The Cat Sanctuary

I have been excited to volunteer at the Cat Sanctuary in Rome since I signed up several months ago. In fact, so excited that I sent out this picture to family and friends so they could have a visual (which was fun for me, too). I watched a video on the famous cats of Rome and all the good work being done for the many injured, ill or abandoned cats.

Apparently, there is a law in Rome that “allows cats to live without disruption in the place where they were born.” If you look carefully, you will see many wild cats climbing the walls of the Colliseum, and sleeping among the ruins of the Forum.

Another fun fact, once they are somewhat healthy, the cats treated here at Torre de Argentina choose to run around the ruins in the immediate area. I also learned that many tourists visit the sanctuary and find it a nice break from the historical sites. What a neat setting, I thought and it made me really glad that I would get to be a part of it.

Until…I arrive and, guess what?, there are more than one cat sanctuaries in Rome (who knew?) and that this was not where I’d be working after all!

So, you’re probably thinking, all cat sanctuaries are the same, right? Well, not quite. First off, the A.Z.A.L.E.A, an association protecting and supporting cats in Rome is located in, um, well, what can I call it? It’s in the back of a huge hospital (it must be several acres!) and it cannot have been used in decades. The walk to it from the bus stop is 10 minutes of overgrown weeds on back roads, tall brick walls with graffiti, creepy old signs (“Cardiologia” with an arrow to an even creepier looking part of the building), to, eventually, a run-down half building/half patio space that at first glance, looks like it hasn’t been inhabited for a very long time. Yikes!

Let me be clear, this is not a criticism of the organization or the people who run/work in it. Turns out, they are lovely folks, every one of them and extremely dedicated. Daniella, the founder, is this tiny woman with a huge heart based on everything I’ve read and heard. She is not a figurehead either – she has been there almost every day since I’ve been going and is working right along with the other volunteers. Giuliana, a wonderfully sweet, tireless worker, who is running the (volunteer) show, comes to work with a huge smile on her face, and will apologize for her English, every day, even though it is very good. She makes me smile. All good souls doing work that probably very few people even know about.

The cats are sweet, curious (of course!), neurotic, scared, injured, funny and noisy. Some want to be petted every second (Fandango, I’m talking about you!), others won’t come within many feet of me, and still others just stare and look right through me. You can look at it as quite heartbreaking or just be happy that they have a nice home. This is where we, as humans, put our feelings onto animals (there’s a name for this!) and, in fact, the cats are quite content! There are hundreds in this facility that all are fed, watered (bowls disinfected daily, by me at the moment!) and are just fine. As cat lovers everywhere know, most of them simply put up with their human owners, anyway!

This is Leonardo, notice his kind of droopy chin. If you bend over to pet another cat, before you know it, you will find him walking around on your back!

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