The first stop during our trip to Italy was the small town of Montorio al Vomano, located in the province of Teramo in the region of Abruzzo. With a population of approximately 8300, the town is surrounded by a river, mountains, but mostly built on hills and flatter land. I was struck by its beauty and medieval architecture and stunned by the fact that it houses the ruins of an ancient temple that was dedicated to Hercules. We have no such history in the United States.
Family brought us to this first stop of our Italian trip and on the first morning, Dominic and I sat on the piazza with our expressos watching the old Italian ladies dressed in headscarves and long dresses drag their shopping carts over the cobblestones while the young women pranced smartly dressed in the latest fashions.
As I watched the scene unfold, I felt a gentle pat on my thigh. I looked down and there was a small cat begging for a handout. I had nothing to give him, so instead, I stroked his natty-looking fur, and off he went looking for more lucrative donations.
My focus changed then, and as I looked around the piazza, I saw more cats, lolling in the sun or looking for dropped crumbs and generous souls. Then I noticed the dogs, the wanderers, clearly homeless, without collars, and all on a mission. None were interested in socializing, yet they all seemed harmless and fairly docile. I was surprised that they were of good weight, and then I saw why: outside the doors of many homes were little bowls of water, milk and food, mostly pasta.
While there are many kind-hearted people, there are also those who brutalize these poor creatures who mean no harm. Take this story of a stray meeting up with a dog on a leash with its owner. The stray just wanted to say hello to the other dog, but the owner kicked it in the face repeatedly. Fortunately, I did not see this or else I might have found my way into an Italian jail.
So why are these abandoned, homeless animals not in animal shelters? Italy has many animal shelters, most not run very well, which lends fodder to the argument that these animals may be better off on the streets?
Some shelter operators round up as many dogs as possible, cramming them into cages to collect cash from the local, state and federal governments that fund publicly run shelters
So why am I making such a big deal about Montorio al Vomano, in the province of Teramo, in the region of Abruzzo? Don’t we have a similar plight for abandoned animals here in the United States?
Yes and no.
For the most part, stray dogs are not wandering the streets of our cities and towns. Rather, they are locked away in animal shelters (hopefully well run), desperately waiting to be adopted, or the tear-jerking alternative. Should they be let out to wander the streets, hoping for handouts and the occasional pat on the mangy head?
Germany has an interesting alternative to the world-wide crisis of abandoned and unwanted animals. It has over 500 shelters, known for cleanliness and caring attention to pets, and all with a no-kill policy except for animals who become seriously ill. Dog owners are required to pay yearly taxes on their pets, the amount of which varies by town and number of dogs. The purpose of the tax is mainly to regulate the number of dogs in a household, thereby indirectly limiting the overall number of strays. There is no such tax on cats which lends to more stray felines than dogs.
This issue of animal abandonment and homelessness is not going away, ever. And it is worse in other parts of the world where the atrocities are truly despicable. And on this note, an apt quote by Mahatma Gandhi:
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way that its animals are treated.”