Cats of Venice
PHOTOS: Cats sun themselves in Venice's former
a few steps from St. Mark's Square.
The Lion of St. Mark is Venice's mascot, at least
among sculptors and decorators. In real life, the closest lion is probably at the Parco
Natura Viva just outside Verona, 74 miles (118 km) away.
With no living lions to reign over Venice, the local feline population
has adopted a
surrogate leonine role. Back in the 1990s, when we took the photos in this
article, cats were seen everywhere in the city: sunning themselves on park
benches, perched on bridges, wandering the streets, and dining on leftovers at the Rialto
In a delightful book titled A Venetian Bestiary, Jan
"The cat has always been an essential scavenger in a city that
depends on the tides for its hygiene, and has periodically been decimated by rat-borne
plagues. It was Shylock the Venetian who declared the cat to be 'both necessary and
harmless,' and when from time to time the municipality has tried to reduce the teeming
feline population, the citizenry has always been up in arms in protest. Your Venetian cats
are not like others. Sometimes of course they live in the bosoms of families, and are fed
on canned horsemeat, and prettied up with bows: but far more often they survive half-wild,
in feral gangs or covens of cats, and not infrequently some cherished household pet,
observing the lives of such lucky ruffians from the kitchen window, will abandon the
comforts of basket and fireside rug, and take to the streets himself."
text, like the photos in this article, are a bit out of date: In recent years,
stray cats have nearly disappeared from most Venice neighborhoods. Many cats
have been removed to an island sanctuary, which is good news for Venice's rodent
population but is a source of annoyance to rat-haters and Venetian
traditionalists who lament the days when cats were seen more often than dogs.
Are Venice's few remaining stray cats dangerous? Some
worry-warts might think so, for it's doubtful that any feral cats wandering the streets of Venice have had rabies shots. Still, if you leave them
alone, they'll probably leave you alone--unless, of course, you're a fish or a rat, in
which case all bets are off.
Venice's Oldest Cat?
A tribute to Neno, a Venetian cat who enjoyed boats and swimming until the age
The Cats of Venice
Shin Otani celebrates the feline citizens of La Serenissima in
an inexpensive book with 80 color photos.
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