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Venice > Life & Culture > Cats of Venice

Cats of Venice

Venice cats photo

PHOTOS: Cats sun themselves in Venice's former royal gardens, 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 fish market.

In a delightful book titled A Venetian Bestiary, Jan Morris wrote:

"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.

Venetian cats photo

"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."

cats photo

Morris's text, like the photos in this article, are a bit out of date: In recent years, stray cats have nearly disappeared from most Venice neighborhoods, although pet cats seem to be making a resurgence. Most feral 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.

Neno cat photoRelated articles

Venice's Oldest Cat?
A tribute to Neno, a Venetian cat who enjoyed boats and swimming until the age of 22.

The Cats of Venice
Shin Otani celebrates the feline citizens of La Serenissima in an inexpensive book with 80 color photos.

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden has written about Venice, Italy since 1996. He covered Venice and European travel at for 4-1/2 years before launching Europe for Visitors (including Venice for Visitors) with Cheryl Imboden in 2001.

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