University of Wisconsin–Madison

Le aventure dei gatti del quartiere: On Pet Culture in Bologna and Robin Neighborhoodery

The day I met my landlady, she introduced me to the neighborhood cats. There was Mosé, the slightly obese gray tabby, the smaller gray tabby with white, and, simply, il Rosso (the Red One), who is a tempestuous gingery tabby. Regarding the cats, one of the first things Marina said to me was that Mosé—who seems to be some sort of golden child, what with having an actual name and all—could come inside. Il Rosso, however, who has not been neutered and has a tendency to spray, is not allowed inside. To this, I responded, “I rossi causano sempre i problemi,” (Redheads always cause problems). Being a redhead herself, my landlady appreciated the joke and had a laugh. Whew.

Anyway, I love cats, so, naturally I was stoked to have neighborhood cats. When I found out, one of the first things I did was Facebook my friend, Amanda, who had roofcats when she was in Costa Rica. Sure, neighborhood cats aren’t as cool as roofcats, but I like them quite a bit.

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So, in Bologna, I’ve noticed that the inhabitants are quite fond of their dogs. They dress them in jackets and sweaters, parade them around the city, and talk to them. At least once a day, I walk past some sort of conniption where one dog looked at another wrong and threatened to make him/her roo-roo-roo the day s/he decided to make eyeballs at the other. (Just last week, however, I witnessed a spontaneous friendship between a very large, fluffy Bernese-type and a small, sleek dachshund-type and it warmed my heart. Gave me hope.)

Anyway, I do not, however, notice this sort of fondness between the Bolognesi and their catberts. Granted, cats don’t typically suffer leashes, so the relationship may be strictly domestic, but I don’t see the same sort of (possibly ironic) pride for one’s cat’s in Bologna as I have seen in the United States, particularly in Madison, where everyone and their boyfriend is a self-proclaimed “crazy cat lady.”

When I first moved in, the neighborhood cats roamed freely and regarded me with suspicion and I wanted rather badly to befriend them. I hatched a plan to make them like me by subtly littering the area outside my apartment with cat treats. The trouble, however, was finding cat treats in Doglandia. I searched for a week until I finally found them—just one kind, tartar control, chicken-flavored—at a nearby Tigotà. The day I got them, I was eager to try them out. Lo! Mosé patrolling the area! He saw me with his piercing green eyes and darted to a house, but I pulled out the treats bag and shook it. Interests piqued, Mosé moseyed over. I tossed three pieces in his direction and he flipped his little kitty lid. Scrambling to get all the pieces and devouring them with hasty crunching, searching immediately for more. I gave him two more before I got caught by some neighbors who had come out to smoke, so I had to wrap it up. (To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be doing this.) I went inside, Mosé staring at me through the gate with expectant eyes.

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Since then, over the past few days, I’ve been leaving the gate ajar and scattering treats outside my door. Between five and eight treats. Sometimes more. Every morning. I just want them to associate the area outside of my apartment with welcome. And comfort. And tasty treats. I guess it’s working. I hadn’t seen any of the cats since then, but the treats were always gone when I got home.

However, just the other day, as I was coming home, I saw a new cat! A black cat. I rushed inside and grabbed the treats and tossed them. Just as the cat could reluctantly stand to see what I had just hurled onto his/her territory, Mosé must’ve recognized the sound of cascading treats and sauntered in from out of nowhere to claim his prize. I had to distract him so the black cat could get some treats. Oh, the oligarchy.

After a long struggle, and a series of bribes, it seems that I have earned Mosé’s trust. Just today, he let me pet him without flinching. Though, he could just be playing me for a sucker.

What have I done?

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