Posted by: passagetoitaly | March 10, 2010

Italy v. America: Animal Cruelty

Filename: j0444594.jpgItaly v. America: The Differences ObservedFilename: j0444600.jpg

Before reading the next edition to Italy v. America, I would like all readers to be aware of the technical difficulties I am having with my computer. For some reason my Windows Explorer is not functioning properly, and it’s actually a miracle that I am able to even get onto the Internet. Tomorrow’s post is already scheduled to be posted, and I hope everything will be running normally by Friday. I am excited to announce that Friday will also have a new feature added, unless the computer cannot be fixed.

Enjoy your read!

Observation #4: Animal Cruelty

Our fourth edition of Italy v. America, following the posts of Supermarkets v. Shops, Social Views, and the Myths of Italian Foods, is not as American bashing. That’s not the image I wish to portrat as I love my country, and all that it stands for. Today I would like to address the topic of animal cruelty in Italy. This, unfortunately, is quite prominent in Italy from what I’ve read, heard about on TV, and have even seen with my own eyes. Please examine exhibit A:


This is Otto, which mean ‘eight’ in Italian. (It’s a cute name in Italian, but would not sound so in English.)

Lila e Otto

His mamma, the black and white dog is named Lila. These two little fellas are owned by Angelo’s neighbors. You know, the ones I spoke about in I Tacchi. These poor dogs live outside; day and night, hot and cold weather, rain or snow. Usually one can find only a tray of water with an old chunk of bread in it. Honestly, I don’t think they ever eat it. The inside of the cage they are kept in is just dirt with randomly growing weeds. (They are let out of the cage into the “gated driveway” during the day.) Whenever there is food left over from our dinner, like a steak bone or fatty meat, I made sure it was given to these poor dogs. (Including one of my boyfriend’s prized snacks from Puglia, which I’ve forgotten the name of.) They’ve certainly come to loving me because they know they’ll be fed a decent meal.

You also can’t see in this picture, but the dogs are filthy dirty. They have never been bathed, and it would not be a good idea to pet them. So what, you say. That’s just one case of poor ownership. But it’s not. In the summer of ’08, the Italian news discussed an even more pressing concern – dogs abandoned on the autostrade, highways. When someone no longer wanted their dog, once the cuteness of having a puppy wore off, the dogs were left on the highways, many times  being hit by cars. The news further continued to say that by law, owners had to have a microchip implanted under the skin of the dog. (Whether this is actually done? I doubt it.) This was to be done in the event that the animal was left and killed on the highway. The chip contains information about the dog’s owner, enabling them to be sought out and prosecuted. Obviously there are an overwhelming amount of cases like this.

In a book I am currently reading, titled Italian Neighbors, by British author Tim Parks, he too narrates other cruelties towards dogs. His chapter, ‘L’animale domestico, the domestic animal, talks about his neighbor’s hunting dog named Vega. The dog is, during most days, chained up in the yard just behind the apartment building in which he lives in, in Verona. The yard is littered with the dog’s excrements, and lets off a horrendous odor. He contemplates putting the dog out of its misery, but first consults his students (He’s an English teacher) on how he should do it. The following is a quote from his book.

In short, Italians think differently about their pets/ animali domestici. In 99 percent of cases they keep them outside; they do not like them coming into their houses and would not dream of having them sleep, say, at the foot of their beds. The idea of one’s child being licked all over by a dog, as I was as a boy, would be unthinkably horrible to the modern Veronese mother (perhaps very reasonably so). But there is also something obsessive and exaggerated in this aversion, something which may have to do with the fact that it wasn’t so very long ago that many families in the country around Montecchio had goats in the kitchen and the cow stalls opening onto the sitting room for warmth. Proximity to any but the most expensive “luxury” animals has become a social backwardness. And hunting dogs like Vega are a mere utility. You don’t want them prancing into the house with their wet paws and dirty backsides. You use them when you go off shooting so they can bring back the uccellini, the tiny birds, which you eat in your taverna in nostalgic revelry at the joys of the country life you have wisely left behind. Otherwise you keep them chained in the yard.

Outside our window, Vega barked, howled, moaned deep into the night. With that extraordinary insistence dogs sometimes have. Bark, bark, bark, bark, for hours on end. What were we to do about it?

“Poison the thing,” a student suggested at once.
Poison. For weeks, months, it was to become an obsession. We noticed stories in the paper reporting dog poisonings. Somebody in a place called Bussolengo had killed more than twenty in a single evening. Well, we needn’t go that far. And I read Sciascia’s novel A ciascuno il suo, in which he mentions a whole Sicilian tradition of dog poisonings, a sort of low-order vendetta between rival huntsmen.

We considered rat poison. And bought some. We studied the dosages. Twenty or thirty pellets in a meatball should be enough. But what if a child were to pick it up? Occasionally the Negretti had guests with small children who were left to ramble about the defecated garden area. A student whose father was a vet cheerfully suggested the easier solution of a sponge soaked in meat juice. Apparently the sponge expands enormously in the animal’s gut, blocking the intestines and eventually leading to death. He knew people who found this method very effective… “The only problem with the sponge,” my knowledgeable student explained at another lesson, “is that the creature will die in unspeakable agony, and you’ll have to hear her howling like mad. Probably for a couple of days. Thoughh of course it will be worth it in the end.”

I couldn’t believe the words on the page. Such a cruel thing to do. Fortunately Mr. Parks didn’t go through with the act, as he stated he would have had to then endure its suffering howls.

This is not to say that animal abuse doesn’t exist in the US. On the contrary! It just really surprised me to learn that such cruelties, especially with abandonment on the highways, existed in the Bel Paese. Not in the least to say I am naive of such things. This problem of abandonment doesn’t just pertain to dogs, but cats as well. Shelley at ReallyRome discusses cats being abandoned in the Citta’ Eterna, the Eternal City when their owners left town for vacation. Why not just have a cat/dog sitter? This is also not to say that all animals in Italy are mistreated by Italians. My boyfriend’s family has three dogs, and his brother has two. All the dogs live in there houses and are treated very well.

In an article published by IPS News, an estimated 280,000 cats and dogs are killed each year by vehicles. Click the link to read the article.

Have you ever heard of such cases in Italy,
and what are your thoughts on the subject?



  1. This story makes me so terribly sad and angry.

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