Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kitten Spotting

When I first arrived in Athens in August 2010, what struck me most aside from the ancient ruins were the dogs wandering around the city.  They were everywhere, trotting through the Plaka, sleeping by the Acropolis.  They were mostly big dogs, which at first made me a little nervous.  I asked my boyfriend Eric about it, since he had spent a few months traveling around Greece before.  He explained that Greek people often toss their dogs outdoors at night.  The dogs spend the night exploring and sleeping out in the open.  It's not that the dogs were all strays, though many were.  Greek people were generally less concerned about dog-napping or other dog-related shenanigans than most Americans.  For the most part we left these dogs alone, and they ignored us.

Taking a nap in the shade next to the Parthenon.
After a night out, a group of dogs adopted a few of us and followed us around as we looked out over the city at night.  They tagged along as we walked back towards our hostel.  Just as I was beginning to wonder if we were going to have to find a way to keep the dogs from wandering into our rooms with us, all the dogs started barking and and galloping in the same direction.  In the distance, I could see a cat running for its life.

That was my first encounter with the animals that seem to wander around cities in other countries in ways that they don't in the United States.  Americans are good about taking care of strays by calling the ASPCA or adopting pets from shelters, but I have rarely seen cats and dogs just hanging out around the places I've lived.  In Greece, these animals either do have homes or the community in some ways adopts them.  On Naxos, there was a collection bin for the organization that cares for the island's dogs and cats.  They make sure the animals get the proper shots and are well-fed. 

As I traveled in Greece and Turkey, I ran into the unexpected problem of wanting to adopt all of the animals I met.  I bought a cupcake at a café on Ios specifically because there was an adorable, tiny puppy inside with a rhinestone-studded collar.  I was trying to be her best friend, but she was more interested in sleeping in the sun.

There was this kitten by the ruins in Delphi:

Every so often, her ears twitched to swat away flies.

These in a restaurant in Istanbul:

This photo is a little blurry because they were very busy trying to tackle each other.
Most of the animals in Istanbul were full-grown cats, but one night when Eric and I were walking around, we found a kitten.  He was social and knew to put his claws away when he played, so he probably lived with people.  He batted at my skirt and rolled onto his back to swat at Eric's hand.  We left before I could come up with an effective method of getting him on the plane home, and Eric continues to refer to him as IstanKitty:

Again, too busy playing to take a clear picture.

This kitten lived in a bookstore in Chania, Crete:

I may or may not have named her Tangoween after a black cat stuffed animal I had growing up.
When I was on Ios this summer, I saw a young pair of kittens while I walked back to my hostel at night.  They were the smallest I'd ever encountered and looked delicate.  I watched as the two of them crawled out of a doorway and slowly made their way up a stone staircase, exploring the very big world together.  I sat silently nearby for a few minutes, amazed by their size and their way of moving.  In the midst of a party-heavy island, here were two little creatures quietly seeing what there was outside of their home.

This may seem to be a thinly veiled excuse to post pictures of kittens, but I do want to point out the prevalence of animals as an interesting cultural difference.  In the Unites States, it's rare to see dogs off leashes even when they are with their owners.  Cats do wander around outdoors, but they usually have collars and tags.  While it's better to be cautious when approaching unfamiliar animals in America and overseas, it surprised me how often I encountered socialized, clearly cared for animals in Europe making their ways around town.  If you find yourself in Europe and get tired of sightseeing, try cat spotting for an afternoon. There are a lot to see.

Can you spot the cat in this photo? 
It's in Naxos, Greece.
Have you noticed stray animals while you've traveled overseas?
Have you seen them in the US?
I also welcome any cute photos of kittens and/or puppies!


  1. The cats in Izmir were once hunted with a reward... Made me reluctant to let the cat out on the balcony! There were so many, mostly, they stayed in the garbage heaps and trash bins...We did not touch them for fear of disease. Yes, they were around the restuarants and the waiters regularly shooed them away. They must have been fed by patrons and tourists to be as bold as they were. Many families kept the cats for rodent control etc.

    Remember the black cat we had that used to pat at you when you walked by at our home in PA?
    Actually, she liked to "play" with you when you yelled. You were just 6 years old, I think. I had never seen her target in on someone before, but I think you were the right size! She also used to like to be made in the bedding, ignoring the wieght of the comforter or spread and snoozed the day away wrpped in still warm covers.... She chased peacocks, dogs and random groundhogs, too. She was my Turkish cat - travlled well in cars, boats and travel cages...She did not get up to Iceland, though.

    1. Wow! I can understand wanting to keep your cat indoors! I hadn't realized your cat moved to PA with you from Turkey. I have vague memories of your cat, and I do remember loving your house there. She sounds feisty if she chased everything! You have a cat now, right? I do need to visit you out in Illinois soon! I hope you and Uncle Bill are doing well!

  2. It was definitely for the best that we left IstanKitty when we did. We were like 30 seconds away from adopting and stealing him forever.