Cats Around The World: Gweru

Whenever I travel, I always seek out animal shelters once I arrive at my destination.  Whether I’m traveling a state away or on a different continent, I make it a point to stop in to see the cats and make a donation.  In the United States, it’s common to see shelters with varying accommodations and resources.  Usually when I leave a shelter, I will feel really good about stopping in to visit with the cats and I always leave a monetary donation to help them further their work.  

There is one shelter, however, that will stick in my mind forever.  
The days were long, yet very rewarding, in the African bush.  I had been wanting to stop at the shelter for awhile but needed to wait for a break from lion research to hop on the transport to a small town nearby for supplies.  When I arrived, I went to the market to pick up supplies for myself, as well as some cat food for the village cats who slept with me at night in the village.  I also wanted to take some cat food with me to the shelter so I loaded up as much as I could carry.  Shopping for cat food in Africa isn’t quite the same as shopping for cat food in the United States.  The selection is very limited, as well as the supply.  It was also very expensive compared to what I was used to paying back home in Nevada so just imagine living in Zimbabwe with barely enough to pay for your own food.  Gweru is a small town with very limited resources, like many other small towns throughout Zimbabwe and throughout Africa in general.  I hopped back on the transport for the short distance to the shelter, the Gweru SPCA.
After many years in the cat world, I have seen quite a few animal shelters and nothing had prepared me for the amazing experience I was about to have.  At first glance upon stepping down from the transport, I felt a sense of solemnness.  The structures were not what I was used to seeing and as I walked closer, I saw a pet cemetery off to one side with a large collection of hand made and hand painted grave markers.  I was greeted by a very welcoming and enthusiastic volunteer who was very happy to have visitors and excited to show this shelter that was like none I had ever seen.  Upon being greeted, my gloominess quickly disappeared as I eagerly followed the volunteer to the cat structure.
Never in my life have I seen shelter volunteers work so hard with resources so minimal.  The feeling of love and compassion were overwhelmingly abundant from all the volunteers I encountered.  They took pride in their shelter and the work they were doing.  Building supplies were scarce and what was available, was quite costly.  I was amazed by the creativity and resourcefulness of the volunteers. Mix matched fencing, paneling, wood, tree branches and whatever was available was put together in the most mindful way to create structures that would house cats and other animals to protect them from rain and the hot African sun.  As I made my way throughout the cat structure, I was greeted time after time by the most wonderful and loving cats who had a sense of calmness about them, as if they knew they hit the jackpot by being in the care of such loving volunteers.  I agreed with the cats, they were definitely lucky!  There were some shy cats, too, semi-ferals who tucked themselves into any available private space.  With limited veterinary care, the volunteers did everything they could to keep all the animals as healthy and as happy as they could be.  
After visiting with the cats, I went to see the dogs and then made my way to the other animals.  There were pigs, a mama donkey with her baby, roosters and goats.  All living in a safe haven and free from the threat of being used for food.  Lastly, I strolled through the pet cemetery and I must say I have never been so touched as I was in this moment.  “Puppy broken leg, you will never be forgotten, love you 6/2/15” read one marker, another said “5 SPCA puppies, u were all special”.  The rows of markers with sentiments written by volunteers were testament to how much these animals were loved and cared for by people who surely would have done more had they more to give.  I felt really grateful for these generous caretakers who gave so much of themselves for these homeless animals. I wanted to stay longer, even spend a day there helping in any way I could. Unfortunately, transportation isn’t always available so my time was limited, knowing that I would need to take the only available transportation back to the village.
As I climbed onto the transport to head back to the lions, my mind drifted to a place of wondering what kind of world we could create if everyone gave as much of themselves as the volunteers of the Gweru SPCA. It is said that if being rich and wealthy were a result of hard work, every African woman would be a millionaire. There’s no way I would ever doubt that. I hope to go back some day. Surely, there’ll be new faces, both human and furry, alike. But, one thing’s for sure….. the homeless cats of Gweru are living their best life at the Gweru SPCA.

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