Have you have ever wondered why so many postcards in Rome feature cats in various locations? Rome is home to a quarter million stray cats, and since 1991, these cats have been declared to be part of the city’s “bio-cultural heritage.”
The Roman cats are believed to be descendants from cats brought here from Egypt 3000 years ago. Today these cats have actually been elevated to citizen status, and it is a crime to euthanize them. Rome has a “no-kill” policy by law, opting instead for a trap-neuter-release program, to reduce the stray cat population.
Rome’s cat ladies, or gattare, feed and care for many of the stray cats wandering the ruins of Rome. Lia Dequel, a retired cruise ship boutique director, and Sylvia Viviani, a retired opera singer, operate the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary .
The sanctuary actually was started in 1929 to help feed and care for the stray cats that live among the ancient Roman ruins, including the Colosseum and the Forum. The sanctuary is five meters below street level, among the ruins on the grounds of Campus Martius, very close to the site where Brutus stabbed Julius Caesar.
These two women took over the operation of the sanctuary 16 years ago, and are proud of the work they do. Support comes in the form of international volunteers, and organizations such as the Anglo Italian Society for the Protection of Animals (AISPA).
There are 250 cats living at the sanctuary, although many more are “outpatients,” where they come in, are vaccinated, spayed, or neutered, and released. Due to limited resources, the sanctuary focuses on cats with disabilities, for permanent residence. They take in cats with one leg, one eye, cats that are deaf or blind, or have neurological disorders. It is through the numerous donations from a distance that the sanctuary is able to carry on the work of today. Many animal lovers from other countries adopt a cat through monetary donations, which support the operation of the sanctuary. For 15 Euro a month, you can adopt a cat of your choice, through photos and descriptions on the Torre Argentina website.
Last year neatly 1500 cats were spayed or neutered at the sanctuary. Inspired by Torre Argentina, a US based organization, Friends of Roman Cats, provides funding for vouchers , which are given to Roman cat caretakers, to help pay for a vet to spay or neuter their cats. They also supply cat owners with humane style cat traps, in order to catch their cats and bring them in for spaying or neutering. In Rome, cats live outdoors as opposed to inside people’s homes.
Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary welcomes visitors, to browse, visit with the cats, or check out their gift shop, aptly named the Cat Shop, which is also online through PayPal. Visiting hours are daily from noon to 6pm. The entrance to the sanctuary is located at Largo di Torre Argentina, at the corner of Via Florida and Via di Argentina.