Cats in Crete provide some of the most iconic images of Greece and Greek Island life.
Whole calendars are devoted to them, and you can see prints, photographs and paintings depicting felines of all shapes and sizes, cleverly composed against backgrounds of brightly coloured doors, windows and flower pots, or in the arms of children.
Many people see them as a problem though. Some holiday makers can be irritated by begging cats at tavernas. Most feral cats in Crete are not vaccinated or spayed which means that reproduction goes unchecked. There's no doubt that many animals suffer as a result.
There are broadly 3 types of cat in Crete. First, you get the wild cat, characterised by their unkempt appearance and skinny frame. You can see them skulking on the outskirts of villa complexes, old ruins and the edges of beaches.
Next come the semi-domestics. These cats are generally well groomed and quite healthy looking. They look like normal pet cats, but are uncomfortable indoors. These cats will pester holidaymakers and ex-pats in their apartments and at the restaurants, always receiving attention because of their good looks and dashing enterprise.
Next come the true pet cat. Usually brought from overseas by an ex-pat, or a kitten "rescued" from the wild. This (usually fat) cat is rarely seen of course, because a cherished feline companion would always be protected from outside dangers by being confined to the house, apartment, or villa - at all times.
The semi-domestic cat can be a nuisance, particularly because they are quite bold, and will think nothing of begging off unsuspecting holidaymakers and exasperated ex-pats for food. Invariably they will not be neutered, and the sight of tiny kittens scurrying around the neighbourhood in not uncommon.
This type of cat is cute and appealing of course, and this is why the holidaymaker and ex-pat will feed them. Rich taverna food produces a vigorous and fertile cat, and this will produce more kittens.
When living in Crete, it is easy to develop a relationship with the cats and dogs that run wild around the villages, towns and resorts. Holidaymakers will feed the cats resident on their villa complexes. Giving them the vigour and nourishment to promote their fertility. But when winter comes, the food supply dries up, and the kittens are born into a harsh world where food is scarce.
We have a few cats near us that live off the benevolence of holiday visitors in the summer, and all-year-round ex-pats. There was in particular a family of six kittens. But, to feed or not to feed?
Should you let nature take it's course? This is very hard because we all have a strong impulse to help and protect creatures who are vulnerable, especially if they are cute and cuddly.
Feeding the cats begins to turn into taking responsibility. Taking responsibility is no light task. When you start feeding them, there is no end to it because they become to depend on you. Taking responsibility can involve more than just feeding. A vigorous non-neutered cat will reproduce and bring more mouths to feed. Neutering a cat can cost €250.00! More cost is incurred if you opt to have the flea, worm and vaccination treatments recommended.
There are just 3 kittens left now. Two simply stopped coming with the rest of the crowd, and we harbour the belief that they have been found by a little girl who always wanted a kitten to cuddle by the fire, or gone to live on a farm where a friendly farmer's wife feeds them on seasoned chopped chicken livers and scrambled eggs.
A couple of days ago, our favourite called Victor, died suddenly, under a bush in our garden. We don't know why. When one dies in front of you it's very sad.
I took him and buried him under an olive tree we can see from our kitchen window. He was a lovely friendly handsome kitten, the biggest and strongest of the whole bunch. We saw the children of our neighbours feed Victor and his siblings all summer long. But Victor succumbed to something, and his passing was very sudden. We'll miss him.
When I'm washing the dishes in an evening, looking over at the olive groves, I fancy I sometimes see a little ginger kitten, chasing butterfiles in the long grass amongst the yellow flowers, under the ancient olive tree.
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