Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Greece ~ Cats, Culture and Conflict

Those cats of Greece. Gatas, (yatas) they are called here. Every visitor here has a cat tale to tell.

It might be how you avoided them or how they captured your heart. Maybe it is how cute their photos on souvenir calendars and postcards or maybe you encountered some so desperately hungry they were foraging in garbage bins or begging tableside at a restaurant.

20160331_081316 [1378312]
"Mom" Cat just days before giving birth to kittens - Spring 2016
“You can’t have a cat,” The Scout admonished me (I am one of the world’s greatest cat lovers) way back while contemplating a Greek house purchase. We’d be part-time residents – not conducive to having pets. But during our short time as part-time ex pats we’ve learned cats really aren’t ‘pets’ by that cushy definition and lifestyle they lead in the United States.

And it wasn’t a case of me having ‘a’ cat.  It has become a matter of how ‘many’ cats have us. That’s where culture and conflict come into play.

"Muffin" short for Ragamuffin - new arrival Spring 2016
While I’ve written of the challenges and rewards of absorbing a new culture, the one topic I’ve skirted is that of those determined felines who’ve recognized ‘those Americans’ as easy marks and are causing severe conflicts between our heads and our hearts. Even The Scout, (also an animal-lover), has forgotten his earlier admonishment and has been taken in by them as well.

Today, 36.1 million U.S. households own one or more cats,
for a total of more than 74 million pet cats.
--American Veterinary Medical Association.

Stray - but well fed cats - in Monemvasia, Greece
Our first cultural difference and conflict: Cats are not considered pets, they are animals with a job to do. But there are simply too many of them. In Greece spaying and neutering – is expensive – and not the rule. They multiply rapidly. Their job is to keep down the vermin – that would be rats, mice and snakes who make their homes in the olive and citrus groves that carpet the land. Some are 'lucky' and live in villages; kept alive by local restaurants and well-meaning tourists who sneak food to those brave enough to sit near the tables. It is those gatas in the rural areas who tug at the heart strings as they struggle to survive while keeping down the pest population.

Sign in a restaurant in Trahilio - The Mani
“Unlike dogs, cats have become purely domestic pets only very recently, within the last 50 years. For most of their history, cats weren’t pets. Cats lived in and around human villages for millennia, but there is no evidence they lived in our homes.”
-- from “The Trainable Cat” a book by Dr. John Bradshaw

"Bob" for his bobcat ears - another new - desperately hungry - arrival at our house
In Greece abandonment is widespread and our picturesque area is not immune.

“Six puppies abandoned in Ag. Nikolaos Monday, Aug. 10.
Six kittens about two weeks old dumped at Pantazi Beach the same day.”
-- from MIAO, Mani International Animal Organization

Pantazi Beach below our home is a popular spot to 'dump' unwanted cats
Sometimes, even well-meaning tourists contribute to the abandonment. They arrive and spend a season, love them (feed them) and leave them at the end of their visit. We were guilty of abandonment at the end of our first stay at The Stone House on the Hill and I fretted so much about ‘my cats’ after that stay, that we’ve since hired our gardener to come and feed and put water out for the cats (‘ours’, ‘others’) when we aren’t in residence - whether the garden needs attention or not. Our neighbors – two sets of full-timers – also feed them. 

"Mom" with her grown kittens last fall 2015 use my 'shelter'
While my head told me that they got along fine before we arrived on the scene, my heart had fallen head-over-heals for each flea-bitten, tick-laden hungry one that has shown up at our house. Our behaviors as well as theirs have become quite predictable:  we refuse to feed the new arrivals for at least a few days, we shoo them away from those we are feeding.  But then they are so desperate that we give in . . .as with Bob, pictured above.  He was so frightened of us and the other cats he’d wait until the bowl was empty before venturing over to lick its surface. The heart won out. . .Bob was invited to eat and drink.

"Tom" on the table, "Princess" in the chair
Longtime readers will recall my cat tales of "Princess" (The Cat who came for Christmas) and her brother, "Tom" who arrived at The Stone House on the Hill shortly after we took ownership.  Both appeared to be homeless but somewhat taken care of and well-versed in how-to-win-the-hearts-of-the-new-owners. (As I've noted, we were easy marks.)  We eventually began feeding them.

Tom and Princess sleeping on our couch
When we returned to the house several months later, both showed up at our door within hours of our arrival. Tom, had a reputation in the neighborhood as being a bully and a Romeo, so we took him to the vet and a few snips and hours later, he was a new man, in a manner of speaking. Then we came back but Princess didn't; instead "Mom" cat arrived and has been a regular since.

Then Princess and Tom and Mom returned – looking healthy and not hungry when we came back in the fall.  By then they’d put a strangle hold on our hearts. Mom had kittens to attend to, but we let Tom and Princess inside for a cat-nap or two.

"Princess" napped while I worked in the garden
A very pregnant Mom Cat greeted us immediately but Princess was slow in arriving last spring – we’d been there several weeks before she came to the door. (We’ve learned her real name is ‘Sula’ and she belongs to someone else up the road but apparently likes to holiday at our place when we are there). Tom never returned. I fretted. . .hoping we'd see him this fall.

It turns out Tom is my first Greek heartbreak, (sadly, I am certain he won’t be the last).  Our neighbors learned that Tom had been hit by a car on the road not far from our house, was found by a Greek lady and was in such bad shape that the animal protection group was called and Tom was put down. That tug between head and heart continues . . .

PicMonkey Collage
My tribute to "Tom"
The good news about Greek cats (and dogs) is that there is a group of residents – ex pats and Greeks – in our area who do care about the stray animals.  They’ve established feeding stations (like at Pantazi Beach, and volunteers make regular runs both to feed the animals and help those which are distressed, as they did for 'our' Tom.

Called, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the group even helps relocate unloved and unwanted dogs to foreign countries. They’ve offered rewards to help find individuals guilty of poisoning animals (yes, poisonings do occur). 

A little stray watched us eat from this window sill in Monemvasia
A Google search for ‘Greek cats’ returns 11 million results. Among them are sites that offer suggestions for ‘Greek cat names’ (which range from Adonis and Antigone to Zephyr and Zeus) and other links that link to animal organizations like the Greek Cat Rescue and Greek Cat Welfare Society

Should you find yourself in Greece, I’d suggest attending one of the animal group's fund-raisers as it is a great way to meet locals and it helps them help the animals. Or donate that small change you don’t want to carry home to them - many have collection jars at local businesses.

That’s it for this week. Hope you are enjoying the last of the season and looking forward to the next.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and thank you for sharing our posts with friends and family. Our travel season has begun, we are on the road hope . . .hope you'll join us next week!

Linking up with these amazing groups this week:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


  1. Cats are sweet. Your photos of them are lovely!

  2. Aww Cats are so cute ♥


  3. Awww - I can see why your heart has been claimed by these cute little critters and I especially loved your photo of pretty, hugely pregnant Mom cat looking quite content! So glad that your community has an active group of animal lovers to make sure that these animals are cared for. You have a good hearts Jackie and Joel!

    1. Oh, we do melt when it comes to cats. . .that is for sure. Easy marks. I am certain the feral cat community had a party the day we moved in. . .

  4. They are indeed, so so pretty...if there's lots of kitties and grown cats starving, Greece may have to take some kind of action to cut down on the cat population..just the thought of cats starving makes me very sad...

    1. Well that is why my resolve to not feed cats lasts for about two days and then I can't stand it, and have to put out a bit more milk, and then a bit more food, and then another plate and another bowl. . .

  5. Very cool!
    Thanks for linking in at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/08/purple-passion.html

  6. I can see how they can capture one's heart. It is so sad to see the abandoned cats and dogs everywhere in the world. So cruel.

    1. Yes, it is going to take many villages to take care of all the little furry unloved ones, that's for sure!

  7. It sounds like the cats in your area have you on their radar. I can imagine them saying to each other - the humans at the Stone House on the Hill should be back soon!

    1. You are being kind, Jan. What they are saying is, "Those easy marks will be back soon!"

  8. I love cats, dogs and all animals. Think the Greeks have the right idea about cats doing their outside jobs and earning food rewards. Great piece. Can see why they've captured your heart.

    1. Oh Gaelyn, I thought of you today as well as this blog as we visited the Arches National Park and despite all the no pet signs out, a woman got out of her RV with her Siamese cat on a leash and went off the trail so that kitty could find a potty spot, I guess. I actually laughed at the thought of what you could do with that on FB. Lucky for her, no Rangers were around!

  9. Interesting post and sad too. I am allergic to cats and wouldn't want them too close or inside the house, but I'm sure I'd value their role in keeping down the vermin population. The cats in your photos are so cute. It's sad so many are hungry.

    1. We arn our houseguests now to bring the allergy meds if they have allergies to cats. There will always be cats around our Stone House on the Hill . . .hopefully healthy and happier ones than before we arrived.

  10. Love your title, Jackie, very catchy!!

    Well, you know that I know exactly what you are feeling! Have lived through everything that you have talked about in this post, and although I am not a cat lover, a sweet and gentle stray stole my heart a few years ago, namely, our Prince Richard, who, most likely, had a very sad end, which still breaks my heart when I hypothesize what may have happened to him.

    Fun and fabulous pics of your feisty felines; thanks for sharing!

    Happy Labour Day,

    1. Poppy, I did think of your Prince Richard when I wrote this post and wondered where and how he is. Maybe he found some new person to love and care for him as you did. One day I hope you'll visit our Stone House on the Hill and meet my rag-tag furry felines who've captured our hearts -- and our home! Happy Holiday to you as well! xxx Jackie

  11. Being a cat lover, I had to read your post. I had no idea about the numerous cats in Greece and how expensive it is to neuter them. All of the cats in your pictures were beautiful and it was nice to hear that there are animal organizations that help them out.

    1. As a cat lover, then you can relate to the conflict between the head and heart when it comes to these little bundles of fur in Greece. Thanks for stopping by today!

  12. I am sad to hear about Tom. At least you know what happened to him and have some closure. Stray dogs and cats were common near our home in Malaysia, too. I remember seeing one man riding around on his motor scooter and tossing whole fish to all the cats near the road.

  13. Seeing that I travel 50-70% of the time, pets are not an option for me. This post was very interesting, especially to a non-pet owner who doesn't stay up on these things. I'm glad to hear about the organizations that are assisting.

  14. What a wonderful post! I enjoy seeing cats as I travel, and in fact have a photo gallery related to that at my website. I invite you to pick one of your favorite photos from this post and submit it to me along with the info needed, and I'll include it along with a link back to this post, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Photo-Galleries/Photos-of-Cats/photos-of-cats.html

  15. As a cat lover, it's hard to imagine too many cats but this seems to be the case in Greece. So nice that there are advocates for these very sweet and endearing animals.

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