My daughter, Celia, has always wanted a cat. But, nobody else in our family likes them. We're basically a dog family that likes to birdwatch. I would do it just to make my daughter happy, but I would say my husband and son border on cat haters. So, given our present family dynamics, getting a cat just isn't in the cards. Imagine our surprise when on the first day in our new house in Spain, a cat sat and watched us on our back porch. My daughter was elated. She saw a possible future of having a Spain cat. Even though the cat ran away when she approached it, there was still hope.
And then, the next day, that cat was replaced by another, then the next day a couple more. Really, everywhere we walked we would see a cat. All were the same - without collars and wary of humans. Celia proceeded to name all of them and kept trying to befriend them, putting out milk and spending endless time with a string trying to entice them.
At the bottom of our neighborhood is a very creepy building. Typical of Spain, buildings are abandoned everywhere (see my earlier blog). But the difference is that this building was a luxury hotel, probably built during the Franco era and then abandoned. The hotel is all stone and has multiple stories and layers of guest rooms. It has terraces and statues, all covered with vines. In the front of the hotel is a 12 foot deep swimming pool filled halfway with water and debris. The imagination goes wild to think what is below the surface. The entrance is framed with an ornate stone entryway, advertising a restaurant and gazebo. But, the entire property is fenced off by a high wire fence with "No Trespassing" signs placed every few feet.
The hotel reminds me of the old stories of Pompeii that every child is fascinated by. When the volcano erupted, people were frozen in time doing the things they normally do. At this abandoned hotel, the curtains and beds are still in the rooms. In front of the hotel is a sheltered parking area hidden by vines and flowers. It contains overflowing trash containers and beside it is the obligatory Sanctuary, this one to Saint Lucia, that is barred closed but still has its ornate, bloody, Catholic symbolism closed up inside. If I were to ever film a horror movie, I would look no farther for a set.
As we continued to watch the cats in our neighborhood we noticed a pattern. There was a steady stream coming and going from this parking area. Celia and I decided to explore and discovered that there were close to 50 feral cats living in the parking lot and behind the walls of the abandoned hotel. The trash cans were scavenged and we discovered that an old lady came every day to dump either cans of dog food, pots of pasta, or dead fish in the parking lot. Needless to say, the area reeks of cat feces and urine, old trash, dead fish, and the flies and bees that accompany the detritus. All of a sudden the cats lost their appeal and became rather scary. Celia had earlier named one of the cats "Misty," because it had a misty eye. Upon entering the cat kingdom, we learned why. Misty seemed to be the leader of this cat colony, hence his/her abundance of battle scars. Every time we looked in, Misty was putting some wayward cat in their place. My language began to change from, "How cute, maybe you'll have a pet here," to "Wild animals should be left alone with their cat families."
We have learned since our naive arrival that Spain has a huge wild cat problem. Authorities estimate that in Barcelona there are over 700 cat colonies holding over 9,000 cats. People began to poison them, but then that became illegal. Now, vets offer free services to sterilize them (as if you could actually catch one). In one nearby village where they don't have a vet, they estimate 100 cats and 200 people. The people that own the house where we are living told us that one of the former tenants poisoned the cats. However, they have become entwined in the local ecosystem and their eradication created an imbalance. The cats were eating the tree rats that live in the brush around the neighborhood and orange groves. Without the cats, tree rats started coming into the houses.
Maybe all of Spain should have their own cat hotel. Although our community has its share of cats, they always head back to the hotel. And if, like ours, the building is creepy enough, it will keep the humans away. The up side of this experience is that it may have cured Celia of her desire to have a cat as a pet when we return to the United States.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.