of visiting their home as a child was the early morning wake-ups to meet their friends and canine companions. We even walked on a highway while it was under construction— a very “Jersey” thing to do for a kid growing up in a fishing town in New England.
I adopted Rustie in my early twenties— my first act of “adulting” that wasn’t obligatory. Rustie became my travel buddy—crisscrossing the country, camping out in national parks, wading across rivers, and climbing canyons. We moved about a dozen times in just as many years, but as long as she was with me, she didn’t seem to mind the change of scenery.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, I had no place to sleep at night. There were few available hotel rooms as most of the area was without power, so Rustie and I hopped from place to place and kept our few belongings in the car. Rustie had the same spirit of adventure about that experience as she did about our fun travels. “What’s next, Mom?!” her carefree, eager eyes seemed to say. Her ability to live in the moment gave me peace during an unsettling time.
Rustie was my constant comfort as I nursed my grandmother on her deathbed that same year. She walked through the grief with me—literally and figuratively. Rustie loved unconditionally. I had to let go of my beloved Rustie recently, and it got me thinking about what a significant role a dog plays in my sense of home. To me, without a dog, home is simply a place, a dwelling.
This summer I spoke with a Family Promise volunteer, Leonard, who has also experienced homelessness. He said: “Home is where you are at peace with yourself. You can live in a mansion and not be at home.” To be certain, every human being deserves housing, a physical space where they can be safe and build the foundation for their life. But I think Leonard is right—home is something you make for yourself.
We just welcomed a new four-legged family member into our home: Blu.
A sweet Australian Cattle Dog, or ‘Blue Heeler,’ I’ve started calling him Blu the Healer, and hope to train him to be a therapy dog like the family pets who have gone before.
I work at Family Promise because I know what it means for families to have the chance to create a home, together, and with their creatures. For me, it’s a dog that creates the home.