Below is a guest blog article by our social media editor, Frank Weaver, who just returned from a trip to the Balkan region of Eastern Europe.
If you are an animal lover, one of the first things you will notice when traveling through the Republic of Croatia is the large number of stray cats you encounter wherever you go. Especially in big cities, but also in small towns, they are everywhere!
While there are cat sanctuaries and rescue shelters to be found here and there in Croatia, they are few and far between, and no doubt their funding is marginal. That being said, such organizations would in some degree be serving a need that may not really exist. In this country, the human and feline tribes seem to cohabit independently yet connected in a kind of perfect symbiosis. These cats belong to no one, yet belong to everyone.
Strictly speaking, they are not pets, nor are they pests. Indeed, on a practical level one imagines these cats serve the purpose of helping to control urban rodent populations, for never did I see a single rat or mouse in my travels.
Moreover, most of these “strays” did not exhibit the features and behaviors typical of feral or abandoned cats in the United States. They did not look sick or injured or generally bedraggled. On the contrary, the vast majority appeared surprisingly healthy, happy, and well groomed.
Which should not come as much of a surprise. For while no one officially “owns” these cats, many city folk and townspeople take pains to make sure they do not go hungry, by putting out plates of food at their doorsteps or letting the animals eat whatever falls to the ground in the outdoor market areas. Often, the cats even venture into restaurants in hopes of receiving a handout from the guests. More often than not, those hopes are rewarded.
As a result, in general the attitude of these strays toward the humans with which they share the Croatian streets could best be described as “slightly wary but not mistrustful.” And some, I soon discovered, were even downright friendly!
These photos depict just a few of the feline acquaintances I made in the course of my travels.
2. Cat on a Shelf
From before the time of the ancient Egyptians to the present day, the feline form has always been a favorite subject of artists. I noticed this stylized figure of a cat in the atelier of Croatian sculptor Ivan Kožarić (b. 1921), on display at the Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art. As this piece illustrates, his work is characterized by a sense of mischief, spontaneity, and a nonchalant approach to life—just like most cats!
4. Roman Cat
Okay, technically this is not a stray, nor is it a house cat. It is a 2000-year-old weather-worn carved statue of a lion keeping guard inside Pula’s remarkably well-preserved Roman Colosseum (or “Arena”).
6. Venetian Cat
This symbol of Saint Mark—a bas-relief winged lion sculpture found on a wall in Rovinj—attests to the lasting influence of nearby Venice (just two hours away by boat) on the early history of the picturesque port town.
9. Cat Lady of Zagreb #2
View of the woman’s yard from the vantage point of my hostel room window. Once she began laying out plates and distributing food, dozens of cats would appear out of nowhere and congregate around her, and she would watch over them affectionately as if they were her children.
Or, as they say in Croatia, Sve što trebaš je ljubav.