Having mentioned the cats of Venice and their many mysteries so often in my trip reports I thought that it would be good to bring these strands together in one place.


Having not been to Venice since 1992 I was surprised on my 2002 visit to find that the large number of friendly strays living in many campi (sometimes in little makeshift wooden huts) and being fed foil dishes of pasta by old ladies had all disappeared, completely. The small garden in front of San Zaccaria, the Garibaldi Gardens, the wide canal-side area behind the Scuola Grande di San Rocco - all areas that seemed very empty without their resident tabbies. This seemed to me to be a somewhat tragic loss, as Venice was justly famous for its cat population. And where had they all gone?

This top part of this page features photos I took in the early 90s, when the cats were many. Further down you'll find some more recent bulletins on the cats in Venice.



















  




 


































A solution to the above
disappearing cats mystery was supplied by site-friend, author and Venice resident Michelle Lovric who wrote to me in 2005 saying "There is an association called Dingo which has over the last ten years collected up most of the street cats and taken them away for sterilization and rehousing. For some time they were housed on the island of San Clemente, the old female lunatic asylum. I went to visit them there - it was amazingly well organised, with huge cages and an operating theatre for the cats. But then the island was sold (it is now a five star hotel) and the cats were deported to the Lido, where they now have a sanctuary. Some Venetian friends have told me that the cats were accused of causing diseases to Venice's few precious babies and small children."
Here is a contemporary New York Times article about the ruckus at the time of the move from San Clemente to the Lido.


This situation was confirmed and bemoaned by a multiple-cat-owning bookshop owner I got talking to on my 2006 visit who thought that the ecologists were misguided in this move, not the least in thereby leaving Venetian rats with no predators, this being the purpose for which the cats had first been introduced to Venice more than a thousand years ago.

The bookshop - Libreria "Acqua Alta" di Frizzo Luigi (a.k.a. The Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World) in Calle Longa S. M. Formosa - is becoming something of common denominator amongst cat-obsessed Venice fans and bloggers.


 

 

 

Then in December 2006 came reports of new sanctuaries. Anne Atwell wrote to me of a discovery by the church of San Lorenzo in Castello on a winter trip.
"I walked up to the front of the church and saw all of these little houses......it was a cat sanctuary! It was a cold morning, and I could see all these little faces inside staring at me. A couple of them came out to check me out, but most stayed in. The houses are nice and have pillows inside......there was a bowl of water and bunch of empty paper plates all over the steps of the church." She went back later with a box of cat biscuits and made 11 new friends. Yonnie, a non-furry friend of hers, took these two photos. Anne also passes on reports of two more sanctuaries, one in the gardens close to Piazzale Roma as well as one in Cannaregio, reputedly somewhere between the Ospedale and Bacini vaporetto stops. There are also rumours of another one near the Greek church. It seems that these new homes are being provided by Dingo, but as they don't seem to have a web site it's hard to check. Any further info would be appreciated, but I'll surely be having a scout round on my next visit, in March 2007.

2007


On my trip in March 2007 I found the San Lorenzo huts, looking a little less appealing than in the photo above, with fly-blown plates all around, and old fish heads, which was a bit unsavoury. Only two cats too, including the rolling-over tabby to the right. However passing through later in the week there was someone feeding and tidying up and more cats, so they still thrive, it seems. Didn't find any of the other little sanctuaries, though, but more wandering cats were spotted than in any recent years, especially up in Cannaregio, which is good news.

And here's a link to a
posting on Trip Advisor about the current state of Dingo and visiting the cat sanctuary.
Then in August 2007 I got an e-mail from Jan Waldron reporting on the San Lorenzo colony. She wrote:
Last weekend I stayed in an apartment right next to the church on the square and can report that the cat colony is currently up to 20 cats, although around 6 hang out there during the day time. Including the cats pictured on your site - I counted 20 late at night, including the big tabby tom. A lady came at about 9am and put cat food down on paper plates and there were bowls of water (one of which was in the doorway to the building half way along on the right hand side (a school?). They all looked relatively healthy, but were very wary of people in general. They're still using the little wooden house, which still seemed quite weather-proof thankfully. I was glad to see that the locals are looking out for the cats.

She also sent some photos, of the sanctuary (right) and some other local residents (below). Is the cat peering down from the wall the same cat as the rolling-over tabby tom in my photo above?
















 

My trip in
October 2007 added nothing to the store of knowledge, but I took some nice photos. I can report, though, that the campo in front of San Lorenzo is now totally free of diggings and hoardings. I'd tried to make contact with Dingo before I went but their e-mail address failed.


 


2008
 



March 2008
brings an e-mail from webmeister Thomas Grones with the news that Dingo have a new web-site  www.dingovenezia.it (and it works!) and that an English version is coming soon.

Lucky old Gail Woodcock was in Venice again in April 2008 and writes to say:
I have just returned from a few days visit to Venice and thought you would welcome an update on the cats at San Lorenzo. They were all looking reasonably well, fit and active except for the black cat without the white smudge under its chin. It seemed to have a gammy eye but otherwise it did not seem too bad.
Rather than drinking the water in the blue bowl provided for them, they seemed happier drinking the rain water that had collected on the tarpaulin covering their 'home'. There was no sign of any food being left for them, but there were plenty of fat pigeons at the bridge end of the Campo feeding on bread rolls, so I guess the cats could partake of an occasional pigeon if need be. And who's to know where the rats and mice hang out locally? By the way, the green patch to one side of their home is green with grass and weeds as all the cats seem to use it 'in lieu of pussy litter'.

She also attaches one of her sweet collages (right).

 
In April 2008 I made contact with Dingo!
An e-mail to the new address got me a reply, and confirmation that the English version of the site, with a Paypal donations option, is coming soon. They also sent me a Word document in English setting out their work, which you can open by clicking here.

In October 2008
I visited Venice myself. My visit to the San Lorenzo colony was somewhat curtailed by a stupid woman who brought her aggressive little dog, which wasn't on a lead, to chase the cats (including the worse-for-wear tabby favouring his right back leg, pictured right) despite her shouting at it. I spotted (and stroked) a few (presumably non-feral) cats around the campos during the week, but not as many as in previous years, although the weather was colder.

In a neighbourhood food shop, buying a cake, I noticed some lost-cat posters on the counter and asked the owner about them. He said that more pet cats than ever were disappearing. He was a firm believer in the Chinese restaurant theory saying that cats, and small dogs, were being stolen to appear on menus in the city. I've heard this one before, as an explanation for the disappearance of the feral cats, but have always put it down to prejudice and/or a taste for melodrama, but he was adamant, saying that the cats can hardly run away from an island criss-crossed by canals, or be run over by a car. I'm still not so sure, if only because Venice has so few Chinese restaurants and anti-Chinese racism, even in the mainstream press, is sadly not uncommon there.


 


2009

April 2009
The Dingo colony rumoured to be near the Ospedale by San Zanipolo is actually in the Ospedale grounds, and so not accessible to the general public. Michelle Lovric was taken to see them by a portera and reports the usual hutches and ladies coming to feed them every evening. She took a couple of photos too, as well as the one (below) of the rusty tabby having a stretch near the Miracoli church.


 


 

 

 

 

 


 


August 2009

Below is a new montage from Gail W. showing the San Lorenzo posse doing what they do best and two from Brigitte Eckert.


 


 




 

 



 

 

 

 


September 2009
My 2009 trip. A pair of dozing San Lorenzo cats and a wandering black cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 



To the left is Lilly who lives behind the catflap in the door
opposite the Domus Ciliota, where I stayed this year.
Below is Pedro, who lives over in Cannaregio


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 








The cat who lives near the church of 
Sant'Antonio on the Lido
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2010


March 2010
New correspondent Francesco Gamba gets the year off to a somewhat belated start with the yawning laundry cat (right) from around the back of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli.

May 2010
An early-in-the-year trip for me. The San Lorenzo colony had only one dozing resident when we visited, admittedly in the rain. A good selection of spottings otherwise. To the right is a plushy cat who lives near San Silvestro. The friendly cat below is called Attila. The two furthest below left were seen near the aforementioned Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World in Calle Longa S. M. Formosa, and so may well be wanderers from there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 










 
 

September 2010
Just before my Autumn trip a report (and a photo right) from (a different) Michelle, from New Zealand on the San Lorenzo colony. The ailing boss-tabby with the gammy leg is still ailing, it seems, but surviving. Do Dingo ever get vets to visit, she wonders? Or ever reply to emails?
 

mid-September 2010

I checked out the above Michelle's reports of the ricketyness of the boss tabby, who was hobbling last time I visited, and the time before that. However, an emaciated- looking tabby that was far from sure-footed may be the cat she means, and the boss tabby I was thinking of was not in evidence. Or is it the same cat after some drastic weight loss? This scraggy tabby did seem bosom buddies, though, with a black cat with whom he seemed inseparable (left).

Spotted a couple of Dingo cabins on Torcello and a good few cats on Burano (like the two below and the one on the blue boat) many romping near the vaporetto stops.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 




 



 



2011

July 2011
Correspondent Karin, who visited Venice in June, writes and sends some nice photos of the San Lorenzo cats, and she too wonders if they get any vet care at all. The boss tabby (below) still has a gammy mouth, it seems, and looks more rickety as the years pass. But he survives.





















I wrote to Dingo to see what was up with the treatment of the San Lorenzo cats, and their very old promise (of March 2008!) of an English language version of their website. No reply so far. But Gail,
who has written before, writes to say that she'd been in Venice...

...this year in the early Spring and in June for the opening week of the Biennale. Each time I checked on the cats of San Lorenzo and in particular the old tabby Tom. After a visit late last year, I thought I had seen the last of him as he was looking very ill and fragile. But blow me when I went back this spring and again early summer, he was a new cat except for a bit of arthritis which did not stop him jumping up on the window ledges. The other cats (only counted 5 or 6 now) are very attentive and caring of him. One of their little ‘hutches’ has been painted to look like a house with windows, curtains and flowers.

And Robin Saikia, author of the excellent book on The Venice Lido is promising to donate
€3 for every copy of his book he sells online from his website here. I might just take advantage of his contact with the Malamocco/Lido cattery on my next trip too.

 




 

August 2011
An email from Thomas Rautenberg, who lives in Germany but is a frequent visitor to Venice and who provides the photos for the Dingo calendar. I paste the email below as he has many sensible and informative things to say about Dingo's work and methods...

They try to keep the cat population in good health. Cats with e.g. a dangerous virus they isolate in Malamocco. They try to keep the population not higher than arround 2000 cats (Venice + islands). Without controlling the birth rate Venice would have about 10.000 - 12.000 hungry slim cats. I heard different opinions from locals whether Dingo should do that or not. Personally I think they are right. A feral cat in Rome normally doesn't get elder than 3 years. In Venice sometimes they live 10-15 years. Enough food, no cars ... and Dingo.

My experience with Dingo is that when I find a cat with some health problem and I inform them it needs perhaps only a half day until they catch this cat. A little problem in the communication might be that they don't speak English, and that most of them have normal jobs besides their work for Dingo.

The "boss cat" of San Lorenzo ... They watch her but this problem no doctor can "repair". This cat has just to live with it. Feral cats you can't put in a human home any more. They just would try to escape. They prefer to stay on the street.

When Dingo brings a cat to the sanctuary in Malamocco (very good people are working there) they "repair" the cat, and when they have the feeling it is a true wild feral cat they bring it back to the position where they caught it. If they find wild kittens they take them to Malamocco, and you can adopt them. With very young "wild" cats it is possible. If they already lived some years on the street they will never change.

For my cat photos I checked every small corner in cento storico and on all the islands. Mass tourism makes the cats shy and careful. The most friendly cats you will find in Burano, Murano and Giudecca, because the tourists going there behave better.

A really cool cat is ______, the boss cat of Burano island. Shiny black, very strong, very friendly. He doesn't look like a feral cat at all. Mostly he wears a green neckband.

Neckbands - some cats with a home don't have them. Some feral cats have them. Sometimes locals fix neckbands to wild cats they love. They hope the tourists will not steal a cat with a neckband. But a lot of cats disappear.


 



 
Some video of the cats in Dingo's Malamocco cattery on the Lido.


The Venetian stray cats are an official heritage of Italian culture, there exists a law protecting them. I don't remember exact, but I think if you harm them the penalty costs between 3000 - 15.000 Euro.

A lot of locals love their feral cats. Each single cat has a name. Once I showed in a bar near to San Marco photos from the wild Giudecca cats and he said: "Oh, this is _______!"

A lady close to the train station sometimes takes "her" feral cat to the vet and pays for it. This cat is sleeping somewhere outside, but it visits sometimes this lady inside her ground floor apartment to relax there in the afternoon. Locals with a personal relation to a wild cat are numerous.

Ears with a cut - when a cat is neutered the local vets cut also a little corner on top of the ear. They do the ear cut with all cats, not only the feral cats. That way it is very simple to control on the street whether a cat is fertile or not. And the feral cats need not to suffer a second trip to the vet only to control whether they are fertile or not.

I've removed the names of the cats as Thomas says that with the names people can call the cats which makes it thereby easier to steal them away from their natural environment, which happens.


2012
 


November
2012
A lean year for updates, and a rare non-visiting year for yours truly. But the year has seen the long-awaited and long-doubted-ever-in-our-lifetimes opening of the church of San Lorenzo. It's been granted to Mexico for use as their Biennale venue, the condition of which is that they carry out restoration. To what degree of finish and accessibility this restoration is to be carried out is to be seen. There are more photos of the church's state internally in the entry for San Lorenzo on my Churches of Venice site. The downside of this development, however, is that the Dingo huts have been reduced to one and it has been forced down the steps and off to the side, but the cats remain, as shown in these photos taken by Brigitte Eckert and (below right) Val de Furrentes. And we can now safely assume, I think, that the boss tabby photographed in past years has now gone to that bowls-of-tuna filled campo in the sky.




A Murano hiding cat spotted by Michelle Steel




2013
 

June 2013
Reports from Campo San Lorenzo are a little depressing. Gail W sends a collage (below) writing to say that it seems that there are now only three cats left. Also that they were grateful for some fresh water as their food and water bowls were empty and it looked like they were not being well cared for. Any further investigation and reports welcome.




August 2013
But this month's report from Helen T (and Edmund) is more positive. They report that on a blisteringly hot day the San Lorenzo cats seemed to be being better cared for as there was plenty of water and signs of recent food. They also provided photos of some sweet cats from Torcello (below) and around Dorsoduro (below right and far below).

 


Two photos by Brigitte Eckert




 

September 2013
On my first visit to Venice since 2011 I saw more cats in Cannaregio, where I was staying, than in previous years. Which was heartening and just as well, as the thinning of the San Lorenzo posse was less heartening.

 



Residents of the Ospedale Dingo colony, seen by Val de Furrentes.
 

December 2013
The years ends with some montages and reports from Gail W. The San Lorenzo cats, still down to the core black and white trio, have had some plastic roof and door coverings installed for the winter, it seems, so they can now peer mysteriously out through plastic curtains.



She also tells of the above handsome chubby poseur in the Garibaldi Gardens. He would walk sedately down the Viale and every time he came to a bench he would jump up and pose on the left hand side for about 5 minutes whilst passers-by took photos before jumping down and walking very deliberately and regally along to the next bench and repeating the performance. In all, I watched him do this on four different benches over about 30 minutes.


2014
 

March 2014
An impromptu week booked to see some exhibitions and stuff. Another good trip for interacting with the cats of Cannaregio, including the two huge tabbies (Maine Coons?) living in the ex-boatyard. The kittenish tabby-and-white living in the courtyard by my hotel entrance that I photographed in September is still around and still a friendly sweetie. Although he rarely posed anywhere that doesn't include rubbish or unphotogenic building materials. My only passing through Campo San Lorenzo was on a wet day though, and the colony there were all sensibly sheltering.


 

June 2014
A shop window in  Barbaria delle Tole by Brigitte Eckert





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