Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Save the Cats!

Cat Sanctuary. Credit: NY Times
A old memory from Rome came to mind today. One early morning in Rome--and when I say early, I mean just closed the bar early--my friends and I waited anxiously for the first bus of the day to appear. We sat at the bus stop across from the ruins of Torre Argentina, a site that hosts four Roman temples and the remains of Pompey's Theatre, where it is said Julius Cesar was stabbed. As I slumped in my exhausted state, a lone tabby cat sauntered across the deserted road to investigate the source of ruckus that was our crew. Considering it was a stray, it was in decent shape: healthy coat of fur, good weight, no signs of injury or malnutrition. This was a car I could take home with me. At the time, I did not realize that Torre Argentina was more widely known as the "cat forum," because of its large population of feline inhabitants. I found myself returning to the square a couple days later to find hundreds of cats playing, lounging and enjoying life amidst the ruins. I also noticed large crowds of people watching them, too, and I soon came to love visiting this site in Rome over the next few months.

This initial memory floated back to me this morning as I listened to an NPR report about the Torre Argentina Cat Shelter Association being handed an eviction notice. It was shocking. The shelter began in 1994 in a small enclosure at one end of the ruins. Over the years, founders Lia Dequel and Silvia Viviani convinced the city to provide the once primitive shelter with electricity and running water. Volunteers care for some 200 cats at the site, which are all neutered and vaccinated, along with thousands of other across the city. The group also finds homes for cats, about 125 each year. Now, archaeological officials said the shelter is illegal and must shut down. But the cats can stay, of course.

Their argument? The shelter is unsanitary and threatens to spread disease. In addition, the group claims the shelter was built without proper planning permission. But these statements have been aggressively combated by volunteers. The archaeologists said the cats make it difficult to preserve the ruins, and it is the responsibility of the organization to protect Rome's history.

It seems odd that authorities are trying to shut down what has essentially become a tourist attraction and a key part of the city's heritage. But Dequel and Viviani said they are not giving up without a fight. They submitted a petition on the Culture Ministry website, which has scored over 6,000 signatures. After the news broke, the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, said the cats are a part of Rome's history and that the shelter was not to be bothered.

I personally see no benefit in shutting down the shelter, as it help control the cat population of Rome and takes care of all these cats that would otherwise have no where else to go. If you're interested in voicing your opinion, feel free to leave a comment. Or go ahead and sign the petition and SAVE THE CATS!

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