The Ebb and Flow of the Feral Cats of Italy

During a Thanksgiving trip to Italy several year ago, this was the scene that greeted my friend Nicole and me upon rising the first morning. That's Oscar's mom left to the center (tawny with the green eyes) before she embarked upon a life of pregnancy after pregnancy.

During a Thanksgiving trip to Italy several year ago, this was the scene that greeted my friend Nicole and me upon rising the first morning. That’s Oscar’s mom left to the center (brownish grey fur with the green eyes) before she embarked upon a life of pregnancy after pregnancy.

On a sunny Saturday February afternoon in the hills of Umbria, my next door neighbor Amalia and I have followed Micia, the mother of all mother cats, from inside Amalia’s house, where she has been resting (even though she is a feral cat) contentedly by a nice fire. Micia is now in the middle of the gravel drive, yowling in “those” tones. The sounds are desperate, insistent, and deeply disturbing. Yes, this is her provocative mating call.

Two tom cats we’ve not seen before in our little hamlet have heard the call and are circling Micia in the driveway. Both are tabbies. One has grey tones with a white chest, the other is a ginger boy. Micia continues her call, and the grey fella moves in, bites the back of her neck, and the “act” is soon completed. Yuck. Cat sex is never pretty. I’m disgusted with myself for even watching. Amalia and I look at each, shake our heads and start calculating when to be on the lookout for this new litter. Let’s see, 65 days from now takes us into the middle of April. At least the bitter cold will be past, and the kittens will have a fighting chance.

And so the cycle keeps going. Even though I remember when Micia was just a kitten about five years ago, I’m sure she already has had at least eight or nine litters of kittens. Last year she had back-to-back pregnancies, with barely three months in between (the second litter of four died because she couldn’t produce milk). After this upcoming litter we know we need to talk to a local vet who volunteers to neuter feral cats – especially in a community of cats that can and does occasionally get out of hand. When our feline population has boomed a couple of times, weather, other wild animals, and an occasional car speeding along our tiny road have knocked back the population. Even so, we always become attached to these wonderfully entertaining personalities. We all feed then (hence the “camp” outside my front door in the attached photo). They keep the rodents and snakes at bay and we all get along famously, in spite of their using the gravel path and sitting area in front of our house as one giant litter box. It’s never fun to have guests over, sitting in the garden admiring the view, and unearthing a cat turd while inadvertently repositioning one’s foot. Again, yuck.

Oscar is on the table, again. This time soaking up the morning sun.

Oscar is on the table, again. This time soaking up the morning sun.

Our "California Girl", Francesca is a constant cuddler.

Our “California Girl”, Francesca is a constant cuddler.

Our boy Oscar always makes himself at home. We've given up on keeping him off the table.

Our boy Oscar always makes himself at home. We’ve given up on keeping him off the table.

But, while we struggle constantly with caring for our feline citizens and managing their numbers, Simone and I are indebted to them for delivering (almost literally) Oscar to our door. In May, two years ago, Micia had five kittens, and Oscar distinguished himself immediately by his precocious behavior and superb social skills. While he played well with his siblings, he was more interested in joining the dance of the humans. Smart boy. Now he lives a life of luxury inside, after being neutered, and after being switched to a diet of the best natural cat foods. Simone raised him (he says he “delivered” him) in Milan while I was making the last arrangements of my move for the U.S. to Italy.

Soon Oscar was joined by his new American sister, Francesca before Oscar celebrated his first birthday, and when I pulled the trigger on my move. Francesca was 7 years old at that point. Be sure to read about her adventure of coming to Italy in my post about moving your pet to Italy. The expected “standoff” lasted a few weeks, and then they formed their unique bonding, and associated rituals. Translate that as meaning they starting sleeping close to one another, and they now actually can be seen kissing on occasion. However, we’ve been living with the chase scenes that seem to commence mainly in the middle of the night, with sounds as though someone is being murdered. Cats are great at histrionics, aren’t they?

So, that’s the latest chapter in this cat story. Right now Oscar and Francesca are enjoying the city life of Rome. Yet, in just a few months they’ll be back in the country communicating (quite vocally) through the screened windows with their wild friends and siblings. If you’re strictly a dog person, thanks for indulging me in my missive about our feline family.