Animal Advocates

My One-Woman Mission to Save the Feral Cats of Sicily

By Jennifer Pulling

Read the first part of this story here: It All Began With a Cat Named Lizzie 

A few months later, I was once again in Taormina. One evening, in search of Sicilian music, I dropped in at the Grotte d’Ulysses. I shared a table with an American couple who were visiting the ‘old country.’

So we relaxed and talked. And my companions of this evening told me they had been all over Sicily to visit once again the Greek temples at Agrigento, the mosaics at Piazza Armerina. They had been to the island’s ‘navel,’ Enna, marveling they had forgotten how splendid are those billowing hills of golden durum wheat, spent a day on the beach at Acireale, gazing at the rock, which in Greek mythology was hurled by the one-eyed giant into the sea.

We joined in the general clapping to the music and I felt a wave of joy on hearing it again. These songs express emotions tinged with nostalgia and history. They come from the soul.  ‘La Terra Amara’, which nevertheless draws back so many Sicilians to their land, to this bitter earth.


I glanced up and saw the owner, Filippo, had come to our table.

‘There is something I have to tell you…’

His expression was grave. ‘The cat, the one in Castelmola you took to the vet…’

His voice was almost drowned by a loud burst of applause and I tried to concentrate.

‘What is it?’

‘She and many others were poisoned.’

I had a vision of the last time I had seen Lizzie, lying so contently, blinking in the sunlight. I brought my hands to my face. ‘No!’

‘I’m sorry.’

Stricken, I was gazing at Filippo, trying to take in his words.

‘Don’t be sad,’ he told me.

Don’t be sad! When I felt the earth had shifted beneath me and I was falling into a black hole.

Poisoned? No! Some cat hater had thrown down poisoned meat and she and her family were dead. My grief was followed by anger, then by determination. Lizzie, I realized, represented a symbol, awakening my energy to act in these cats’ defense. And so, Catsnip was launched.

My first step was to consult people who were running successful neutering and treatment projects. Suddenly the world appeared thronging with these feisty women who did something practical for felines.

Suzy Gale, animal welfare campaigner who’s run successful programmes in Cyprus, told me:  ‘It involves a lot of hard work and heartbreak, too.’  

Undeterred, I opened a bank account and set about raising funds. I wrote to various charities, explaining my aims: ‘to take a team of vet, nurse, and helpers to Sicily to treat and neuter feral cats, considering that the local authorities do nothing to ameliorate the problem’. To my delight, they responded with grants.

But where to operate?  I telephoned my Taormina landlady, Elke. I’d discovered that she, too, was a dedicated cat lady. I’d had no need to hide Lizzie.

‘I have an idea,’ she said at last. ‘Remember Ines, the woman who lived in the downstairs apartment where you stayed? She has a summerhouse – it’s big and secluded. It would be the perfect place. No one would see what we were doing.’

‘And the vet?’

‘Leave it with me.’

Within days she was back to me. Yes, Ines had said we could use the summerhouse and she had managed to persuade an American friend, Frankie, who was a vet to volunteer his services. All I had to do was pay for his flight from the States.

I began to assemble the equipment I would need. There were traps and cages to order, which would be sent by road and delivered upon my arrival in Sicily. Guy, my sister’s vet, had given me a list of drugs and equipment I would need for the ‘surgery.’  I became increasingly bold in asking people to give me things. I wrote to several drug companies and some of them donated necessary medicines. My local hospital offered forceps and scissors. Other equipment I had to buy from veterinary supply firms.

Finally, I was faced with the problem of how to get the drugs and surgical supplies from the UK to Sicily. Here my ignorance proved a blessing: I had absolutely no idea of the nature of ketamine, the drug used by vets in the absence of inhalant anaesthetic. I knew nothing about its use as a recreational drug. To me, it was an item on my list of veterinary drugs and I treated it as such.  I shudder now to think of what I was doing when I packed everything into a large box, covered it with brown paper and labelled it SICILIAN CAT WELFARE.

Amazingly no problems! At the airport, I watched, relieved, as it disappeared into the chute. On the plane, I relaxed and ordered a glass of wine – I was on my way.


About the Author:

Jennifer Pulling is a writer, award-winning playwright, and journalist who has worked for many national newspapers and magazines as a travel and lifestyle writer. Her play, The Return won the Clemence Dane Cup.  She is the author of Monet’s Angels (John Blake).

Jennifer runs the project Catsnip for the neutering and treatment of feral cats in Sicily. Her book The Great Sicilian Cat Rescue relates her one-woman mission to save an island’s cats.

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