The controversy hit the news last fall when archeological preservationists clamored for the shelter to be closed and removed from the area where Julius Caesar was stabbed in the back, on the Ides of March, over 2,000 years ago. (See a blog post Paws for Reflection made on this issue back in October). It has yet to be resolved. The cats and the dedicated volunteers that help them are still waging the battle to keep the sanctuary – a cave-like space well below the main street – open.
Even though the shelter has been in operation for nearly two decades, some officials charge that the shelter should no longer be allowed there; they are squatters, and they should be evicted. It is believed an application for indoor plumbing had brought attention to the shelter. Before that, it operated without notice. That eviction notice brought a flurry of attention for the press worldwide. As with many stories, there’s little follow-up after the initial hoop-la.
The shelter, about 1,000 square feet, occupies a former storage area used by archaeologists who had excavated the site after demolition workers uncovered remnants of four ancient temples and Pompey’s Theater in 1926. That same year, the felines reportedly took up in the protected area below street level. From 1929 until 1993, the cats were more or less regularly fed by a succession of cat women or gattare.
On Jan. 13, 2013, Friends of Roman Cats posted a blog from an article written in the Los Angeles Times by Henry Chu (Torre Argentina Not Out of The Woods Yet) which states that a compromise may be in sight, as long as the Sanctuary makes some cosmetic changes that bring it more in line with what cultural preservation officials believe make it more compatible with the ancient ruins.. That includes things like pulling up the tile floor.
Co-founders Silvia Viviani, 73, a former opera performer, and Lia Dequel enlisted some heavy hitters in their fight to save the refuge, one being Rome’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno. Viviani is hopeful the issue can be resolved before politicians become preoccupied with the February general election.
Following a visit last month (December, 2012) to the Largo di Torre Argentina, with archaeologists and other authorities, the mayor reiterated his support for the sanctuary to stay put. The sanctuary, once a storage shed for archeologist, now has lights and computers, and serves as a haven for a trap, neuter, return program (TNR) for the street cats. The felines also are vaccinated and receive other necessary health care.
Should it be that much of a surprise the cats are getting a show of support from local officials? The street cats have been roaming the square for at least 80 years. When Viviani and Dequel started their shelter, there were about 90 cats; now they care for double that figure, much because people abandon their pets and the cats proliferate before they are spay/neutered. She claimed they have spay/neutered 27,000 cats over the years.
The Italian Laws Pertaining to Animals, enacted in 1991, forbids street cats to be mistreated. It also calls for stray cats to be are neutered by the health authority responsible for the territory and eventually reinserted in their group. Stray cats can only be put asleep only if severely ill or incurable. Law also states the street cats should be taken care of in their colonies.
Therefore, it should be no wonder the cat colonies are a common sight on Rome’s tourist trail. Guidebooks actually mention them. There are as many as 200 Cats residing at the Coliseum with an estimated 300,000 living amongst the ruins. Cats can be seen on statues, around temples, and in the ruins. Cats are so commonplace that they are considered part of the landscape, and have become a huge tourist attraction throughout the city. The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is no exception, drawing a number of curious questions when people stumble upon it.
Friends of Roman Cats, formed in 2001, helps homeless cats and their caretakers with an emphasis in Italy and the United States. According tot their website , they engage in innovative programs, including the Cats and Culture Tour; international cooperation and educational initiatives. FORC supports spay-neuter programs and believe that the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return is the best and most humane way to help reduce homeless cat populations.
There’s no doubt the Italian feral cats have a much better life than cats in Egypt or Greece, where stay cats can be seen just about everywhere. There are a number of cat friendly folks who want to help the cats. The government has laws to protect them including a no-kill philosophy. And they are a tourist attraction.
Do you suppose there’s something that could be learned from the Italians, and we stop penalizing people for feeding stray cats, and adopt policies to promote TNR throughout the United States? What do you think?