Anyone who knows me even a little a bit is aware that I like animals an awful lot, especially dogs. A Jack Russell or a whippet in the street is likely to make me lose track of engrossing conversations and regress to a childish state. Let’s not even get started on puppies. When saying my goodbyes before coming to Puglia, the canine members of my family were almost harder to leave than the human ones. After spending all of last summer receiving boundless love and playing football with my dogs Lily and Cassie, I just wanted to pack them into my suitcase and bring them with me.
I’m not entirely destitute of animal company here in Puglia as it turns out. I’ve got a fair number of four-legged friends running about, a head count that has recently grown due to the expansion of a certain cat’s family tree.
First there are the dogs. Nera is an excellent guard dog. She announces any intruder and protects the house with quite the fearsome bark. I had to let her get used to me at first, to realise ‘Oh OK, this person lives here now’. It took quite a lot of time before she stopped going mental every time I tried to climb the steps. She’s a beautiful dog though, and now I get the privilege of only being barked at a couple of times a week, and even sometimes tickle her tummy.
Toby on the other hand is a huge softie. A darling. Where Nera is a bit suspicious of strangers, Toby doesn’t care as long as you’ve got two legs. He is in equal parts trusting and lovable. He’ll throw his considerable weight onto you at any given opportunity and wag his tail, looking in through the window. He plays fetch with lemons, carries away plastic dishes in front of his face and curls up to sleep in the tiniest spaces possible. He’s always a happy presence trotting around innocently, or lying in the sun like a furry pancake.
The feline situation here has been getting a bit out of hand since the family found a little red-gold stray about two years ago. She was named Ariel, but after quickly getting pregnant and giving birth to three kittens, she soon received the honorary title of ‘Mamma Mic’ (oddly pronounced ‘meech’ and meaning kitty). So the little green eyed cat has since then been defined by her maternal functions, the mother of Pallina. The favourite of the litter, Pallina is yellow eyed and long tailed, and teased as the stupid and trouble making cat, a defect blamed on the fact that she was brusquely washed and blow dried a few days after birth. In the months of February and March, we began to notice a certain ballooning of Pallina’s svelte figure until it was unmistakable that she would be reproducing any day soon. Sure enough, on a day where she was looking so remarkably podgy with her back legs thrown out behind her, she popped out five kittens: four female black, white and red ones, and one little male boy, recently named Mufasa.
So for the sake of clarity and to take into account the rapidly expanding dynasty of cats in the garden, Mamma Mic has been renamed ‘Nonna’ (grandma) and Pallina has gained the Mamma accolade, although frankly she doesn’t seem to give two hoots about her children, and would much rather be fed herself than give them any milk. One morning, she took off for a bit of a holiday, coming back just in time for lunch.
Of course, it’s great to have these animals around to stroke and talk to in stupid voices but I do miss the one and only dynamic duo, Lily and Cassie. By now, the pair are very well travelled, having toured Puglia in the car with us. Here they are in Alberobello. And also, the best photobomb on record (that photo of Lily? yeah, it was meant to be of Cassie).