The 2012 Cats and Culture Trip was a success!

Friends of Roman Cats is happy to say we had a very successful Cats and Culture Italian tour this October. It was a bit smaller than ones in the past but as the US economy is reviving, we decided we needed to offer one to the wonderful, patient people who have signed up for the last couple of years.

Susan went to Venice from Rome and was there to meet 2 of the participants when they came in a day before the tour officially started. On Oct 10th Susan spent her morning meeting up with the rest of the group. Most came from the Bay Area, but we had one person from Colorado and another from Canada to make the tour truly international.

We were taken to our hotel, which was small but stylish, and everyone settled in. Some worked to overcome jet lag by looking for the nearest bar serving Bellini and Spritzes. By the next morning everyone seemed anxious to head out to explore this enchanting city. We took a waterbus to the Rialto Bridge where we met a local guide who showed us some of Venice’s back streets as well as San Marco Square. She said there were many fewer street cats than in former times and took us by a pet store to show us the well-fed shop cat in the window, saying this was one cat she knew she could show us.

After lunch we headed to the Church of San Giovanni and Paolo, and the beautiful Renaissance entrance of the city’s main hospital. We met representatives from DINGO, the animal welfare group that has done a terrific job reducing the numbers of Venice’s stray cats. We visited one of the largest remaining colonies, made up of mainly very friendly cats that were only too happy to accept our petting and picture taking. We then went off in search of another colony, now down to 3 or 4 cats that live in city constructed little houses in the square of a church that is being renovated.

The next morning we took a water bus over to Lido Island and spent the morning visiting DINGO’s
Cattery or ‘Gattile’ near the ancient town of Malamocco. It holds about 130 cats, some wild, but others former house cats waiting to be adopted. They have both outdoor enclosures as well as shelters to go into when it is cold.

That afternoon people scattered, some going off to Murano, the island of glass blowers and some exploring Venice proper. The group met with 2 of Susan’s favorite people who work with Italian cat organizations, Donatella Capuzzi who came all the way from Brescia and Kathy Hisamatsu who volunteers with a group in Trieste. Kathy is originally from the Bay Area and found she knew one of our tour members.

The next morning a porter came and took our bags to the train station (luckily close to our hotel) There we boarded our fast train that took us through Florence and on to the spa town of Montecatini Terme. After struggling with our bags for a few minutes, we met up with the van that took our luggage and us to our hotel. There we met Carolyn Martin of the dynamic small group, CATS.onlus. They only have about 5 members, but do as much between them as many much larger organizations. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing and wandering around the resort town.

The following morning we headed off to Florence where we went to the church of San Miniato, which offers a panoramic view of Florence and has some feral cats living in its cemetery. The cat colony used to be much larger, but T-N-R has done its work well. Then we went to the grand Boboli Gardens in Florence where we met Tea Vianello who has fed the Boboli cats since 1989. When she started there were hundreds of cats, now they are down to about 35. We also met several Italian women who help local cat colonies in Florence. In the afternoon we had a great walking tour of Florence. Our local tour guide brought Florence’s past to life for us.

The next morning we set off to explore the area around Montecatini Terme, our guide again was Carolyn Martin of ‘CATS onlus. First stop, a cheese factory where fresh mozzarella is made. We got a great tour, then a taste of several different kinds of mozzarella. We also petted the shop cat, one of the remaining cats from the colony around the cheese factory that CATS onlus had spayed and neutered.

We took a break from cats to visit the fabulous Slitti chocolate emporium where we feasted on a number of their products.

CATS onlus then had planned a marvelous treat for us. We drove to an ex-monastery in a nearby town, which now serves to rehabilitate former drug addicts. There we were treated to an incredible lunch or ‘pranzo’. At a beautiful long table covered with flowers we were served plate after plate of marvelous antipasti. Thinking of our Blessing event, Susan tried to take notes on a few of them, but was overwhelmed. We are all so grateful for the hospitality we were shown!

We finished the day visiting several of the colonies CATS onlus feeds and manages. One is next to a children’s playground so cats and children can watch each other.

The next day we boarded our bus and headed to Siena. On the way we stopped at a cat shelter out in the Tuscan countryside near Bagno a Ripoli. The dedicated group of animal lovers, AMA, Amici del Mondo Animale onlus, runs it. At present, because of an extremely dry summer, water, as well as food and medicines, have to be transported up to the cats every day. They had offered to give us a lunch as they have generously done on past visits, but we were all expecting a storm to blow in so had decided to cancel. This is the shelter where the little cat Mugolina came from. (You can read her story elsewhere on our website).

We went on to Siena and had a fascinating walking tour of what is certainly one of Italy’s most beautiful hill towns. The following morning we took our bus to the picturesque town of San Gimigiano, which retains a truly medieval feel with its high towers where nobility could retreat to in times of trouble. Then we drove through the Chianti countryside to visit a marvelous winery where we ate a light lunch and tasted the wines of the estate.

In the mid afternoon we returned to Siena to go meet another terrific cat group. A Mici Miei. We toured the little house the city of Siena has given them so they can have a place to keep the cats they catch before and after their spays and neuters. There is also a place to highlight cats and kittens that they consider highly adoptable. The group then treated us to wonderful cookies and pastries. Susan started to tell the tour that this group a good example of a city working well with an animal group, but they stopped me and told me money from the City had become incredibly tight as Italy goes ever deeper into financial crisis. This was the lament we heard everywhere.

The next morning we headed off to Rome, our last city on the tour. We drove directly to the cat shelter nestled under the Piramide of Gaius Cestus. We visited the cats and talked to the founder of Gatti del Piramide, Matilda Taiil and some of her volunteers. We also wandered around the adjacent Non-Catholic cemetery where cats also live. There they are know as the “Guardians of the Dead” We were very fortunate to be able to go inside of the pyramid along with the archeologist in charge.

We then went to our last hotel near some of the ancient Roman walls. We were definitely in Rome!
We had a lovely final group dinner, where we all at way too much. Unfortunately Italians don’t have a tradition of ‘doggy’ or even ‘kitty’ bags for leftovers.

The next morning we went on a very good City tour where we explored the Coliseum, walked through the Roman Forum, passed the little street called Via della Gatta (female cat) and ended at the Pantheon. After stopping for lunch we went to visit the 180 cats and their caretakers at the Cat Sanctuary of Torre Argentina. As Susan reminded the group, Torre Argentina, with their attitude toward the importance of spay-neuter and not abandoning animals, inspired the founding of Friends of Roman Cats.

Our last day was spent checking out things in Rome that interested us the most. Some of us went to Museums, some went shopping, most went back to visit the cats at Torre Argentina. That night we sat and watched the sun go down on the roof terrace of the hotel. We all felt a great appreciation for all we had seen and done in the last 11 days.

Several people stayed after the tour, 3 of them found a recently abandoned mother cat and her 3 kittens. The tour members notified the people at Torre Argentina who sent someone out to trap them that afternoon. The kittens, named: The mom cat has been spayed and returned to the park where she was found.

We were all quite overwhelmed to see the dedication of the people in the groups we visited who are trapping, paying for spays and neuters, returning and caring for cats. Some groups have created shelters, some take foster kittens into their homes and work to get them adopted. All advocate that more attention be paid to the stray cats living in their midst. Most work to some extent with the Public Health veterinarians in their communities, some work with their city governments. All are in great need of further help. Friends of Roman Cats thanks the people who came on the tour as we thank the Italian groups who work so hard. We all donated money to the groups we visited. Special thanks to Enza, one of our tour members, who packed at least a suitcase of her beautiful hand-made earrings to give to each of the groups we visited. Everyone was thrilled as fundraising is becoming more and more difficult with Italy’s economic troubles.

We hope to continue these tours to foster more understanding between Italy and the United States animal communities.v

Here are some pictures from our trip. Click on them to make them full screen. We hope it stirs memories and makes more of you want to go next year.

Carol with Bagno a Ripoli cats

Cheese cat wants to join us


Enza with colony cat Venice

San Gimignano trip wasnt all cats

Siena visit to A Mieci Miei

Susan Bianca Russo pres AMA