The rescue of a feral cat called Lizzie set me on a mission, which continues to this day. It has been one of many obstacles but also success. My eyes have been opened to the shadowy side of Sicily, a place I believed I knew so well.
I’m a writer and journalist and, in 2002 I was having a prolonged stay in Taormina, Sicily while I worked on a book. My friend, Andrew, came to stay for a week or so and we took a trip to Castelmola, a little hill town village. The plan was to sit in a renowned old bar to taste vino al mandorla, almond wine. Instead, Andrew suggested we explore the tiny side streets and darted ahead. When I finally caught him up I found he was staring at something in silence.
Lying on the ground was a small cat with a ghastly wound – a back leg so shattered the bones were protruding through the skin. As an ardent cat lover I knew I had to help. Many of the local people didn’t seem to care but I found a young man who suggested a vet he knew and allowed me to call him up. That was how I first met Giulio. But he couldn’t come until the evening.
Armed with torch, thick gauntlets and a humane trap, he and I prowled the dark streets until finally we caught her. Then it was back to Giulio’s surgery where she flew round the room like a cat demented until he managed to sedate her and set the break. While I waited I asked myself: why am I doing this? I knew the answer. Fate had somehow sent us down those narrow streets. Most people would have just left the cat to her fate.
The question was where could she stay while she recovered? To Giulio’s amusement I said I would nurse her in the apartment .I dared not tell my landlady what I was doing and had a terrible job hiding any traces if ever she popped in. Lizzie, I’d called her Lizzie, stayed with me for three weeks. She suffered her imprisonment in silence under the bed, emerging to scoff the tasty morsels I offered. She was my first experience of feral cats and I had no notion of their nature. Little did I know then, that I would learn a great deal more about these felines of the streets.
They have an innate mistrust of human beings. The mother cats train kittens to be quiet and stay put. A meow might attract predators. They will also make their kittens wash and wash to remove the scent of food from their fur, which again could attract the enemy. Their games prepare offspring for the life of a feral. A mother may play roughly with the dominant male kitten, training him to be an alpha male. She will teach her kittens to go to the food dish, forever watchful and poised to run, should a human appear. It is a game, but a grim one of survival.
I was exploring new territory on this the beginning of my journey.