Home Is Where the Dog Is

woman and dog hiking

October 11, 2018


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. 


Cara and Rustie

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.  


Blu the Healer

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. 

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