It’s a balmy morning, barely a cloud skids across the sky and Portishead are playing, Sour Times, as I sit doing research for an article I have to write and submit to the editor before the end of next week. To be honest this feature should have been written and put to bed weeks ago, I’ve had plenty of time to write it, but there have been too many distractions. Living in the middle of a house restoration isn’t really conducive to concentration. Another distraction occurs, this one is a noise in the kitchen. I’m alone apart from the iPod, the builder has gone for supplies and the OH is at the shop. I dismiss the noise and go back to reading about when coffee was first introduced into Europe. (Fascinating eh?) There’s another noise and the sound of rustling. I get up and see a cat on the kitchen table, it sees me and is off the table and out of the open door like an express train. I follow it outside and it stops to look back at me with contempt. It’s a huge evil looking Tom. I’ve seen it in the lane on a couple of occasions, but as it’s feral these sightings never last long, as it quickly dissolves into the undergrowth. So why did this normally shy animal come into my kitchen?
We have nearby a couple of holiday-lets; cottages owned by Brits who rent them out to holidaymakers, and it’s here that the problem arises. People arrive for their two-weeks in the sun, see the cats and go all soft inside and start to feed them. Without realising that there’s quite a large population of feral cats in the countryside, and they’re perfectly capable of feeding themselves on the abundance of small prey out here. With easy pickings these cats quickly associate humans with food. I bumped into a couple in the local supermarket last week, I was astonished that they were purchasing cat food. I enquired why they would do such a thing, only to have the wife say, “It’s for the cats, they’re so skinny. Poor dears.” I bit my tongue, bid them good morning and left them to it.
There’s a big difference between feral cats in the countryside and the plethora of homeless moggies in the towns. The urban cats are a result of people failing to neuter or spay their pets: Italians are not keen on having their pets undergo these procedures. So far be it for me to complain about someone’s good intentions, albeit even if they are misguided,
Okay I will complain about these misguided good intentions.
The problem is, the holidaymakers leave; probably with a couple of photos of the ‘poor skinny cat ‘they lovingly fed and the people who live here have to then put up with these cats that would normally keep their distance coming in search of food. Why stalk lizards when the humans give you chicken bones and slices of prosciutto. As the cats come onto your property they bring with them their waste and their smell. Some of the locals leave kitchen scraps on their land for these wild cats, in return for this the cats catch the vipers: Abruzzo’s only poisonous snake. This good and well, as the cats have no contact with the human that brings the food, however the holidaymakers coo over the cats like doves, slipping them slithers of sliced meat, and the cat then makes the connection… Human + Hands + Meat = Full Belly. So when they leave on their Ryanair return and the holiday-let is shuttered and closed, the cats move onto the other occupied houses in search of food, and we have to put up with them climbing inside recycling bins and shredding the bin-liners: On Friday, within the space of two-hours I have had to pick up the contents of my bin-liner three times as cats have torn them apart in search of food – ironically, Friday is plastic and metal collection day.
So please come to Italy, have a great time in the pizzeria’s, languish upon our beaches and enjoy a glass or three of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but please don’t feed the cats.