In English we call them “crazy cat ladies.” You know the type – the sweet (and slightly eccentric) little old lady who lives down the street and who has adopted an inordinate number of cats. In Italy, they have a word for women like this – gattare, or “cat ladies.” The difference is that in Italy, rather than letting stray cats take over their houses (although some do), these gattare generally make it their mission to feed the countless strays who live around them. And though there are hundreds of these cat ladies all over Italy, it turns out the one who feeds more cats than any other is a retired woman living in Milan.
Albertina Di Mascio spends about €1,500 a month on food for 120 stray cats which live around her northern Milan neighborhood. She and her husband subsist on a meager diet, as she spends nearly all their combined monthly income on cat food.
Every morning Di Mascio sets off from home at 6am in her Fiat Panda to visit her four-legged friends.
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“I do it all on my own,” she explained. “I take 60 tins of food, two litres of milk, 15 litres of water and three kilos of cat biscuits with me.
“A lorry from a cat-food company comes to my house twice a month. They know me now and give me a good price.”
Thanks to women like Albertina, many of Italy’s stray animals have at least something of a steady diet and some human interaction, but the idea of spaying and neutering has unfortunately not become commonplace in Italy. So while there will always be women like Albertina to help out, the number of stray animals is growing, not shrinking.
In Rome, an organization called Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is not only making an effort to find loving homes for some of the Italian capital’s stray cats, they’re also raising awareness about spaying and neutering. The cat sanctuary is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction, and thanks to a user-friendly website some of the stray cats have found homes as far away as the United States. Even if you can’t take in a stray cat, however, you can help Torre Argentina by donating something to the cause. And if you’re in Rome, you can also help out by paying one of the Torre Argentina caretakers to be your tour guide through the Roman ruins that surround the cat sanctuary.
As a cat lover, it breaks my heart to think of all the sweet felines whose owners don’t care enough to spay/neuter them in the first place, or to find them good homes if they can no longer care for them personally. To think that some of the cats are chucked out into the streets simply because the owners are leaving town for the August holidays is, to me, repulsive. And it’s clearly widely accepted in Italy, or there wouldn’t be such a problem with strays. I sincerely hope that groups like Torre Argentina can begin to make a difference by changing not only the fate of the strays they care for but attitudes toward animal care in Italy.
Photo by: Patricia Ince