Volume 12 Week 5

Wednesday, Jan. 16


Posted Jan. 10

Posted Jan. 9

Posted Jan. 7


Orléans Ward
Matt Luloff

Beacon Hill,
Cyrville Ward
Tim Tierney




(Updated 9:30 a.m., Jan. 23)
El gato mas suerte en Cuba – The luckiest cat in Cuba

By Fred Sherwin
The Orléans Star

The story I am about to tell you is 100 per cent true and involves two couples who were absolute strangers before they met; the Maître d’ at the oldest restaurant in Trinidad, Cuba; and a cat who owes both couples and the Maître d’ at least one of his nine lives.

When my friend Chantal and I decided to take a last minute vacation to Cuba the last thing on our minds was rescuing a kitten from the streets of Havana, but that is exactly what happened as I am about to tell the story about the luckiest cat in Cuba.

An inquisitive “Havana” checks out his new digs after being rescued from the Malecón in Havana, Cuba. Fred Sherwin/Photo

Chantal and I had barely arrived in Havana when we decided to go to La Bodeguita de Habana in Old Havana to drink a prerequisite mojito at the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

When we left the bar, Chantal noticed a young woman wearing a hoodie with the word “Canada” emblazoned across the front of it – but more importantly the young woman was carrying a small kitten in her arms.

For those of you who have never been to Cuba, that’s a rare sight in itself. Kittens, and cats in general, are not treated like they are here in Canada. Most cats are strays that are left to scavenge and survive on their own. There is no such thing as house cats, especially in Havana.

Chantal is very much a cat person and was drawn to the kitten right away. I myself am a closet cat person, which is to say I will never admit to being a cat person unless forced to do so, or have to write about one in an article about the luckiest cat in Cuba.

Apparently the young woman, whose name was Erica, was from Columbia, not Canada, but her boyfriend, Brent, was from Edmonton, thus the hoodie. They met two years ago at a university in the South American country where he was studying and she was tutoring foreign students in Spanish, as well as teaching salsa lessons, or at least that’s what I understood during our brief 10 minute encounter on the streets of Old Havana.

The pair had found the kitten shivering and alone on the Malecón, which is a wide boulevard that runs along Havana’s sea wall, and were looking for a place to leave it.

Havana with his new foster owner Rodrigo on the final day of his miraculous journey from Havana to Trinidad, Cuba. Fred Sherwin/Photo

I must admit that I was a little reticent to take the kitten off their hands, seeing that it was our first day in Cuba, but Chantal insisted that she should take over guardianship of said kitten, much to the relief of Brent who shot me a look that had “She all yours baby” in his eyes.

And so that’s how the story of the luckiest cat in Cuba began.

We immediately nicknamed him “Havana” – we discovered later that she was, in fact, a he – and took him back to our Airbnb. The poor thing was total listless and on death’s door when we got him.

Chantal had brought a large bag of Temptations cat treats with her to feed the strays so we at least had that and there was a restaurant a couple of doors down from our Airbnb where we ordered Cafe con leche with the leche on the side. We also saved some of our meal for him as there is no such thing as cat food in Cuba.

Our efforts to find a home for the cat in Havana proved fruitless. The best we could do was an old building that had several boxes outside which housed several strays that were occasionally fed by an old woman whenever she had a few scraps. That would definitely not do for our little Havana, so we concocted a plan to bring him with us to Cienfuegos, a small colonial town on the south side of the island about four and a half hours drive from Havana.

Cats aren’t allowed on buses in Cuba so we smuggled him on board in a beach bag and we sat at the very back. Unbelievably, Havana didn’t make a peep the entire trip and barely moved around.

When we arrived in Cienfuegos, we stayed at another “Pet Friendly” Airbnb owned by a wonderful couple who fed the neighbourhood strays their table scraps every night.

It seemed like the perfect spot to leave Havana, or so I thought. For one it was a lot safer than the streets of Havana, and for another they got at least one meal a day, but Chantal thought otherwise. She was still hopeful that we could find Havana a real home, and we almost did.

Two young artists in the market already had a cat, but they were just in the process of trying to find a new place to live and didn’t want to be burdened with a second cat. And so off we went to our next stop in Trinidad, with Havana in tow.

Unbelievably, our Airbnb in Trinidad was two doors down from the only vet in town. It was the vet who determined that Havana was only eight weeks old. He gave her some drops to kill the fleas that had infested her and we fed Havana some tuna from a giant can we had purchased in Cienfuegos for $10US. Keep in mind that the average monthly salary in Cuba is about $20US.

Later that night, we went to the Sol y Son restaurant to have dinner. I had visited the same restaurant with my boys last May and got to know the Maître d’ / head waiter / night manager, Rodrigo, who used to work as a translator and speaks perfect English and French. He also owns a cat. Eureka! It took a minimal amount of convincing for Rodrigo to take Havana, who he nicknamed Ñoño.

(Left to right) Fred, Chantal, Erica and Brent pose for a family reunion photo with Havana the kitten in Trinidad, Cuba. Fred Sherwin/Photo

And now for the rest of the story. The next night, Chantal and I went to the Casa de musica in Trinidad, which is an outdoor music venue in the Plaza Mayor.

The band had played three songs when I noticed a young man who looked strikingly like Brent, the guy we got the cat from in Havana. At about the same time, Chantal recognized Erica. As hard as it is to believe, the pair had traveled to Trinidad that very same day. Now, keep in mind that Cuba is a big country, and Trinidad is nearly a six and a half hour drive from Havana.

Also keep in mind that Trinidad is not exactly a small town and Chantal and I were scheduled to leave the next day. Add to that, the fact that within five minutes of us meeting up again, the skies opened up and a torrential downpour started that continued unabated for the next 12 hours.

The odds of the four of us seeing each other again were a billion to one, if not higher. We gave Brent and Erica the complete run down of our journey with Havana and told them that we had found him an excellent home in Trinidad.

They were thrilled and couldn’t wait to see him again. On the walk back to our room, Erica and Brent told us that when they found Havana in the middle of the Malecón, six tourists were standing around him afraid to pick him up for fear of catching some sort of disease. Erica, whose family has six dogs back in Columbia, immediately scooped him up and carried him to safety.

They were in the midst of looking for a place to leave him when they ran into Chantal and I in the streets of Old Havana. The reunion in our Airbnb room was pretty special and one which none of us will soon forget. Havana was just as excited to see Erica and Brent as they were to see him.

We took a ton of pictures together and recorded the whole thing on our video camera.

The next day Chantal and I left Havana with his new foster parent and bid the two of them a tearful farewell.

Since arriving back in Canada, we called Rodrigo and he assured us that Havana is healthy, happy and doing well. He even shot a video of him which he shared with us on Facebook.

The prologue to this story has yet to be written as I am in the process of trying to find a way to adopt Havana and bring him to Ottawa, in which case the luckiest cat in Cuba will be the luckiest cat in Canada. Stay tuned.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)





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