Cats and culture

The cat sanctuary in Piramide is one of the last stops

ROME -- A cat loving charity is organising a 12 day tour of Italy’s cultural and catty hotspots.

Friends of Roman Cats (FRC) is a charity based in America which raises money to help stray cats in Rome. One of its largest fundraising events is its annual Cats and Culture tour, taking place for the fourth time this year. The trip costs 3,280 US dollars and all proceeds are donated to the charity. 

The charity will take a group of around 15 people around the Italian boot, stopping off in Venice, Florence and Rome. Guests will depart from the U.S on Oct. 9 and fly to Venice where FRC president, Susan Wheeler, will begin the tour.

As well as visiting Venice’s main tourist attractions, including the Piazza San Marco, the Erbe market, several churches,  and of course gondola tours, they will also visit a cat colony that lives in Venice’s largest public hospital behind the façade of the Scuola Grande of San Marco. Another feline site is the DINGO cat shelter on Lido Island, which houses around 200 abandoned Venetian cats.

The tour will then be whisked to Florence, and begin its Florentine stint with the rather fittingly named Montecatini Terme spa town. An encounter with CATS onlus, an association that works with public health vets to neuter cats in the area.

The guests’ taste buds will not be neglected, as their forays into feline refuges are intermingled with visits to cheese-maker Buffacioffi, who has trapped and neutered several cats who surround his shop, and to the Slitti chocolate factory which also hosts a cat colony. Back in the centre of Florence, a cat colony in the cemetery of Renaissance church San Miniato is next on the cards as well as one which resides behind the Pitti Palace.

Yet another cat caring organisation, Amici del Mondo Animale, will then send a group of volunteers to guide the group through the Tuscan countryside to their can shelter, built on land donated by a countess.

The tour ends in the Eternal City, with a tour of the non-Catholic cemetery found behind the Pyramid. As well as being the final resting place of famous English poets Keats and Shelley, the cemetery is also home to Matilda Talli’s cat sanctuary.

And close to some Rome’s Pantheon is the Torre Argentina Sanctuary. Wheeler says this is really where it all started. She came to Rome for a year from 1998, and volunteered at the Torre Argentina sanctuary once a week. “Pretty soon I was hooked.”

Even the visit to the Vatican is not without a catty theme, as Wheeler says that “the current Pope is a great cat lover.” This trip is extra special for Wheeler, who will celebrate her 70th birthday while in Rome. "It seems like a birthday to confront head-on," she said.